Weak WiFi range is the bane of most households, and while 802.11ac can improve things, it isn’t the be all end all if you’re using one device. Enter Netgear’s Nighthawk Range Extender. Can this fix our WiFi woes?
Features and performance
Range extenders come in all shapes and sizes, but Netgear’s EX7000 is the first we’ve seen in a long time that resembles more of a router than your typical extension gadget.
For starters, it’s long and modem like, taking the almost diamond-like angular edges from the previous Netgear gadgets and applying it to a tall rectangular shape that would work well on a desk, provided a flat desk stand is included, which one is.
There are aspects of its design that we like, and we’re starting with that whole vertical design, a nice shift from the flat horizontal ones we’re so used to seeing lately that take up more space due to just how wide they are.
Its lack of bright LEDs are also useful, because if you stick this in a room, you’re not likely to be kept awake by it. Like the Linksys model we checked out, you can’t actually switch them off, but unlike that model, they’re also relatively dim and small. Plus, because the router is vertical, you can actually position the router’s front away from you and choose not to even see the lights to begin with.
Even the style of the router works for us, with lots of triangular holes in black glossy plastic making up the design and generally helping the whole gadget to feel less like another random computer gadget and more like something that you wouldn’t mind having in your home, like a tall pint-sized video game console, even though the features and use are very different.
Three antennas sit on the back of this, and it’s here that Netgear could probably have changed things, possibly by mounting this on the top of the unit.
It’s not that the back is an awkward place, it’s just that it feels like the antennas get in the way of the ports on the back when the unit is standing up, especially the one on the very bottom which tends to get in the way of the power cable.
Maybe the top would be better next time, Netgear, since there’s nothing up there, and the antennas could unhindered.
But there’s more to this range extender than just antennas, because you’ll also find five Gigabit Ethernet ports here, ideal for plugging in local computers or home entertainment gadgets (like a gaming console or a TV) directly into the router for a more stable connection. Five is one more than we’d expect, and there’s also a USB 3.0 port to turn the range extender into a small networkable media device or possibly a print server, if your printer doesn’t support a degree of networking by itself.
Two wireless bands are supported here, too, spread out over 2.4 and 5GHz, with the former being for the gadgets that don’t always need a lot of speed and only need a maximum of 600Mbps, while the latter is ideal for those things in the home that need high speeds, such as computers, gaming consoles, and TV-based machines.
The range extension technology can be used in a standard mode and extend current networks transmitting across both, or it can be configured to work with a technology known as “Fastlane” which can use one of the bands to create a dedicated connection to the router (such as 2.4GHz) and then transmit to the other gadgets using the other band dedicated just for the extender (such as 5GHz).
Setting up the router is easy, though, so you’ll be able to get stuck into what it has to offer very, very quickly.
There’s even a little slip of cardboard that can be pulled out at the back with all the details you need for setting up your WiFi, useful if you’re starting with the EX7000 out of the box, or if you reset and need the information to start with.
A pull out bit of cardboard is definitely better than a slip of paper you’ll lose or a sticker that might fall off, especially when the cardboard doesn’t fall off and can’t be easily removed.
Once you have the details, simply plug it in, screw in the antennas, switch it on, and connect over WiFi to the new router.
If you need to login specifically with an ID over WPS — and we didn’t on a Mac — you’ll find the install is pretty easy to navigate over a web browser, simply connecting and loading up whatever your default is.
From there, it’s a pretty painless selection of your networks, and if they’re not found, you can manually throw the information in.
With that done and your network extension set up, you’ll find a new network named as an extended version of the original network.
We’ll get into what this means for people expecting the same SSID and for their network to just extend, but generally, what you’ll have to do is connect to a new version of your network whenever you want a stronger internet connection.
For us, that meant having a new version of our Gadget 1 network, which is located a level beneath us in a room that barely gets any reception out to the world. Most people at GadgetGuy struggle with this network, and generally rely on another network patched in via an Ethernet cable, but our tests with Netgear’s EX7000 seem to show that with this device on board, we wouldn’t have to worry so much.
