Once you have the Extender connected to your wireless router, the only thing left to do is to experiment with placing it. Unfortunately, the RE1000 isn't too helpful about this. Unlike the NETGEAR WN2000RPT, there are no link quality indicators on the device itself and the big ol' backlit Cisco logo only flashes during a WPS session or if there is an error. But "error" doesn't include losing connection with your wireless router!
So you'll either use trial and error to find the right spot for your RE1000, or resort to carrying around a notebook or tablet so you can log into the Extender's Status > WLAN Statictics page. There you can use the Upstream Signal Strength and Quality graphics shown in Figure 4. Too bad Cisco didn't include a readout of the Extender's Link Rate, too.
Figure 4: WLAN statistics page
Or you could simply try a spot midway between your wireless router and the area that you're trying to improve wireless coverage in. This placement ensures that the repeater receives a strong enough signal to provide good throughput, even after the 50% reduction due to the repeater's single radio. As explained in the Everything You Need To Know About Wireless Bridging and Repeating series, this reduction is caused by the single radio receiving, then retransmitting data.
I tested the RE1000's repeating performance using our standard test client, an Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300 AGN mini-PCIe card in a notebook running Windows 7 Home Premium and version 184.108.40.206 of the Intel drivers. I left all client-side defaults in place. The Extender was running Ver.1.0.00 (Build 17) firmware and associated with the NETGEAR WNDR3700 (original version), which is my current home router. The WNDR3700 is set to neighbor-friendly 20 MHz bandwidth mode (Up to 130 Mbps, in WNDR3700-speak), Channel 11 and secured via WPA2 / AES.
The WNDR3700's normal location is a lower level Utility room near the center of my home, which provides excellent coverage, even in my Location E and F "dead zones". So to properly test the RE1000's wireless extension power, I relocated the WNDR3700 to the normal router test location in my office and reduced transmit power down to 25%. The last step was done to ensure that the test client would associate with the RE1000 and not the main router. It also matches the test conditions I used in the WN2000RPT review, so that we can fairly compare the results.
I started with the Extender and WNDR3700 in my office to run through the setup wizard. After setup, I took baseline measurements using IxChariot running a throughput.scr script using TCP/IP.
Figure 5 shows downlink performance with wireless client connected directly to the WNDR3700 (_direct), then with the client connected to the RE1000 via Ethernet (_bridge), which provides essentially the same throughput (~ 55 Mbps). Finally, performance with the client wirelessly connected to the WNDR3700 via the Extender (_repeat) averaged just shy of 24 Mbps—less than half the bridged and direct-connected values. (This is the 50% retransmit "tax" I talked about earlier.)
Uplink tests produced slightly lower direct-connected and bridge results that you can see in the IxChariot plot.
Figure 5: Location A (same room) performance - downlink
I then moved the Extender to an upstairs hallway location, about halfway between the WNDR3700 and my dead-zone kitchen test location E. Figure 6 shows the approximate locations of the WNDR3700 (Lower Level) and RE1000 (Upper Level). Yes, those are teeny WN2000RPTs shown in the floor plan—I was too lazy to redo the diagram.
Figure 6: Test locations
Figure 7 summarizes the results with the relocated RE1000. The top trace (_bridge) is throughput of the test client connected to the RE1000 via Ethernet. This shows 18 Mbps of throughput available directly to Ethernet connected clients or available to be repeated to wireless clients.
The next test listed (_repeat) is repeated performance from wireless client through the RE1000 to the WNDR3700. Again, the throughput loss is well over the expected 50% with a yield of only 5 Mbps. Variation is also high with frequent drops to near zero throughput.
In fact, I had trouble completing the tests in this mode. The test notebook kept getting disconnected, which was suprising given its strong signal level back to the RE1000. So I had to rerun tests a few times to get complete runs.
Figure 7: Location E performance - downlink
Next test shown (_direct) is throughput with the client directly associated to the WNDR3700, i.e. without repeater and with the WNDR3700's transmit power still at 25%. As expected, this produces the lowest throughput of 1.3 Mbps.
The last trace listed (_direct_fullpower) is throughput with the wireless client again associated directly with the WNDR3700, but with the WNDR3700's transmit power back up at 100%. The 6 Mbps seen here is just about as good as the repeated performance!
Uplink tests produced similar results that you can see in the IxChariot plot.
The bottom line is that Cisco didn't do a very good job with the RE1000. About the only thing it has going for it is its small size and ability to be wall-plugged. In the things that matter most for a repeater—ease of installation and performance—the RE1000 just doesn't cut it.
Although the WN2000RPT gets higher marks for ease of setup and bridging performance, Table 1 shows that it is just about as ineffective in producing decent repeated throughput.
Table 1: Location E Performance comparison - downlink
As I said at the top, wireless repeaters just aren't very good at what they're supposed to do. You'd be much better off spending a bit more and trying a powerline-connected AP like D-Link's DHP-W306AV. Or grab a pair of relatively inexpensive 200 Mbps HomePlug AV adapters and any old router you have lying around converted to an AP.