We researched and evaluated 10 of the best Wi-Fi boosters to find the best for houses and budgets of all sizes. The most powerful device we reviewed is the Netgear Nighthawk EX7000. This Wi-Fi booster offers unbeatable range, throughput and management. If you’re trying to keep to a budget, the D-Link DAP-1330 N300 is our value choice, as it combines a low price with good coverage for small homes or apartments. And if you don’t need a top-shelf device and don’t mind single-band performance, the Securifi Almond is a Wi-Fi booster worth considering. It’s ideal for average-sized houses, and it has a color touchscreen that makes setup and management easy.
Best Wi-Fi Booster Overall
Best Wi-Fi Booster Overall: Netgear Nighthawk
Whether you have a gigantic house or simply want to ensure all of your property has a wireless signal set to match your exact preferences, Netgear’s Nighthawk EX7000 is a great choice. The Nighthawk works on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and has an outstanding range of 165 feet, which is 15 feet more than any other Wi-Fi booster we reviewed. It also had outstanding throughput, as measured in our tests, with an average speed of 413.8 Mbps – beating every other range extender we tested by over 50 Mbps. Although it has a large footprint and a steep learning curve, it’s the best option on the market.
Best Value Wi-Fi Booster
Best Value Wi-Fi Booster: D-Link DAP-1330
Not only is the D-Link DAP-1330 N300 great for small homes and apartments, it’s also the most bang for your buck, costing less than $30. The DAP-1330 is also exceptionally easy to use, and setting it up is a cinch – you just plug it in to a wall socket and press the WPS button on both the device and your router. Its design is attractive, and indicators on the front tell you how strong the signal is. However, it isn’t a powerful Wi-Fi booster. Its limited range and single 2.4GHz band functionality are only ideal for small areas.
Wi-Fi Booster Worth Considering
Wi-Fi Booster Worth Considering : Securifi Almond
The Securifi Almond is a Wi-Fi booster worthy of consideration for anyone who owns an average-size house. Its 2.8-inch color touchscreen interface means easy setup and basic settings management, which is a bonus if you aren’t tech-savvy or need to set up a booster for your aging parents. The device also doubles as a regular router, as well as a wireless bridge, range extender and network access point.
What We Tested, What We Found
Our colleagues at Tom’s Guide thoroughly tested the extended range, data throughput, ease of setup and settings adjustments of the top Wi-Fi boosters on the market in the Purch offices based in Manhattan. The same tests were performed in a reviewer’s home as well. Rather than repeat all the same tests in the Top Ten Reviews office, we relied on the data gathered by Tom’s Guide.
Wi-Fi Range Extenders
The best Wi-Fi boosters prioritize three things: long reach, fast throughput and easy setup. The reach is simple – a Wi-Fi extender has little value if it only slightly extends your wireless range. The throughput is more complicated. Unless you use a mesh router, the speed of the extended Wi-Fi is going to be slower than the main signal because the extender only has one-way communication. The throughput determines how fast data can transfer back and forth.
Testing range is relatively simple and straightforward – we set up the range extender to boost the signal and observed how far we could roam before losing signal. Range was tested using a Microsoft Surface 3 tablet connected to the Wi-Fi booster’s 2.4GHz band. The tester opened a radio station and slowly walked away from the Wi-Fi booster until the signal dropped. Once the signal dropped, the distance was measured.
Throughput is the amount of data the Wi-Fi booster can move back and forth, and it is more difficult to test than range. Our tester used the IxChariot benchmark with a Digital Storm Triton notebook running Windows 10 and a wireless card setup to gauge throughput intervals at 5, 15, 50 and 140 feet from the Wi-Fi booster. The IxChariot software simulates traffic while simultaneously moving data back and forth. In this way, we can test how fast the Wi-Fi booster moves data through the wireless signal.
Ease of Setup
Some Wi-Fi boosters are simple to set up – you simply plug them in to an outlet and connect them to the existing network. That said, this isn’t always the case. Some boosters come with software to help you get everything set up correctly, but even that can be complicated for some. While ease of setup is an important consideration for some, the best performing Wi-Fi extenders tend to be more complicated, which means you may have to suffer through a trickier setup for better performance.
In addition to the tests performed in New York by Tom’s Guide, the mesh routers in our review were thoroughly tested in Purch Labs – a lab devoted to testing products for review.
Our experts performed months of testing to find the best performing routers, including mesh routers. Many of the tests resemble those run by Tom’s Guide to measure range and throughput, but we also looked at signal-to-noise ratio, Wi-Fi heat mapping, signal penetration (reliability through objects like metal, soundboard and ceilings), and 3D test (signal above and below the router). Using the data collected from these tests, we were able to clearly delineate the best from the simply average.
Different Types of Wi-Fi Boosters: Extenders vs. Repeaters vs. Mesh Routers
There are three types of Wi-Fi boosters: range extenders, Wi-Fi repeaters and mesh routers. All of these technologies boost your Wi-Fi to fill in dead zones and extend your range. However, it’s worth noting that the difference between range extenders and repeaters is so diluted that even manufacturers use the terms interchangeably. We make a delineation below to explain the different technologies, but you will find manufacturers interchanging all of these terms liberally.
