Review: EnGenius ERB9250 Wi-Fi Range Extender

By Gerry Blackwell

January 25, 2011

Wi-Fi networks can be fickle things with their share of dead zones and mysterious performance issues. Engenius's Wi-Fi range extender might help solve some of those problems, and won't require an enterprise network administrator to implement.

It's a rare office or home that doesn't have some Wi-Fi dead zones, areas that, for whatever combination of reasons to do with obstructions, interferers or distance from router, have poor or no wireless network coverage.

What can you do about them?

For enterprise network integrators and installers, there are a bunch of options, most requiring knowledge and expertise beyond what the average home user or small business owner possesses, and sometimes a significant expenditure as well. So we noted with interest a recent product from EnGenius Technology Inc., the 300Mbps Wireless N Range Expander (model ERB9250), which sells online for about $50.

EnGenius already claims that its Wi-Fi routers and access points deliver Wi-Fi range superior to competitors' products. Now the ERB9250 promises to extend coverage to remaining dead spots in networks that use either EnGenius's own or other vendors' router and AP products. And it also promises to be dead easy to install. We put this to the test, with mixed and slightly ambiguous results.

Testing the ERB9250

We tested the ERB9250 in conjunction with an older EnGenius router product, designed for home and small business use, the 300Mbps Wireless N Router with Gigabit (model ESR-9850), which sells online for about $70.

Setting up the ESR-9850 was fairly simple. Turn it on, plug in cable modem and wired network devices, wait for it to configure itself and then access the browser-based configuration interface from a computer connected by Ethernet cable.

We inserted the EnGenius router into an existing network, using the same security settings (Mac filtering only) and the same SSID. Changing the default SSID on the ESR-9850 to the one our devices already connect to was easy using the intuitive and well-designed browser interface.

Our first objective was to test EnGenius's contention that its routers deliver superior range - to the extent we could in our facility, a small suburban home with three home office setups on two floors. We tested this proposition by comparing the ESR-9850's performance with our existing router, a Draft N model from Netgear.

We measured signal strength in various locations in the house using inSSIDer 2.0, a freeware Wi-Fi signal monitor from MetaGeek LLC, and also timed large file transfers - first with the old router in place, then after installing the ESR-9850.

There initially appeared to be some instability in the network after installing the EnGenius product, with network devices not responding or responding with error messages. These problems resolved themselves seemingly spontaneously and have not reappeared - suggesting they were not related to the ESR-9850, or not directly.

We started by testing in two rooms on the same floor as the router: one the room in which the router is located, the other only 30 feet away, but with historically poor Wi-Fi coverage. In these rooms, the differences in performance between the two routers was negligible: a matter of a few seconds on transfers of a 210MB file that took about half a minute in the router room, a little over a minute in the other room. The received signal strength indicator (RSSI) reading in inSSIDer was also very similar in the two sets of tests: about -30 in the router room, -50 to -60 in the other. That said, high-bit-rate streaming video performance did seem better in the poor-coverage room after we installed the EnGenius router.

When we moved to the lower level in the house, the performance differences were more marked.

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