Here we have a Netgear Universal Dual Band Wi-Fi Range Extender. It’s not a router or a switch, it’s not even a Powerline adapter. Simply put, this is the bigger brother of the recently reviewed WN1000RP we did back in January. What it is, is a range extender. This will take the weakest Wi-Fi signals from your current router and amplify them to reach further parts of the house, office or even the garden shed. If you suffer from lead lined walls or if you have a green-house at the far end of your garden, then Wi-Fi signals sometimes have a hard time reaching you. When and if they do, you can often expect very poor signal strength resulting in your super-fast broadband not being so superfast anymore.
In this review I will be testing the dual band and range capabilities of this device, the WN3500RP against its little brother, the WN1000RP and my standard out of the box router supplied to me by PlusNet.
This isn’t marketed as a “mobile extender” as the WN1000RP is, but rather a fully-fledged Wi-Fi extender. It also has a few extras such as an RJ45 port for connecting a further switch or router to it for added expansion. In addition to the RJ45 connection it also has a USB port which means you can attach either a portable HDD or even a printer which will allow anyone who is securely connected to your network to use those devices.
Whilst not an AirPrint compatible unit, it does support AirPlay. This, thanks to a 3.5mm jack allows you to connect speakers to the device and then pipe music from any Wi-Fi connected device on your network to the speakers.
The device itself is rather chunky. It measures 120mm long by 79mm in depth and is 42mm wide and weighs in at 238g. It won’t fall out of the wall but it does protrude somewhat. If you have limited space in or around your wall socket, this unit comes supplied with a corded extension and a base plate for resting on a desk or other flat surface. Sadly the mount does not have any holes in for fixing to a wall, but those innovative and DIY savvy people should be able to solve that problem.
In the box
Well, you get the unit itself, a UK modular adapter, a UK power cord and a base station plate. The modular adapter allows you to hang this baby right off of the wall rather than traipsing cables everywhere.
If you have limited space or you need the unit on your desktop, then this comes with a handy base plate and power cord to which you can connect easily.
If you are familiar with Apple products, you may see a similarity to this and the AirPort Express Base Station. Both do the same job, although the Netgear does extend 5Ghz devices. They also both have the same options on the base for RJ45, USB and audio.
Whilst the Apple unit is much smaller it only does the same job as the WN1000RP, which is a fraction of the price of the AirPort. I suffered from horrible packet loss when using the Apple Extender, a 20mb download normally takes me around 6 seconds but when I was connected to this, you were looking at over 2 minutes. I eventually ditched this and went Powerline to Powerline and added another router but I wish I had waited for this now! I digress…
Now the fun part. Well, it’s really easy to setup. There is no need for any “configuration” or extra software installations on any of the devices you intend to connect. The manual advises to do the first setup whilst next to your router and then reconnect using the WPS button later. Even that arduous task is a button push on the router and one on the extender, not really painstaking! However, if you don’t have WPS feature on your router then all is not lost. Simply navigate a browser to the extenders network which is a named site (mywifiext.net) rather than a traditional IP address like 188.8.131.52 some of us are used to. From here, you can perform the configuration steps.
When the device is plugged in and working, the extender will append “_2GEXT” or “_5GEXT” to the SSID in use for 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands that it finds. That’s pretty much the setup, once configured, you’re good to go, just connect to the SSID and surf away.
Once in the extenders menu, you have access to advanced features such as upgrading the firmware, viewing attached devices and other maintenance items. I won’t go into details about these but if you are familiar with Netgear devices, you’re not too far off the mark.
Probably the most important bit here is the operating mode. You can select from mixed mode or FastLane connections. The mixed mode will operate in both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands but does limit the performance. If you know that all of your devices connect on the same band, then you should choose FastLane. This restricts the unit to either 2.4Ghz band or the 5Ghz band.
When I say “performance is restricted” I don’t mean by much. The range is shorter but for most home users, you won’t notice. Personally I wouldn’t want to be connected to an extender for gaming as there is an extra stop on the way out of the house and it will kill your ping. For gamers, gaming excellence is determined by having a short ping! It’s a fact, the lower your ping, the better gamer it makes you - FACT. Like having that extra stripe on your trainers when you were in primary school, it just made you run faster!
Now to the meat of the subject, the all-important question is answered here. I have made several tests with a Wi-Fi connection to my router, one to a WN1000RP and one to a WN3500RP. My results are as follows:
Internet Surfing Mode (mixed bands)
I tested transferring a 1Gb file between two laptops connected to the same extender.
I tested transferring a 1Gb file between two laptops connected to the same extender.
There are always going to be some differences in the link speed. What is important is that when I tested these modes, I was in a previous dead zone so to achieve a constant connection is one thing but to get those speeds is a real plus.
In my next set of results, I have compared my standard out of the box router, the WN1000RP and the WN3500RP by transferring data over the internal network and downloading from the internet. I did these tests because most of us will have other devices connected to the router rather than the extender and we don’t often do internal transfers unless you count media streaming (more on this later). So, I have tested moving two files, a 20Mb file and a much larger 1Gb file.
For those interested, my rated ISP speed is 68 Mbps from Plus.net’s fibre network. This should in theory, give me a maximum transfer speed of 8.5 Mpbs which isn’t bad. And for those wondering why the different speeds, well there are 8 Megabits(Mb) to 1 Megabyte (MB). As the megabit number is far higher, it makes for more exciting marketing. So, the tests…
Whilst there is not too much difference on the smaller download of 20Mb, there is some interesting differences with the 1Gb download. I think that this is down to the host PC of the files is connected to the router at a slower link speed that what my client machine is connected to the extender. Basically, the network is only as fast as the slowest point, which is this case is the host probably connected at somewhere around the 65 Mbps mark. For the internet downloads, the extender is talking to the router at a much higher speed so isn’t suffering the same degradation.
The unit is ideally placed halfway between the furthest point you need and the router. This ensures full coverage and maximum speed.
What is clear, the further away I got, the slightly slower things got. Again, I use the word “slower” but I was still able to stream BBC iPlayer in HD to my laptop. There is little difference between the Netgear models but when it came to testing in the garden, I found I needed these extenders big time! The advantage of the WN3500RP is definitely the USB port for a cheap NAS and I actually found it was far faster than a Powerline 200 link which is what I use to connect my office with. The RJ45 port on the unit allowed me to connect my hub to it so my “wired” office was connected to my router downstairs wirelessly!
This is a very capable unit and I have enjoyed my time with it. Whilst the only dead spot I suffer from is at the end of my garden, I’m not sure it can be fully appreciated by the typical user. What I do like is that I can extend my network with the built in RJ45 to a hub. This then lets me connect my Smart TV, Smart BD player, Sky, Xbox and PC to a wired hub which frees up my wireless for mobile devices. It also guarantees me speed to the devices I need. The other plus is I can now connect a HDD and have a portable and cheap NAS that will let me play pictures on my TV or PC where ever in the house I might be.
The unit is also well built, for me the surprise was the added base place and power cord. As the unit is a little chunky for me, as I have furniture covering almost every wall socket, this plate is a very well thought out idea. I do prefer this unit over the lesser equipped WN1000RP but for the price, it’s what you expect.
I think that I will be obtaining one of these to replace my Powerline adapter for the simple fact of the additional USB. Go buy one now!