In the most basic terms, a range extender captures your existing Wi-Fi signal and creates a second network from it. Imagine a speaker addressing a large crowd of people. On its own, the speaker’s voice isn’t loud enough for people in the back to hear. A Wi-Fi range extender is like a second speaker standing at the very edge of the first speaker’s voice to repeat everything to the back of the crowd. The second speaker has a different voice (a second network).
Range extenders are easy to set up and install – some you only need to plug into a wall outlet and set up the second network. However, they have some significant downsides. You have to sign in to a second network, and that is only half as fast as the original – if you’re standing at the back of the aforementioned crowd, everything you hear is on a delay, and if you ask any questions, the second speaker then has to relay them back to the first.
Another downside is that the second network may not be secure, which leaves your network susceptible to hacking. However, this is typically only an issue with older Wi-Fi extenders that lack compatibility with security protocols like WEP, WPA and WPA2. Every Wi-Fi booster in our review is compatible with these wireless security protocols.
A Wi-Fi repeater does essentially the same thing as an extender, but it does so a little differently. To return to the analogy above, rather than use a second speaker to repeat everything that the first says, a repeater is like setting up a microphone with an amplifier. The microphone picks up the first speaker’s voice and carries it to the back of the crowd. Again, repeaters suffer from dips in performance like range extenders, but you don’t have to sign in to a second network with them.
Placing an Extender or Repeater
The placement of your booster is paramount to its successful operation. In order to effectively boost your Wi-Fi signal, you should place your extender in an area that has both a decent signal from the router and is within range of your dead zones. The sweet spot is about halfway between the two. Placing an extender in an area with an already-weak signal doesn’t improve the signal at all, it simply pushes that weakened signal further. Placing it closer to the router where there is a stronger signal to amplify generally increases the quality of the Wi-Fi at your target location.
Mesh routers are most commonly used in large buildings, such as colleges and hospitals, to maintain the same network across the entire area. They have started to gain popularity with consumers, as they are the best way to extend the range of a single network without losing performance.
Mesh routers are essentially a network of routers set up in strategic places around your home. All the routers work together and blanket your home with a wireless signal. However, it’s not easy to set up a mesh network – it takes some technical know-how, special software and time. In addition, mesh routers aren’t cheap, so they are more of an investment than a booster.
Diagnosing the Problem
Before you purchase a Wi-Fi extender, you need to diagnose the problem areas in your home to understand why you have dead zones. Chances are you already know where your dead spots are, but if you want to get a good picture of them, you can download an app that virtually analyzes your Wi-Fi in every part of your home. The best Wi-Fi analyzers provide visual representations of your wireless coverage, allowing you to gauge whether a physical object is blocking the signal or the wireless router simply doesn’t have the necessary range.
Once you’ve analyzed your home’s dead zones, you can start to consider ways to fix the problem:
The simplest fix is to adjust your router’s antenna if it has one; many new routers use an internal antenna that can’t be accessed for adjustment. Make sure it is in a vertical position, as this ensures the wireless range is at full capacity. Your wireless range likely won’t be as wide if the antenna is in a horizontal position.
A significant cause of dead zones is poor router placement. Like most people, you’ve probably installed your router in a corner of your office or entertainment room. The former is largely a holdover from the dialup and cable era of the internet when your router needed to be next to your desktop computer because of the cords. The latter is the result of online streaming becoming popular.
The problem with installing your router in these rooms is that they are often not in a central location. This means the router’s range may not reach parts of your house. By installing the router in a more central location, you may easily eliminate dead spots or weak zones. Of course, in some homes installing a router in a central location isn’t possible. In these cases, a Wi-Fi range extender or a mesh router is a good option.
A lot of homes were built long before the internet came along, much less wireless connectivity. As such, they sometimes have physical characteristics that can interfere with wireless signals – bricks, sandstone, metal walls, large metal filing cabinets, lead paint and thick plaster walls that contain chicken wire. These have all been known to cause issues with Wi-Fi.
As you find a dead spot, look for anything that might block or weaken the signal. If moving your router doesn’t eliminate the dead zone, it’s likely something physically blocking the signal. If you can’t remove the object, then a Wi-Fi booster is your best option for getting a signal around those barriers and into dead areas.
Other wireless technology can sometimes interfere with your wireless signal. Microwaves are particularly notorious for killing Wi-Fi. In addition, baby monitors, wireless security systems and wireless sound systems have all been known to interfere. Even your neighbor’s wireless signal can interfere with yours if it’s running on the same channel. Most routers are good at automatically choosing the least congested channel to avoid this, but in areas where you’re in close proximity with others – such as apartments – congestion can be the main culprit of your problem.
Upgrade Your Router
If you recently moved into a bigger house or you can’t remember when you last replaced your router, then upgrading to a new model might be the best fix – Wi-Fi extenders and repeaters tend to have diminished speed on the boosted signal.
Whether you’ve got a cozy apartment or a palatial mansion, you can get the right Wi-Fi booster to ensure your entire home is covered and there are no dead spots. The best devices have extensive ranges, solid throughput and easy controls. No matter your experience level with devices like these, and no matter your budget, these Wi-Fi boosters have you – and your house – covered.
Contributing Reviewer: Suzanne Humphries