pcmag.comTable of ContentsPreparation and Testbed SpecsSetup and FeaturesData Throughput Performance TestingSignal Strength TestingWi-Fi Mesh System TestingRange Extender Testing Here at PCMag Labs, our mission is to deliver accurate, reproducible test results for every product we review. We use those results, along with other criteria, such as pricing, ease of use, and features, to assign an overall rating of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest rating. For wireless routers, mesh network systems, and range extenders, we have a variety of tests to measure factors like data-throughput rates and file-transfer speeds, and we compare these results to the devices that came before to help you decide which is the best one for your needs. Here's a look at how we test routers, Wi-Fi systems, and range extenders.Preparation and Testbed SpecsTo prepare routers for testing, we disable all other routers in the vicinity to provide a relatively clean environment with minimal interference. We start by upgrading the router's firmware to the latest version (if necessary) and install the device in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. We test each router in a closed network, with all security options disabled, and we enable any performance-enhancing features, such as beamforming. We use a desktop system powered by an Intel Core i9 CPU and 16GB of RAM as our host PC. It runs Windows 11 Pro and has a 10GbE network card installed. We use a OnePlus 11 5G phone, which is powered by a Wi-Fi 7-capable Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, as our client.Setup and FeaturesFor budget routers, management and customization features are often very similar. Meanwhile, high-end products—especially those that address specific audiences, like gaming routers—differentiate themselves on the depth of their overall feature portfolio as well as on unique capabilities that help them achieve more competitive results. To quantify this, we look at the router's installation and setup procedure to gauge ease of use and check all written and online documentation, paying special attention to things like setup wizards and on-screen help with explanations of basic and advanced settings. (Credit: Joseph Maldonado)Then we rate features such as size and form factor; the number of wired Ethernet ports (including whether any multi-gigabit ports are offered) and antennas; the number of USB ports and other I/O features; and if the management interface is user-friendly. We also look for certain management features, including parental controls, site filtering, guest networks, security options, firewall settings, and Quality of Service (QoS) settings. Finally, we look for common third-party integration bundles, like anti-malware software suites or virtual private network (VPN) clients. (Credit: TP-Link)Data Throughput Performance TestingFor the quantitative part of our evaluation, we use Iperf, an open-source network-performance utility, to test throughput between the server and the client and record the results in megabits per second (Mbps). Each Iperf test runs for 60 seconds, uses the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and delivers four parallel streams.We start with a close-proximity test, where the client is in the same room as the router, separated by a distance of 5 feet. We run three instances of the Iperf test and use the average throughput speed as our final score. Next, we move the client into another room and place it in a location that is 30 feet from the router. After rebooting both the client and the router, we run the same three Iperf tests and use the average as our final score. For multi-band routers, we run these tests while connected to the 2.4GHz band, we run them again while connected to the 5GHz band, and we run them a third time on the 6GHz band if the router supports it. (Credit: Iperf)For models that have a USB port that supports external storage connectivity, we run read/write speed tests to gauge how the router handles large file transfers. We connect a USB hard drive and time how long it takes to transfer a 1.5GB folder containing a mix of video, music, photo, and document files between the desktop and the USB drive. We then take the elapsed time in seconds and divide 1,536 (1.5GB) by that number to get the write transfer speed in megabytes per second (MBps). Read speeds are measured by transferring the file from the drive to the desktop and are calculated the same way.Signal Strength TestingBecause the strength of your router's signal can also have a dramatic effect on overall performance and throughput, we use the Ekahau Sidekick 2 and Ekahau Survey app to measure signal strength for all of our routers and Wi-Fi mesh systems. (Note: Ekahau is a subsidiary of Ziff Davis, the publisher of PCMag.com.) This lets us show how each device not only performs in our test home, but how it sees the rest of our network. The Sidekick 2 is a Wi-Fi diagnostic and measurement device that contains four powerful Wi-Fi radios (which scan the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz frequency bands) and supports Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, and Wi-Fi 6E wireless technologies. It also contains a high-speed tri-band spectrum analyzer (2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz), nine internal antennas, a 120GB solid-state drive, and a rechargeable Li-ion battery. (Credit: Ekahau)When paired with Ekahau's Survey app, the Sidekick 2 collects accurate signal strength measurements that we display as heat maps for the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz radio bands. Signal strength is measured in dBm (decibel milliwatts) where the smaller negative number (-30, for example) represents a stronger signal than the higher negative number (-100, for example). On the heat map, darker green areas indicate the strongest signal measurements, and lighter green and yellow areas show a weaker signal.Wi-Fi Mesh System TestingThese tests are done similar to traditional router testing, but with a few variations. If the Wi-Fi Mesh system only runs in band-steering mode (where the router determines the best available band), we run three close-proximity tests and three 30-foot tests on the router component, and then again for each node. If the system supports dedicated band control (where you have individual SSIDs for the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz bands), we run three close-proximity and three 30-foot tests for each band on the router component and on each node. When moving from node to node, we disconnect the client from the network and reconnect it to ensure that it is connecting to the closest node.For more on how to buy a Wi-Fi system, along with reviews of the latest products, check out our buying guide.Range Extender TestingRange extenders are tested using the Iperf utility in much the same way as traditional routers. The extender is placed 30 feet from the router and each band is tested three times with the client at close proximity, and again at distances of 20 and 40 feet. We use the average score for each of the ranges.You can see our favorite range extenders in our buying guide. Also check out our Wi-Fi router product guide for the latest reviews. You can also learn how to boost your wireless signal and set up and optimize your router.

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