With its $83 RE6500 range extender, Linksys has managed to squeeze the power of the best-performing extender into a package small enough to unobtrusively hide on a shelf, bookcase or even a windowsill.
At 6 x 4.2 x 1 inches, the black-and-gray device is one of the smallest extenders on the market, but it packs a wallop and has just about everything you could want to fill those pesky Wi-Fi dead spots.
The RE6500 lacks the ability to be plugged directly into an AC outlet, as is the case with the Belkin DB600, D-Link DAP 1520, Netgear WN3500RP and several Linksys models. However, this extender is small and light enough to be Velcroed to its AC adapter. It has mounting holes for screwing it into a wall or under a desk, but unlike other Linksys products — like the WRT-1900AC — the RE6500 doesn’t come with a paper template that shows you where to drill the mounting holes.
The RE6500 is a dual-band router that supports the 2.4- and 5-GHz wireless bands. It has a pair of 3dBi dipole antennas on the back that can be aimed, unscrewed and replaced with more sensitive ones to add a little range and bandwidth.
Along its back, the RE6500 has four gigabit wired LAN ports for connecting networked hard drives, printers and other devices. However, it does not include the USB port that many of its competitors provide. The RE6500 has the bonus of a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack for turning it into a media server that can be connected to a stereo. Of the extenders we tested, only the Netgear WN3500RP had better connection potential, with LAN, USB and audio ports.
Instead of a slew of blinking LED lights, the RE6500’s lighted bar discreetly shows the extender’s status at a glance. It has a recessed reset button underneath for returning the device to its factory settings.
The RE6500 comes unencrypted, and its four-step process doesn’t require any networking knowledge. You start by connecting a client to the extender’s preset SSID and typing 192.168.1.1 into any browser window; it works just as well with Internet Explorer as Chrome. Then, the software scans for networks to extend and lets you set up the 2.4- and 5-GHz extended networks at the same time.
Credit: Jeremy Lipps / Tom’s GuideIts default is to use the same network name and passcodes as the host network, which most people will want. If you want a different setup, as I did, it takes an extra minute to enter the new names and passcodes. After a quick restart, the extender is ready and puts together a printable summary page of the settings.
Once it’s set up, you can use the system’s Wi-Fi Protected Setup button on the back of the RE6500 to automatically link with a WPS-capable client. It works just as well if you set up its connections manually.
The RE6500’s software presents its material in long columns that are fine for notebook and desktop clients but feel cramped on a small tablet or phone. In addition to redoing the networks’ names and encryption settings, you can adjust the channel width, which is a measure of how much spectrum each channel is allotted. Unfortunately, the RE6500 doesn’t offer the variety of configuration options that the Amped Wireless REA20 can.
The RE6500 has QOS quality of service software built in for prioritizing traffic. It is WMM-based and can speed up VoIP phone calls, as well as online video and games, but there’s no adjustments available.
Over the course of two weeks, the RE6500 reliably doled out video, documents and live Web connections to parts of my house, lab and office. I used it with PCs, iPads and Android tablets.
Based on ixChariot benchmark results at Tom’s Guide’s Manhattan offices, it wasn’t the performance winner in either 2.4- or 5-GHz testing. However, it did well enough in each category to claim the title of top overall performer. Think of it as a networking jack-of-all-trades.
In 2.4-GHz mode, the RE6500 delivered peak throughput of 47.9 Mbps. That’s off the 53.0-Mbps pace set by the D-Link DAP 1520, but more than enough for several people to watch online TV and videos withoutchoppiness. Its 5-GHz result of 168.1 Mbps was in the middle of the pack, with the Belkin F9K1122 leading at 184.2 Mbps. In both cases, the device hit its peak at 15 feet, rather than 5 feet, from the device.
Put the two channels together, and the RE6500 can move 254.8 Mbps of all sorts of data. That’s nearly 30 Mbps more than the DAP 1520’s 225 Mbps and 50 percent more than the Netgear WN3500rp’s 168.1 Mbps.
It’s also the Wi-Fi long-distance champ. My Portege Z10t laptop was able to stay online as far as 145 feet from the extender in 2.4-GHz mode without dropping a frame. That’s 25 feet longer than either the DAP 1520 or the WN3500RP.
Like the Belkin F9K1106 extender, the RE6500 includes a two-year warranty. The other extenders we tested come with one-year warranties.
No other extender does so much for so little. At $79, the Linksys RE6500 is the overall performance king. It has excellent range and the ability to connect four wired LAN devices and a stereo. It’s the basis for making sure that your network fills your entire home.
Size: 6 x 4.2 x 1 inches
Number of Antennas/Removable: 2 external / Yes
Wi-Fi Spec: AC 1200 dual-band 802.11ac
Ports: Four gigabit Ethernet, audio jack
Peak 802.11ac performance: 254.8 Mbps*
Extender range in 2.4GHz mode: 145 feet