In 20 years, my parents have had two main issues with their home, at least that I've experienced with them: a freezing family room and disappointing Wi-Fi. They fixed the temperature, for the most part. But the Wi-Fi. With the modem and router in the office on one side of the house, the signal in that now-warmer family room is weak enough that every FaceTime conversation is guaranteed to include the phrase “Wait, we lost you again" at least once. Now that those calls are to talk to their new granddaughter, we decided to do something about it.
They needed a Wi-Fi extender—a device that boosts your wireless signal to push it to areas of your house. (In houses larger than 3,000 square feet, or really old places with thick walls, you’d actually want a mesh network—a group of antennas that places mini routers throughout your house—such as , , or . But in most average-size homes or apartments, an extender is all you need.) Here are the best options.
The huge size—nearly that of a box of cereal—holds six internal antennas, giving you a strong signal and near-blanket coverage. The Nighthawk dedicates one of its three bands to communicating with the router, so there’s never competition between you and the router as to who gets the extender’s attention. You both have it. And you always have the fastest connection for the most devices.
It’s the same size as the Nighthawk, but with the sleek and aggressive design of a gaming computer. And it’s about a third of the price. Why is that? Because the EX6200 has only two bands, so you lose that dedicated line to the router, and two antennas, so you can’t handle the same amount of traffic. But if you’re looking for service in the backyard or a remote bedroom for a couple of devices, not 15, the EX6200 will do the job. There are five Ethernet ports in case you need to set up a wired connection, like to a hardwired printer or an Xbox that needs all the transfer speed it can get.
If you’re covering a smaller space or don’t use a lot of wireless devices, you can downsize to a two-antenna plug-in like the MX1200. It fits in any standard wall plate and can handle both 2.4-GHz and 5.0-GHz bands. Which one is right for you? 2.4-GHz signals travel farther but give you slower speeds. 5.0 GHz is faster but with a smaller range. Considering that you’re installing a range extender, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll want 2.4 GHz. There’s an Ethernet port, which is nice for that Xbox plug-in, and the front of the device has LEDs to tell you how strong your signal is—useful when you’re choosing where to put it.
Maybe you just need a boost to a distant room and you don’t want to spend a lot of money. The DAP-1520 costs less than dinner. Plug the DAP-1520 in and hit a button, and you’re all set. There are no wired ports, but most of us don’t need those anyway. It even has a useful app that lets you monitor your network traffic to see what—or who—might be slowing down your signal.
For about $10 more than the DAP-1520, this extender gives you a much more thoughtful design and comes with an Ethernet port. The front plate has a simple-to-read light for signal strength: If it’s unlit, you have no signal; a red light means a weak signal; and a green light means you have a strong signal. Hit a button on your router and a button on the device to link them, then find a plug that gets a green signal, and installation is done.
This isn't an extender, but it's close and it's cool, so it's worth including in this list. Unlike extenders, this type of device uses your home’s electrical wiring as if it were Ethernet cable run through the house to expand your network coverage—kind of like those old boxes in the '90s that promised to give you a crystal-clear TV signal by using the wires as a huge antenna, only this actually works in some cases. (You can’t have wiring that’s very old, and it gets finicky in homes with multiple breaker boxes.) Plug the base into the router, then into an outlet. The extender can then be plugged into any outlet in your home, where it will create a new Wi-Fi zone—regardless of how strong the original Wi-Fi signal is in that room.