Review: Linksys RE6500 Range Extender

Need a way of getting your wireless network at home or work to cover more ground? Linksys might have the answer with the RE6500, a range extender capable of taking an wireless network and pushing it out further, with support for 802.11ac networks, too.

Features and performance

Picking up the RE6500, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a small router, or a small modem router, because the design language is pretty much identical to what Linksys normally offers in its wireless routers.

Rather than occupy a small space plugged into your wall, the RE6500 resembles a wireless router, albeit a much smaller one, with two antennas sticking out the back and a four-port gigabit router, as well.

There’s also another port around on this gadget that might surprise you, with a 3.5mm jack for plugging in a speaker.

Why would you plug a speaker into a wireless router? While we’re not sure this will be used tremendously, this is here in case you want to send music to a small speaker hanging off the side of the router, which might be useful if you haven’t discovered the joys of multi-room audio yet.

Sending audio to the range extender won’t happen in the same way as it does with the Sonos, with several Android and iOS apps making this possible, and treating the range extender as if it were the audio device. Windows can even see it like a network device, and you can send audio to it by right clicking the music file and pressing “send to” when you want to play music.

Still, the main reason for getting the RE6500 is to extend that range, and so to start using it, simply grab it, plug it in, and have it switch on.

Setting up the Linksys RE6500 range extender isn’t overly difficult and shouldn’t take long, though it will depend on the setup you have at home.

Simply connect to the range extender’s WiFi network, enter http://192.168.1.1 into your browser, and follow the onscreen directions, connecting the range extender to the network you’re trying to extend, with options for both 2.4 and 5GHz available to you.

We’ll give Linksys credit where it’s due, because the setup here is a breeze, allowing for a very easily install that anyone who knows how to use a web browser could do.

The only time it might not work, mind you, is if the network connection is too weak, which is, in fairness, the reason you’re probably eyeing the range extender to begin with. At that point, you will have to bring the RE6500 closer to the wireless router. If you’re extending out on the same level, it will likely mean moving the RE6500 unit a little closer, perhaps in the hallway or a closer room, but if you’re setting it upstairs, this actually means leaving the range extender on the floor, which worked for us.

In fact, at work and connecting to our network downstairs, we found the 2.4GHz network could easily be picked up by the range extender, while the 5GHz network posed a problem or two.

Home, however, and both networks were connected without any dramas, the 2.4 and 5GHz AC networks handled without any problems.

Once the range extender is connected, you’re basically done, with more bars of your network delivered through the same SSID, which has been one of the problems of previous range extenders.

Yes, at one point, a range extender would create an extra network usually named after your network, but with the letters “EXT” following an underscore behind the network name. While this was an extended network, its downside was that you had to keep jumping between the original network and the extended network as you were making your way between rooms, ruining the congruity of it all.

Most people didn’t like this — us included — and so companies have been working on a way of extending the network while keeping your network’s name intact.

Linksys has achieved this with the RE6500, and you will manage to improve the range with this product, as our network reception jumped from two bars to a full five, while also offering the Gigabit network port.

But while the range is extended, the speed isn’t necessarily tremendously better.

Don’t let those full five bars of life lie to you, because while you might think you’re hitting full strength on the wireless, you may just be netting the best range you can grab, with few increases to data speed.

We measured at home where we have some wireless range and speed issues upstairs, and found that with the RE6500, we could net a stronger connection, but that the speed didn’t change much, with the 802.11ac pushed out by our modem router still netting roughly the same maximum 25Mb/s speeds we found without the Linksys range extender, with minor differences on either side.

Essentially, what this showed us was that nothing in the speed had really changed, because while the range improved, the speed wasn’t a huge upgrade, and you were getting some of what you would likely buy a range extender for, not the whole nine or ten yards.

Linksys also needs to offer a way to switch the light off on the unit, because it just stays on for no reason. One white LED, awake, always awake, telling you that yes, the range extender is working, even though you can switch LEDs off on so many routers, some Linksys even makes.

Why is this important? You might put the range extender in a bed room because you want to extend the wireless range for the phones you use in bed, and the last thing you want to see is a white LED that won’t switch off. Seriously, Linksys, what’s the point of this? Just let us turn it off.

Conclusion

Wireless connectivity is one of those things that is seriously hard to get across a large home. If you’re all on the floor, it’s a little easier, but the moment you bring levels into the equation, everything seems to change, and an upstairs room can make all the difference.

Does the Linksys 802.11ac range extender work? Yes, but will it offer solid speeds? Probably not in the way you’re expecting.

If you’re desperate for better net access around the house, we’d try this, but don’t expect the speed to dramatically improve, because it seems to be one of those things that isn’t helped by this specific range extender.

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