I imagine that many users are starting to get fed up with Wifi performance in the home, especially when they buy a shiny new 802.11n router and imagine it's going to cure all those dead spots. The problem these days is not so much the innate performance of wireless, but more to do with the overcrowding prevalent on the 2.4GHz frequency band. In my neighbourhood, there are rarely less than half a dozen SSIDs visible during the day, and many more in the evenings when people arrive home from work.
So a range extender might seem to be the ideal solution, and if the problem really is caused by weak signals rather than interference from channel overcrowding, they certainly can be useful.
The RE1000 is a stylish little grey box with an illuminated white Cisco logo that doubles as a status light. There's a single 10/100Mbps Ethernet port. The power connector is unusual, as it comes with an adapter that allows it to either be plugged directly into a mains socket, or alternatively used with a two-pin mains lead. As it is so wide, this is a very sensible idea - it would otherwise hog any extension block or wall socket it is plugged into.
|It's very compact, stylish and has an unusual power adapter|
|It has a single 10/100Mbps Ethernet port|
It is a 2.4GHz-only device with a dual-stream (2x2) MIMO antenna arrangement, and supports both 20MHz and 40MHz channel widths for link speeds up to 300Mbps.
There are three ways to set it up. The first uses the Cisco Connect setup utility on the CD, but this only works on a wireless PC. It is very simple, and runs a site survey to let you choose the network to associate with, then configures and restarts the device.
|The setup tool works quite well|
Alternatively, if your router supports it, WPS can be used, which is probably the most reliable way. WPS can also be used to connect other wireless devices once it's running. The third method is to connect a PC via an Ethernet cable, open the web interface and do the setup manually. The PC's network adapter might have to be put on the correct sub-net first, though (the default IP address is 192.168.1.1).
I ran the configuration tool several times during the course of my testing and it worked fine on most occasions, although once or twice the utility seemed to tie itself in knots and I had to reset the unit and start again. Once it is associated with the wireless network, it effectively becomes invisible as it takes on the SSID of the network. running Cisco Connect did some odd things to the network status icon in Windows 7, however, preventing it showing the usual list of wireless networks when clicked. This behaviour cleared up after a reboot, but it is rather odd.
You can find the RE1000 in the Windows 7 network infrastructure listing in Explorer, or in the Network Places in XP, although in both cases UPnP and network discovery will need to be enabled. This then allows you to open up the web admin interface, although there is very little of interest in there. There are no network or wireless settings to tweak apart from enabling the WMM QoS feature, or setting it up with a static IP address, and its main use is for checking the wireless signal strength.
|There are few options to tweak in the admin interface|
I tried it out in my normal long-range (25m) test location at home, first running Passmark's Advanced Network test with the RE1000 turned off. I used my standard setup of an Acer Aspire One netbook with an Intel Ultimate Wifi Link 5300AGN adapter. The router was a Trendnet TEW-692GR. The average throughput was just under 15Mbps, and Inssider showed the RF signal strength from my router to be -70db. Windows showed about 50% signal strength. Connecting the RE1000 and placing it about haflway between the PC and the router, the signal strength on Inssider jumped up to -50dB and Windows showed 100%. The average throughput dropped to about 9Mbps, though, which is typical of extenders - as they work by simply re-transmitting all wireless packets they receive, they use up about half the available bandwidth. It does mean the connection should be more reliable, though, and the trick to getting the best out of any extender is finding the best location for it by choosing the furthest location that still has a decent throughput.
|Throughput at 25m without the RE1000|
|Throughput at 25m with the RE1000 turned on|
But it works well, is easy to setup and use, is well presented and has some nice touches like the versatile power adapter. Those looking for more advanced capabilities might look elsewhere, but for a straightforward way to extend the range of a wireless network it's not a bad buy at the suggested retail price of £69.99.
Web: Linksys RE1000
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3027 4626
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