Review model kindly supplied by Ebuyer.com
Range Extenders are currently the hottest property in networking – consumers are purchasing the devices in droves as they seek to eliminate “cold” or “dead” Wi-Fi spots in their homes and offices. In these days of mobile computing, we demand bandwidth everywhere, but if you live in a brick or concrete-constructed building, a strong signal from your router can drop-off quickly when faced with a couple of thick walls.
The RP-N53 from ASUS is a compact, wireless network extender. It’s classed as an 802.11n device, compatible with older a/b/g networks, and supports simultaneous connections on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands (using different antennas). Why is this useful? Say you have an old wireless g device (for example, a printer) connected on the 2.4 GHz band – while that device is connected to your network, that antenna will be limited to wireless g speeds, even for newer wireless n devices. Having a separate 5 GHz band available will allow devices that support it to operate at full speed.
Now, I’ve always been a little sceptical of devices which promise to boost a wireless signal. The few that I’ve used have generally suffered from reliability issues after being connected for a few days, requiring a power cycle to reconnect to the network. Another potential concern for me is network lag – if all of my data is passing through a range extender, wouldn’t it slow down the network?
That said, ASUS has a strong reputation in networking and the Internet is packed with five star reviews of their kit. The specifications for the RP-N53 include reassuring features like dual-band, MIMO antennas and easy setup. It sounds full of promise, but can it deliver?
What’s in the Box?
When opening the box, I expected a little more than I got. Perhaps I’m just too used to superfluous accessories, but the full contents are:
- ASUS RP-N53 Range Extender
- Quick start guide
- Warranty card
Yep. That’s it. The RP-N53 has a reset button, On/Off slider switch, WPS button, 3.5mm audio output, Ethernet port, and a tactile button on the front of the unit which toggles an integrated nightlight (this button can also be changed to control a number of other things, however). The status LEDs on the front show which bands are connected, alongside the signal strength.
Setting up the ASUS RP-N53 Range Extender
Setup is supposedly very easy, thanks to the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button on the left of the device. You simply press the WPS button on your router and then do the same on the RP-N53, and setup is complete. However, my router doesn’t have WPS, and even if it did, well, where’s the fun in that?!
Manual setup involves waiting for the device’s wireless SSID to appear after plugging in and switching on. After connecting, a window should pop up to guide you through setup (if this doesn’t happen, the quick start guide directs you to access the setup wizard via your web browser at http://repeater.asus.com).
The first thing you’re prompted for is a new password. After definitely not leaving it as the default (admin/admin), the RP-N53 moved on to a site survey, where it scanned all available access points. I selected my router’s 5 GHz band, then I was asked if I wanted to also pick a 2.4 GHz band, which I did.
Once the extender has connected to your router, you’ll be shown a summary screen where you can confirm the setup. If you leave the ‘Use default setting’ box checked, it will use the settings from the first network you selected to form the new SSIDs and passwords. This isn’t an assumption I wanted the device to make, as I wanted the 2.4 GHz band to be named as such. Also, my router has a different password for the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, so I wanted the repeater for each band to match its equivalent on the router.
Changing these settings is also important if you want to use the repeater transparently (i.e. you want to change the SSIDs to match your router, so that the connecting device will automatically switch between the extender and main access point, depending on which signal is stronger – the passwords will need to match your router/AP).
Troubleshooting and Reliability
After configuring the range extender, I was expecting to be able to leave everything else as-is, and get a feel for the RP-N53’s reliability, however, the RP-N53 repeatedly dropped its connection to my router.
I tried changing various settings to no avail. Rebooting the device would allow it to connect for a few minutes before dropping again. My last resort should have been my first; checking for new firmware! I rebooted, to give the RP-N53 enough time to check online for firmware, and then let it do its thing.
Since updating the firmware, I’ve not had any connection/reliability issues with the unit, however, whilst testing it, I’ve been moving it around and restarting it, so I can’t say whether or not it will start to slow down after weeks of uptime.