With the way WiFi has advanced over the last few years you'd think that wireless routers would pack enough power to punch strong signals through most household walls and floors but sadly this isn't the case and the only way to get stable wireless to the far reaches of a home is to extend the range or install access points.
The wireless option is what most will no doubt wish for as it's most convenient. Just how reliable are these devices though? Let's find out.
Asus have been kind enough to send me both the RP-N53 and RP-N14 wireless range extenders to review. The N53 boasts N600 connectivity to take advantage of the 5GHz (as well as 2.4GHz) band while the N14 is the no standard 2.4GHz version.
I've been testing these over the last couple of weeks after initial teething problems getting them connected to my Netgear WNDR3700 v1 router. I realised the problem was two fold.
Product exploration & installation
In the first instance my understanding of how the extenders are set up initially was muddied by the installation guide Asus provide on the respective product pages.Patience is the key here! The manual says to wait a minute when first powering it on after which the System LED will blink twice and become stable. It takes a bit longer and I didn't notice a double blink on either N14 or N53.
Secondly I had to drop a few channels on my router's Wireless config as I was using the upper most ranges for both bands which resulted in the extenders either not connecting at all or having a weak connection.
Other than these issues the rest of the setup and use was pleasant and almost everything just seemed to work as expected.
The units themselves look like clones of each other. Without getting your eyeball right up close you won't be able to tell the difference between the two as they have the same ports and same design. The N53 has an additional LED array for the 5GHz band of course so once powered up and connected that's one way to tell which is which I suppose.
Buttons wise we don't have much. There's a power on/off switch and a connection button labelled WPS. The little hole above the power switch is a reset button that you hold to factory reset the device. On the opposite side there's just a headphones connector and an Ethernet cable for using these extenders as Wireless access points instead should that be your requirement. This review will focus on their primary task, extending the wireless range.
I found the nightlight feature amusing, both extenders have a touch panel just above the LED area which turns on and off the back facing white LED. It's not very bright and there's no option in the GUI to adjust the brightness either. It's just on or off. You can however configure other things for the touch panel as can be seen in the below screenshot:
You'll notice an Audio tab, this has some predefined online radio stations and you have the option to add custom ones too.
I could not get these to work. Click play and nothing happens, no music via the headphones socket on the extender or from my computer. It's not a feature I would ever wish to use though - That's what Spotify is for.
Once you've paired up the extenders to your router using the WPS button (you can also pair it up even if you don't have a WPS button on your router by connecting to the default SSID out of the both via a smartphone or laptop) there's very little else that needs changing. Most people won't even need to go into the extender's GUI pages in fact but should you wish to tinker then Asus provide a very easy to use interface to do just that:
What's cool about these extenders is that once you're paired up the extenders will pull down the security details for your home wireless network and extend it with a new SSID which is the same as your normal WiFi but with the extension "_RPT" or "_RPT5G" when using the 5GHz band. As you can see from the above screenshot you could later go in and rename this to make more sense, perhaps "yourssidhere_upstairs" - The choice is all yours
Speaking of 5GHz, I found something of an oddity here. I don't have access to any Asus routers to confirm if it is only fully functional with their own brand routers but the N53 would not see or connect to my 5GHz band being broadcast by my Netgear WNDR3700. The band certainly works as every other Wireless-N capable device I have can connect to it.
In the below screenshot you can see what my Galaxy Note 3 lists for the WiFi networks. Notice that the 2.4GHz band is extended fine. The N53 has then extended the 2.4GHz band again but it's rebroadcasting it as a 5GHz band.
I then logged into the RP-N53 GUI and checked that it definitely could not see the 5GHz SSID, indeed that was the case...
The curious thing is that if this is a limitation on the N53 itself then you have to ask why. Why limit the extender to only connect to a 2.4GHz band which connects at 65Mbps and then extend that as a 5GHz band? That defeats the objective of the full capability of the band and the speed will only be as fast as the weakest link, this being 2.4GHz at 65Mbps.
As I say, I don't have access to an Asus router to test this properly so am only going by what I've found from connecting with my non Asus router.
With all that said, extended 2.4GHz works as expected. I gave home to the extenders in the upsatirs landing at a distance which was roughly the same as the distance as from the PC room to downstairs where my router is. I felt this would offer adequate range and fairness.
I did 3 tests:
1: Signal quality diagnostic.
2: Speedtest to the same Bournemouth server. The best average of a few runs was recorded. My internet line is 152Mbps down for reference.
3: LAN test. Storing a large file on to a mobile device over the network.
Netgear WNDR3700 (my router, to set a baseline to compare against):
As you can see from the results, the RP-N53 achieved the better signal strength vs the N14 but both were slower at 2.4GHz than the direct Wireless connection to my router. The LAN transfer speed shows it's half the performance in sustained transfers. I suppose this makes sense. factoring in distance and overheads you'd never expect the same kind of performance you get from connecting direct to your router instead of going via an extender. Cut the middle man out and you get better performance.
So it's not the kind of device you want if you're looking to stream HD movies or large files over your home network between devices then but for everyday web access and multimedia it should be just fine as evidenced by the speedtest results. Notice that the latency doesn't change a great deal either so casual gamers won't be suffering either.
At time of writing The RP-N14 is £34 on Google Shopping and the RP-N53 is £58. I think these prices are reasonable for what you're getting. An easy to use, easy to configure range extender that doubles up as an access point and has a night light even if it is a bit gimmicky (why isn't it facing outward anyway!).
While local network performance didn't quite live up to the demands of a modern household that might be sharing large volumes of data between networked devices, both these extenders are capable of keep users satisfied as far as internet usage goes and are ideal for installing in places around the home where the main Wireless airwaves can't quite reach and need a little boost.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to read this review and hopefully the info in it will be of use to someone out there and thank you to Asus for sending out these extenders for review.