Which Wireless Network Extender Is Best For You?
With the Holiday season fast approaching, we wanted to take a look at some devices to enhance your existing home or small business network. Many of us are quite happy with the router that serves as the central hub, but often complain about the wireless coverage around the house or “dark-spots” in the building. Most times, attempting to fix these Wi-Fi issues results in other issues cropping up. For example, if you move the Wireless Router away from your home office to get better signals in the corner of your house might result in worse coverage in the bedroom. Many of us can’t even move the router since it is hard-wired to devices that can’t be relocated.
Networking companies realize that more and more users are dependent on good wireless signals and have released a slew of adapters to help with coverage. These products are designed to work with your existing network to ‘extend’ the network’s Wi-Fi coverage. If the adapter can detect your Wi-Fi signal, it will repeat or boost that signal for you to use. You will see that these adapters have different names, but in general, these devices are called “Repeaters” or “Extenders”.
Today, we have extenders from ASUS (EA-N66) and Amped Wireless (SR20000G) that are designed and built with the same goals in mind: Help extend Wi-Fi signals so that the user can have better coverage in their area. Even though the two devices are built for the same function, they don’t look anything alike. The ASUS EA-N66 is a funky looking triangle-shaped device which reminds you of something you might have seen in Star Trek, while the Amped Wireless is a box that looks like a mini-wireless router.
Being that this is the first time we have reviewed this type of hardware, we really wanted to evaluate the usefulness and to see if this will actually help those who have limited bandwidth via their wireless connection. We are going to concentrate on the 5Ghz bandwidth today just because it typically has less interference than that of the 2.4Ghz, but also, this is where many of the new wireless devices choose to operate. If you are wanting to use the fastest band available, you will be wise to start with the 5Ghz band.
Let’s take a closer look at the two extenders that we will be evaluating.
The Matchup: ASUS versus Amped Wireless
ASUS EA-N66 3-in-1 Dual-Band Wireless-N450
ASUS designed the EA-N66 3-in-1 dual band wireless N900 adapter with a 3-antenna design in a very unique package. The pyramid or orthogonal shape is designed to provide users with optimal internet speeds over 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz bands at speeds of up to 450Mbps per band. The N66 has internal 2dBi antennas for the 2.4GHz band and 4dBi antennas for the 5 GHz band. This patented design is built to give users fast browsing, smooth HD video streaming, and lag-free online gaming.
The ASUS EA-N66 works as either an Ethernet adapter, repeater, or as an access point. As an Ethernet adapter, you can connect an Ethernet-capable device to make it connectable to your wireless network. This is perfect for those who might have a an internet-ready device but no way of running a cable. As a ‘repeater’, the ASUS EA-N66 can rebroadcast signals to extend an existing wireless network’s range. This will give a user better coverage for larger residences or places where signal strength is weak. The last mode that the EA-N66 works in is as a Wi-Fi access point. You can plug the unit into any wired modem or router to add wireless capabilities to an existing network.
All of these modes can be configured through ASUS’s GUI that is very easy to navigate. For our tests, we will of course be placing the N66 into a ‘Repeater’ mode to see how far we can extend an existing wireless network.
The N66 has mounding holes on the underside of the base so you can easily mount it on the wall or hide it in your A/V cabinet. The ASUS EA-N66 can be found for $89.99 shipped from both Amazon and Newegg. The EA-N66 comes with a standard 2-year limited warranty in North America.
Amped Wireless Dual Band Range Extender (Repeater) SR20000G
The Amped Wireless Dual Band Range Extender is specifically designed to extend the range of any existing Wi-Fi Network. The SR20000G amplifies and rebroadcasts the signal from any existing wireless router and features dual high power 2.4GHz 600mW amplifiers, dual high power 5.0GHz amplifiers and dual low-noise amplifiers for improving wireless reception. Unlike the ASUS above, the Amped Wireless extender has removable High Gain 5dBi antennas and comes in a package that is physically larger than the ASUS ‘triangle’.
The SR20000G is one of the first Wi-Fi extenders to include 5 gigabit networking ports so that you can connecting PCs, home theater devices, and game consoles. No more having to turn off Pandora while firing up Call of Duty from your living room. The unit even has an USB port for sharing files over the local or extended network. The GUI that Amped Wireless has included with the SR20000G is almost identical to that of their Dual-Band Router that we reviewed earlier this year, the Amped Wireless R20000G. The GUI is very responsive and very robust with tons of features that a networking expert would appreciate.
The Amped Wireless SR20000 Dual-Band Range Extender comes with a 1-year warranty and lists for $169, but can be found for $139.99 shipped from Amazon.
