JR: Computer people, what is the absolute, most amazing and powerful wi-fi extender I can get? My current extender is slow and totally unreliable, needing to be reset frequently. I’ve read reviews online, but can’t seem to come up with an obvious choice.
It’s a great question with a few possible answers. First, let’s make some assumptions about the environment. Like most folks in this situation, I’m betting that this is a larger house with the router located at one end and that the wi-fi reception on the opposite end is the real problem. Upstairs and downstairs variations are likely not the issue. There could be obstructions in the middle of the house the interfere with the signal. These are typically kitchen related. The refrigerator and stove can really tank a wi-fi signal.
So what’s the best way to extend the range of the wi-fi router? There are extenders, but as the question suggests, your mileage may vary. What are the alternatives?
Option 1: Replace the Router
Replacing the main wireless router with an 802.11n or an 802.11ac version could be the ticket. If the original router was 802.11a, 802.11b, or 802.11g, then these newer versions offer greater ranger in most situations. But there’s a catch. To take full advantage of that greater range, the wireless adapter that’s part of your computer should also be 802.11n or 802.11ac. If it’s not, you’re not going to get the full range extension. And upgrading the hardware at the computer could be impractical (adding a card of some kind) or impossible (some laptops, and all tablets). At some point, the price becomes an issue and option 1 might not be the best route if you’re dealing with legacy hardware.
Also keep in mind that 802.11n and 802.11ac routers drop in performance to match the requirements of the oldest connecting device. This means that, if you have an old device (only 802.11b 22Mb), your super fast 100+Mb wi-fi will down-step the performance of the entire network to accommodate that old device. Some of the latest hardware circumvents this issue by putting the older hardware on a different frequency, but in far too many cases, having an old device on a modern network will cause the entire network to slow down. Worse yet, depending on the router, it might also limit the range of your wi-fi network as it works to accommodate those older specifications. Few people see that coming. It’s difficult to anticipate and even more difficult to diagnose, so be aware.