Your internet is only as fast as the equipment it’s running through. In many homes, a single router is too weak to generate a stable signal reaching every room, resulting in dead zones and glitchy connections. There are a number of things you should try to eke out a better signal from your router, but if tweaks like those aren’t doing enough, you could also try using a Wi-Fi extender.
Also called a Wi-Fi signal booster, a range or Wi-Fi extender is a compact, plug-in device that is simple and hassle-free to implement. Wi-Fi extenders use built-in Wi-Fi radios and antennas to pair wirelessly with your router. No Ethernet cable is required. Plug in one near the edge of your router’s wireless range and pair it with the network, and it’ll start rebroadcasting the signal farther out for significantly faster internet speeds throughout your home.
Wi-Fi extenders are generally less expensive than upgrading to a full-fledged mesh router with its own mesh Wi-Fi systems and range-extending satellite devices. Plus, these Wi-Fi boosters are a cinch to set up, they’ll work no matter what brand of router you’re using, and you can typically use the same SSID and password as your original router. That creates a single, seamless connection that will give you the best Wi-Fi range available with your current setup — all without you needing to think about it too much.
You’ve got lots of options to choose from, and I’ve spent the past few years regularly testing them out to find the best of the bunch. After countless tests, my data identified the range extenders that reigned supreme. Let’s get right to them.
Best Wi-Fi extenders for 2023
How CNET tests Wi-Fi extenders and signal boosters
Like a lot of people, I spent much of the past few years working from home, and that included my yearly roundup of range extender tests. I’ve put dozens of extenders through my controlled tests by this point, and that’s generated a lot of useful data for comparison purposes.
In 2022, I was able to resume tests at the CNET Smart Home, a 5,800-square-foot multistory home in the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky, that served as a living lab for our product tests. It’s a much better environment for testing wireless devices at range than my somewhat cramped, shotgun-style house — and with more ground to cover, it offered a much bigger challenge for these extenders.
Testing Wi-Fi extenders in the CNET Smart Home
The CNET Smart Home has a fiber internet connection with matching upload and download speeds of up to 150Mbps. That’s a far cry from the gigabit connections more and more of us have access to (not to mention the new, blazing-fast multi-gig internet plans emerging in some parts of the country). However, it’s in line with the average internet speed in the US, which makes it a great place to test how home networking products will work for the average consumer.
For my purposes, I started by setting up a router in the Smart Home’s laundry room, which is where the modem is set up. I went with the Netgear R6700AX, a perfectly decent model I reviewed last year. It offered reliable performance but limited range when I tested it — and that’s exactly what I wanted for these range extender tests.
Sure enough, the router was able to deliver strong speeds on the home’s main floor, but as soon as I headed down to the basement level, speeds started to fall. That includes single-digit upload speeds in the bourbon room and the mud room. (Yes, the Smart Home has a bourbon room that the previous owners used to age their own barrels. We don’t have any barrels of our own, but it smells amazing in there. Kentucky, folks!)
Running the range test
With my control speeds established, it was time to start adding in the range boosters and seeing which ones improved things the best. Pairing each one with the router only required me to plug it in nearby and press the WPS button on both devices — after that, I relocated them downstairs, to the basement rec room, which was the farthest point from the router that still had a decent signal and speeds. Whenever you’re using a Wi-Fi range extender, that’s typically the best place to put it: just shy of the edge of your router’s range, where it will still receive a strong enough signal to put out a strong signal of its own. The best way to find that spot? Grab your phone or laptop and run some speed tests.
In the end, I ran a total of at least 96 speed tests for each extender, two rounds of 24 tests to find its average speeds to a Wi-Fi 5 client device (an iPad Air 2 from 2015) and another two rounds of 24 tests to check its speeds to a Wi-Fi 6 client device (a 2021 Lenovo ThinkPad laptop). In each case, I started the first round of tests with a fresh connection in the laundry room, closest to the router, and then started the second round of tests with a fresh connection in the mud room, farthest from the router. With each test, I logged the client device’s download speed, its upload speed and the latency of the connection.
Wi-Fi extender test results for 2023
Ready to see how the range extenders did in terms of upload and download speeds? Let’s take a look.
On the left, this first set of graphs shows you the average download speeds by room for each extender I tested. On the right, you’re looking at the average upload speeds. All of these speeds are to my Wi-Fi 6 test device, a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop from 2021.
So what jumps out? First, all five of these extenders did a decent job of boosting speeds in those last four rooms, down in the basement. With all of them, I had a faster connection throughout the house than I had when I connected through the router alone. The D-Link EaglePro AI struggled a bit with upload speeds in the basement, but still kept things above a minimum of 20Mbps or so.
That was with a Wi-Fi 6 device, though. How did the performance look with an older Wi-Fi 5 device from several years ago?