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Examining our “Heads-Up” comparison chart at first glance you will see some glaring differences between these two products. With the addition of 5 useable gigabit ports, the Amped Wireless SR20000G seems to have an edge in functionality – especially if you are looking to connect multiple devices in a particular room. The ASUS EA-N66 comes out ahead when looking for raw speed usage with theoretical speeds of up to 2x450Mbps when using devices that have three antennas or 3 spatial streams for each frequency. Even though the Amped Wireless has gigabit ports, if you use it as a bridge or an extender, you will only get up to 2x300Mbps speed (2 spatial streams each frequency).
Both the Amped Wireless and the ASUS have multiple uses and are able to function as a Bridge, Access Point, and Extender. Let’s take a look how far and how fast these devices work.
Wi-Fi Extender Speed Testing - 2 Antennas
To measure the real-world maximum speeds of our extenders, we wirelessly connected the extender to our network powered by a Netgear R6300 Dual-Band Router. The Amped Wireless and ASUS extender were then connected – one at a time – to the 5GHz channel of the Netgear router. We then connected our Laptop PC wirelessly to the extender who was in turn connected to our network. For this first test we used our laptop which contained an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 wireless adapter. The Intel 6230 chip is very common in many laptops and netbooks on the market today. The 6230 contains 2-antennas and is capable of up to 300Mbps throughput.
We moved the laptop 25-feet away from the extender to be tested to simulate a ‘real-world’ test. We didn't tell the client anything more than the SSID for the extender. The router and extender was set to “Unsecure Mode” (for fastest data throughput), and WMM was turned ON. After connecting, we ran the PC application LAN Speed Test (LST) to measure file transfer and network speeds.
LST builds a file in memory and then transfers the packet without the effects of windows file caching. It then reports the time and calculates the network speed. The latest version, (v.3.2.0), of this software was recently released which added a few new features with the ability to view average, minimum, and maximum speeds as well as test with simultaneous multiple streams. We found no measurable difference between the old version 2.x, just more features in the GUI.
We repeated the test 2 more times rotating the extender 90 degrees after each test to make sure that the extender’s speed was not affected adversely by its orientation. We then plotted the average Read/Write speeds shown below:
Test Results: The first thing we noticed is just how well the ASUS extender works in our speed tests. We actually ran our tests multiple times since these results looked so one sided. The ASUS EA-N66 provided relatively good speeds when compared to native speeds when connected directly to our router. The Amped Wireless SR20000G didn’t seem to do well at all when running this test. In general, for these smaller data packets, the ASUS shows a more than 110% improvement over the Amped Wireless extender in Average Read Speeds.
Test Results: We test these larger data packages because it is a very good simulation of what typical multimedia data looks like on a network. With more and more people looking to stream high-definition video, the 100MB packet size gives a very good indication of the repeater’s performance. The Amped Wireless SR20000G shows slightly better performance than it did in the earlier 1MB packet test. The ASUS EA-N66 continues to flex its muscle showing very good Read and Write Speeds. At Read speeds approaching 100 Mbps, the ASUS should have no problems streaming 720p files and working well with most online games.
Wi-Fi Extender Speed Testing - 3 Antennas
We really wanted to push the limits of our extenders so we did something a bit different. Instead of just using a 2-antenna NIC card embedded in our Dell Laptop, we wanted to see how a 3x3 or 3-antenna NIC worked with our extenders.
We grabbed an Alienware M17XR4 which features an Intel i7-3610QM CPU with 6GB RAM running Windows 7 64-Bit, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M. More importantly, we outfitted this laptop with a Qualcomm Antheros Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter. The Killer 1103 is a three-antenna network adapter that connects at up to 450Mbps over 802.11n and features reduced power consumption and Wi-Fi Direct. Much has been written about the Killer NIC technology in recent years but there is no doubt that a 3-antenna solution should give users significantly greater network stability and top-end speeds. Let’s see if our speed measurements show this.
Like our last test, we took our laptop – this time, our Alienware with the Killer Wireless 1103 – and once again moved it 25-feet away from the extender. We connected to our local network in “Unsecure Mode” (for fastest data throughput), with WMM turned ON. After connecting, we ran the PC application LAN Speed Test (LST) and measured our “extended” network speeds.
Test Results: Wow. If you ever wondered why you should look at a 3-antenna wireless network card, the proof is shown in the chart above. The ASUS EA-N66 shows that a 3-antenna solution is much faster than a 2-antenna network adapter. There is a 75% improvement in speed with the ASUS when using the Killer Wireless 1103 3-antenna NIC. The Amped Wireless repeater’s speed is consistent doing the best it can for a transceiver that has ‘only’ 2-antennas.
Test Results: Looking at the larger data packets, we see that the ASUS EA-N66 again excels with Read Speeds toping 170 Mbps! The Amped Wireless SR20000G is holding steady with a consistent rate of around 44 Mbps for both the Average Read and Write speeds.