Testing on our original Gadget 1 network, next to the router, we’d receive speeds of around 80Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and close to 200Mbps on the 5GHz network. The moment we move, however, and the speeds fall over, dropping to 1 to 8Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, and even less on the 5GHz.
Range was acceptable on both, with reception found throughout the building for either band of the original, but the speeds were barely there.
But with Netgear’s EX7000 on-board, our speeds and range saw an increase, with speeds of around 4 to 10Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band, and higher again on the 5GHz extension boasting 11 to 50Mbps.
Those aren’t huge speeds, but are massive increases to a network that was struggling across the board to even provide us close to 10Mbps of wireless speed.
Netgear’s Fastlane technology also proved itself quite useful in our tests, utilising both bands of the extender in a way that could push the speeds and reception in a way that delivered even stronger speeds than what we saw with the extension of each band.
For instance, if the people who need the connection all have high-speed 802.11ac devices capable of jumping on a 5GHz network, you can switch on Fastlane to connect to the original router using a 2.4GHz connection and then use the 5GHz band to send out the new networking.
Using this technology, the Netgear EX7000 will even report at which data rate it is connecting to the original router.
In practice, we found that Netgear’s Fastlane improved network speeds with this technology in a big way, the 2.4 connection sent out over the 5GHz band resulting in a combination that provided speeds as high as 130 to 190Mbps around and above the router, though which dropped to around 50Mbps when we went downstairs closer to the original router, a factor we’re attributing to the construction materials of the building.
That is a massive connection change, and brings us to levels like how they would be if we were to connect to the router specifically, rather than with a range extender.
Maintaining the range extender is easy, too, with a simple login at www.mywifiext.net diverting you to the right part of your network when you need to change a few things.
Inside this system, you’ll find a few extra features that could be useful to you, including making a backup of your settings, switching the logo light on and off, turning on the access for different times of the day, increasing WiFi power output for smaller or larger coverage, deducing what ti yes the USB port for, and how WPS connects.
Overall, though, the speed and reception are both increased with the Netgear EX7000, a result we had hoped for with every range extender, and one that hasn’t exactly proven to be easy to find. Often, range extenders push the reception, but don’t go where they should with the data speeds.
Here in this model, however, Netgear appears to have pulled it off, and beyond our speed tests, both the transfer rates and reception had improved dramatically.
That said, one thing is missing from the package: a continuation of your current network ID.
Yes, there’s plenty to like about the Netgear EX7000, but an easy continuation of your WiFi SSID isn’t one of them, meaning Netgear’s latest range extender just creates a new network, rather than continues the one you already have.
The question of whether this is good or bad depends on how easy you like your network to be.
For instance, if you don’t care about needing to connect to another network to get access when you’re around your home, you’ll be fine with this, and the EX7000 will suit your needs perfectly fine.
But if you just want your phone to connect to the network device by way of the same name and its now extended range, you’re stuck, because this range extender doesn’t appear to support the technology, and you’ll be forced to change network IDs all the same.
It’s a shame, too, because we’re beginning to see this SSID extension technology from a few places, so we’re not sure why Netgear didn’t roll it out with this extender.
At a little exy price of $299, it won’t be for everyone, but Netgear’s EX7000 does exactly what it says it will, boosting both wireless range and data transfer speeds, and even providing a good five Gigabit Ethernet ports in the process.
Home theatres keen to plug a gadget in that not only keeps the WiFi speeds in check, but also stabilises their TV, gaming consoles, and media streamers will be delighted, as will offices with a fair amount of space between them and their original modem router doing all the heavy lifting.
If this is you and you’re not keen to wait for a better modem router — or upgrade to one now — Netgear’s EX7000 AC1900 wireless range extender is definitely worth a look at, since it could easily help patch up a network struggling for speed.