Things get interesting here — you can see a greater gulf between download and upload performance, as well as some more distinct weak spots and dead zones throughout the house. Each of the five extenders struggled to keep uploads speedy in the upstairs dinette, for instance. With Wi-Fi 6, we barely saw any issues there at all, save for the Netgear Nighthawk X4S.
Meanwhile, in the basement, our top picks from TP-Link and Linksys (as well as the high-performing Asus RP-AX56) were each able to keep download speeds above 100Mbps, which is great. Uploads were another story, as all of the extenders struggled. None of them failed to deliver a usable upload connection outright, though the D-Link EaglePro AI came close with single-digit upload speeds in the basement’s farthest reaches.
Another key takeaway from these tests is that Wi-Fi 6 delivers some of its most noticeable speed boosts on the upload side of things. If you’re looking to make lots of video calls, upload lots of large files to the web or anything else requiring sturdy upload performance, then upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 hardware should be high on your list of priorities (assuming you haven’t already made the jump).
Affordable Wi-Fi booster picks
For my first batch of range extender tests a few years back, I tested four bargain-priced models to see which one offered the most bang for the buck. It was the start of the pandemic and people were scrambling to bolster their home networks — I wanted to be sure we could point them to a good, budget-friendly pick that would do the best job as a signal booster offering an extra room’s worth of coverage in a pinch.
In the end, the aforementioned TP-Link RE220 was the runaway winner. Currently available for $20 or less, it remains a solid value pick.
I’ve separated these four models from the other six because the test setup was different in 2020 and it wouldn’t be fair to make direct comparisons with those results. You’ve already read about the TP-Link RE220, but here are my takeaways from the other three I tested:
D-Link DAP-1620: This was the only range extender that ever managed to hit triple digits during my 2020 tests, with an average speed of 104Mbps in my bedroom during evening hours. Setup was just as simple as what I experienced with TP-Link, too. I was able to stream HD video, browse the web and make video calls on the extender’s network without any issue.
Network speeds were inconsistent though — and much slower in daytime hours, with a bigger dropoff than I saw with TP-Link. The device also dropped my connection at one point during my speed tests. On top of that, the app was too finicky for my tastes, refusing to let me log in and tweak settings with the supplied device password, something that ultimately forced me to reset the device. That’s too much hassle for me to recommend outright, though right now you can grab it on sale for $30, making it a decent alternative to the TP-Link RE220.
Netgear EX3700: It’s a dated-looking device and it wasn’t a strong performer in my tests. The 2.4GHz band was able to sustain workable speeds between 30 and 40Mbps throughout most of my home, which was strong enough to stream video with minimal buffering, or to hold a quick video call with a slight delay. But the 5GHz band was surprisingly weak, often dropping into single digits with only a single wall separating my PC or connected device from the range extender.
I wasn’t a fan of the web interface, as it seemed more interested in getting me to register for the warranty (and opt in to marketing emails) than in actually offering me any sort of control over the connection. WPS button-based setup lets you skip all of that, which is helpful, and some outlets now have it listed for less than $40, but even so, this is one you can safely pass by.
Linksys RE6350: My speeds were consistent with the RE6350 — they just weren’t fast.
By default, the device automatically steers you between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but with download speeds ranging from 10Mbps to 35Mbps throughout all of my tests over multiple days, it might as well just default to the slower 2.4GHz band. The device supports automatic firmware upgrades, which is great, but you can’t use the Linksys Wi-Fi app to tweak settings — instead, you’ll have to log in via the web portal.
On top of all that, the RE6350 seemed to be the least stable of all the extenders I tested in 2020, with more than one dropped connection during my tests. With a list price of around $60 it has just too many negatives and not enough value for me to recommend it, though we’ve occasionally seen it on sale for as low as $21, making it a bit of a more competitive value.
Other elements to consider
Aside from my speed tests, I made sure to stream video on each extender’s network, and I made several video calls while connected through each one. I also spent time playing with each extender’s settings. You shouldn’t expect much, but most will at least make it easy to change the extension network’s name or password. Some include app controls with extra features, too.
My top pick, the TP-Link RE605X, makes it easy to tweak settings via TP-Link’s Tether app on an Android or iOS device. Again, the features make for slim pickings, but you can check signal strength or turn on High-Speed Mode, which dedicates the 2.4GHz band for traffic from the router to the range extender, leaving the 5GHz free for your normal Wi-Fi network traffic. That mode actually wasn’t as fast as sharing the 5GHz band like normal when I tested it out, because those incoming 2.4GHz speeds are limited, but it still might be a useful option in some situations.
It’s also worth noting that setting a range extender up is about as painless as it gets. Most support Wi-Fi Protected Setup, or WPS, which is a universal protocol that wireless networking devices can use to connect with each other. Just plug the range extender in, wait for it to boot up, press the extender’s WPS button and then press the WPS button on your router within 2 minutes. Voila, connected.
It’s also worth making sure that your range extender includes at least one Ethernet port (almost all of them do). If you can directly connect your wired device (like a smart TV), then you’ll enjoy speeds that are as fast as possible.