Wireless Extender Distance Testing
We went to YouTube and found a few high-definition videos in both 720p and 1080p resolutions and wanted to find out how far we could get away from our base station before the video stream was so degraded that we could not view them. This should be an ideal benchmark as we compare extenders and just how well they work. For our test we used a Nikon Callaway Diablo Octane Laser Rangefinder (MSRP $299) accurate to less than a half a meter and measured our signal in two directions. As we moved farther and farther from the wireless extender, we kept an eye out on our YouTube screen as the high-definition video was being played. As soon as the buffering interrupted the video we would stop and measure the distance. In the charts below, you will see the average of these two measurements.
Besides walking up and down our street with a 17-inch Alienware notebook, our Range Test was pretty straight-forward. The extender’s signal essentially had to travel through two walls (wood/stucco) in our office and out to the street where we took our measurements. Before we started, we used MetaGeek’s inSSIDer to do a survey of the area and we surprisingly found out that there were at least 5 routers or access points in the neighborhood operating in the 5Ghz band. It wasn’t the purest of Wi-Fi areas but we thought it represented a ‘typical’ environment where you don’t have control over how clean your area is.
Anyway, on to the test results:
Test Results: With a range of 72-meters (236-ft), the ASUS EA-N66 gives us the best range out of the three network devices we tested. The Amped Wireless SR20000G allowed us to play our HD videos at a distance of 28.5-m (93.5-ft) far shorter than that of the ASUS. We included the Netgear R6300 router for fun to see what kind of distances a late-generation router could give you. It was very interesting to see that it clocked in at 56-meters. We repeated our test to get the best possible results for our extenders and what you see above is the average of those runs.
Final Thoughts on our Extender Testing
There is no doubt that using a Wi-Fi extender for your network gives you greater coverage for your existing wireless network. The biggest question for me after using these devices over the past several weeks was which one would I recommend? That really depends on what your individual needs are.
On the one hand, the Amped Wireless SR20000G comes in a form-factor that is perfect for those who want to expand their home theater’s wireless capabilities. Since the Amped Wireless extender comes with 5 gigabit ports you can attached all of your favorite devices via an Ethernet cable with the SR20000G doing all the work to connect these devices to your network. Now you don’t have to worry about running a cable across your floor or moving your router so you can play Call of Duty with your best friend from school.
The ASUS EA-N66, on the other hand, showed blazing speeds and range in our suite of tests. The EA-N66’s best feature is that it contains 3-antennas that produced a wider range of coverage – by almost triple over the Amped and throughput speeds that matched many of our dual-band routers. If you want maximum help trying to connect your devices to a faint wireless signals then you would be served best by looking at the ASUS first.
We also saw that your choice of extenders might depend on the type of existing infrastructure that you have already. In other words, what equipment do you have that you are trying to extend? If your current router is older than a couple years containing one or two antennas then there is only a limited amount of speed that is there for your attached wireless devices. Don’t expect off the chart wireless performances when you only have a router that gives you a theoretical maximum of 150Mbps or 300Mbps. Take a close look at what equipment you are running before plunking down any money for an Extender or Repeater. You might need to upgrade your router to take full advantage of a Wi-Fi extender.
As more and more wireless devices hit the home market, we are going to see more and more of these types of products released. Many people will assume that they have to have an extender or repeater because certain pockets of their house or office don’t receive good Wi-Fi signals. Before going out and buying new equipment, you might need to just take a look at how “clean” or “dirty” your Wi-Fi environment is. You might find that by moving into an uncluttered broadcast range will increase your overall network speeds.
Of course if you’ve already tried finding the best channel to broadcast your wireless router over and need to get a repeater so that your wireless devices can function, then you should certainly consider the Amped Wireless SR20000G or the ASUS EA-N66.
Setup for both devices is simple and easy. The hardest part of operating these two devices is making up your mind to where you are going to plug it in. The Amped Wireless GUI seemed to be more robust and have a few more options making it a bit more versatile than the ASUS.
For raw speed and coverage though, there can be no doubt that ASUS EA-N66 is the extender to purchase. Even though it has a small form factor and a funky-disco-light look, the EA-N66 performs extremely well. Even though the N66 doesn’t have multiple Ethernet ports, with a price tag of $89.99 shipped from both Amazon and Newegg, you can afford to spend $23 to add on a 8-port gigabit switch to gain that functionality if it is needed.
Legit Bottom Line: Both the ASUS EA-N66 and Amped Wireless SR20000G are capable extenders and can be used in a number of different environments and situations. Both of these extenders are easy to use and can tremendously extend a network’s range. The ASUS scores ahead of the Amped Wireless strictly because of the difference in speed.