TP-Link TL-WA860RE Wi-Fi Range Extender full review
Everyone expects a good internet connection everywhere these days, so weak Wi-Fi signals, dead spots and slow connections must be banished. If you have a large house, or want Wi-Fi coverage right to the borders of your property, a Wi-Fi extender could be what you need. Here's our TP-Link TL-WA860RE review.
It's important to note that this isn't a powerline networking plug: the TL-WA860RE simply takes the Wi-Fi signal from your router and re-broadcasts it. It uses the mains only for power - not a network connection. See also: Wi-Fi extenders vs powerline
What surprised us was how easy it was to install the extender. You plug it in somewhere near your router where the signal is strong. Then it's a simple process of pressing your router's WPS button and the corresponding button on the TL-WA860RE. Less than 30 seconds later the two devices had paired and the router's signal was being repeated.
If your router doesn't have WPS, you can use the well-written instructions to manually configure the adaptor with your Wi-Fi settings. Once programmed, you can relocate the adaptor to another socket further away from your router: not at the edge of it's coverage but where the signal is still strong enough. An LED on the front tells you whether it's too close, too far or just right.
Thanks to a mains pass-through socket, you can plug the adaptor in anywhere, even if the mains socket is already in use. Just as useful is the wired Ethernet port on the bottom which you can use to provide an internet connection to a games console, Blu-ray player, TV or other networking device that lacks Wi-Fi. If you have more than one such device, you can buy an inexpensive Ethernet hub and attach that to the TL-WA860RE instead to multiply the number of ports.
Two external, rotating antennae mean the TL-WA860RE isn't the sleekest or most compact extender. However, you'll soon forgive this when it delivers a Wi-Fi signal to areas that were previously bereft of wireless internet.
We plugged in the adaptor to a socket on the back wall of our test house, with the router some 10m away at the front. We then ran our usual file transfer test from a shed at the bottom of the garden, roughly 20m from the TL-WA860RE (30m from the router with a wall and two sets of doors in the way). Using our Sony laptop's built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi (a basic 1x1, 150Mb/s radio on 2.4GHz) we saw good signal strengh and, as far as the laptop was concerned, it was still connected to the BT Home Hub 5: there's no need to connect to a different network, nor enter a password.
Transferring the 977MB file took 11 minutes and 24 seconds, equating to 1.43MB/s (that's 11.44Mb/s). It's considerably longer than it took to move the file in the same room as the router. With the laptop roughly 3m away, it took only 3 minutes, 5 seconds, which equates to 5.3MB/s or 42.3 if you prefer to work in megabits per second.
Chances are that you won't be copying large video files over long distances all that often, so it's arguably more relevant to talk about other tasks. With the TL-WA860RE turned off, we couldn't even get a web page to load in the shed due to the very weak signal from the Home Hub 5, but with it turned on we were able to browse at a normal speed and even watch HD YouTube videos without constant buffering.
TP-Link RE200 (AC750) Wi-Fi Extender
TP-Link also sent us the new RE200 Wi-Fi Extender for review. It's just as easy to set up as the TL-WA860RE, but doesn't have a mains pass-through. The benefit of the RE200 is that it supports 802.11ac on 5GHz, which in theory means speeds of up to 450Mb/s. Adding the 300Mb/s you get with 802.11n on 2.4GHz, and you get 'AC750'.
We used the same Sony laptop in the same position to test the RE200 on 2.4GHz and found its signal was considerably weaker than the cheaper TL-WA860RE. In fact, we struggled to get a strong enough signal to perform our file-transfer test, but when we did, it took 13 minutes, 27 seconds to copy the 977MB file. That's 1.2MB/s.
We will test out the transfer speed over 802.11ac when we obtain a suitable USB dongle, but as anyone who's used 802.11ac will know, it delivers great speeds only at short distances, so we're not expecting it to go faster.
Whether the poorer signal is due to the RE200's internal antennae or not we can't say, but since the TL-WA860RE is cheaper and has the handy pass-through socket, it's clearly the better buy.
The units we tested were provided by eBuyer.
TP-Link TL-WA860RE Wi-Fi Range Extender: Specs
- Wi-Fi range extender
- Supports 802.11b/g/n
- 10/100Mbps Ethernet Port
- Mains pass-through socket
- Antenna: 2x external
- Supports WPS connection
- Dimensions 110x66x75mm
- Power Consumption: 3W