Essential networking accessories

A basic network ties together all your home electronics, but there is a range of devices that can add handy extra functionality.

Wi-Fi is very useful, but it can be extremely frustrating when there is interference or poor signal strength. Range extenders help remove black spots by boosting the signal away from your router.

Wired connections are ideal for high-speed transfers and media streaming, but are not easy to install (especially not neatly) for those who rent. Media bridges are high-speed wireless links that can be used to link wired devices into wireless connections, at speeds that can even exceed Gigabit LAN.

Other accessories such as USB wired and wireless connections are great for travelling, or upgrading older computers.

There are also devices that can bring new network connectivity options to older equipment, such as Wi-Fi to a USB-only printer, or audio streaming to existing Hi-Fi equipment.

Other options, such as passive high-gain antennas, can be used with your existing router to improve reception and range.

ASUS EA-AC87 Media Bridge

EA-AC87-Product _photo-rightThe ASUS EA-AC87 (by default) is a 5GHz media bridge — basically forming a direct but wireless link between your main network and up to five wired devices.

It uses four antennas to get a combined throughput of up to 1,734Mbps — albeit from a compatible 4 x 4 802.11ac router.

Just as important is the connection speed at range — even across a house, we had more than enough bandwidth to max out the transfer speeds on a NAS.

For example, the unit could be used to link from where the router is to a more distant media room, and still have plenty of bandwidth to stream. For the best results, the EA-AC87 has LEDs that show the link quality, which makes positioning it for maximum speed easy.

When used as a bridge, the EA-AC87 can’t connect to your other Wi-Fi devices, and does not operate as a signal repeater. It can be used as a wireless access point, though, and can provide high-speed connections over an area of around 465 metres squared.

Verdict: An expensive but extremely fast media bridge for those who need Gigabit speeds without wires.

Price: $209
From: ASUS

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

D-Link DMG-112A

DMG-112A_A1_Image_L(Side_Right)The D-Link DMG-112A takes a different approach to most range extenders, opting to be USB-powered and extremely compact.

For a start, it means the unit is great for using when on the go, such as boosting signal at work, or when on a holiday. You can also use a USB extension cable to provide power to the extender, which allows more creative positioning for better range.

It can also be run from a power bank, creating a totally portable setup.

The DMG-112A is designed for use with lower bandwidth devices, and supports 300Mbps 2.4GHz 802.11n, not ac, Wi-Fi.

The unit is configured via a D-Link app, or for a simpler experience, it has a one-touch WPS auto setup button.

In testing, we found the unit’s dual internal antennas could eliminate dead spot and significantly boost the signal in far sections of the house, giving better transfer rates.

While a model with external antennas is more powerful, the DMG-112A is a versatile option for basic range extension.

Verdict: Ideal for those who need to boost Wi-Fi when at work or travelling.

Price: $45
From: D-Link

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

D-Link DUB-1312

DUB-1312_A1_Image_L(Front_GB)Wi-Fi is amazing, but sometimes it just doesn’t cut it. Speeds can be super-fast close to the router, but at longer ranges, or with interference, nothing beats Gigabit LAN. The problem is, many new portable laptops simply don’t have wired network connections anymore.

The D-Link DUB-1312 is super simple, taking a USB 3.0 connection, and turns it into a full-speed Gigabit LAN link.

It’s quite compact, too, which is ideal for travelling — hotel wired networks are almost always better than wireless.

As tested on Windows 10, using the adaptor is as simple as plugging it in — no setup needed. For older systems (Windows 8 back to XP), or Linux and Mac OS, D-Link includes a driver CD, or online download. It’s a shame the drivers were not on a USB stick instead.

In testing, we achieved identical average speeds on the DUB-1312, compared to a built in connection.

While ideal for slim laptops, the D-Link adaptor can also be used to upgrade the connection on older desktops.

Verdict: A simple way to add fast wired network connectivity to a system.

Price: $40
From: D-Link

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Jaycar Wi-Fi Audio Receiver

AA2110_MainA media bridge makes it easy to bring audio and video to compatible devices, but Hi-Fi gear is often left out of the loop. Older high-quality audio equipment can be brought into the fold with a Wi-Fi receiver module.

The Jaycar offering connects to your existing network, and outputs audio via S/PDIF or 3.5mm stereo audio.

It’s quite compact, too, and is easy to tuck away out of site. It runs from microUSB (and includes an adaptor), but can also be plugged in to an existing USB port on some AV gear, to reduce the number of cables needed.

It also makes it easy to use in the car, or when travelling or camping.

The unit supports DLNA, AirPlay and QPlay, so can accept a stream from existing network devices, such as a NAS or straight from a smartphone.

It uses 802.11n Wi-Fi, and we had no problem beaming music to it anywhere in a house. We found audio quality is as good as the original stream, with no interference created.

Verdict: An easy way to give network connectivity to existing audio gear.

Price: $79.95
From: Jaycar

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Netgear AC1900 Nighthawk Range Extender

netgear_nighthawkCheaper day-to-day Wi-Fi range extenders are great, but what about if you need to copy large amounts of data or handle 4K video streaming over longer distances?

That’s where the Nighthawk steps in, with 802.11ac capabilities on 2.4 and 5GHz networks, for combined speeds up to 1,900Mbps. It’s also got a 1GHz Dual Core CPU, and three large antennas, backed by a powerful 700mW signal amplifier to give maximum range.

The unit can also tap into wired networks, with five Gigabit Ethernet ports that allow it to work as a wireless bridge. It’s also got a USB 3.0 connection that can operate as a print server.

The Nighthawk is ideal for boosting signal strength without sacrificing speed, or looping wired devices into your network at full speed without needing any more cables.

It can also bring high-speed ac spec Wi-Fi to an older modem or router.

In testing, the Nighthawk gave impressive range, and provided high speeds over the entire property.

Verdict: Overkill for most, but one of the fastest range extenders available.

Price: $225
From: Netgear

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Netgear A6200

A6210_Adapter_3-4Lft_HiRes[1]Considering that just about every portable device already has Wi-Fi built in, a high-end USB wireless adaptor might seem like overkill. But they are still useful for those who demand the fastest speeds, or need flexibility to get better reception when travelling.

The Netgear A6200 uses the 802.11ac spec operating on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. It’s rated for speeds up to 867Mbps (5GHz), and while it’s less in the real world, we still managed an impressive 487Mbps up close (110Mbps on 2.4GHz), and a useable signal out to over 100 metres.

For more typical around-the-home use (with a few walls in the way), we saw speeds closer to 200Mbps. The 5GHz option is also ideal for avoiding interference from existing networks, and microwaves, which can cause problems when streaming HD video.

The A6200 comes with a base station (or can be plugged into a USB directly), along with an adjustable antenna, which makes it easy to tweak for the best reception and range.

Verdict: A versatile way to upgrade to the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi speeds.

Price: $75
From: Netgear

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

TP-Link Archer T9E

archer-t9e_0Wired networks are awesome, with a solid 1Gbps connection at long range, which makes large file transfers easy.

For a desktop, Wi-Fi can be too slow and even laggy for gaming. Unless you go all out, with the TP-Link Archer T9E super-fast 802.11ac Dual Band PCIe wireless adaptor.

Using the 5GHz band and three antennas, it can hit speeds of 1,300Mbps. The 2.4GHz band can manage 600Mbps, which gives a massive 1,900Mbps combined. With excellent reception and a fast router, it can actually give better throughput than a wired connection.

The T9E is fairly compact and only single slot, so won’t take up much room inside a PC. It needs PCIe, but only a 1x connection, which are usually free.

In testing, the T9E gave top-notch results and was easily able to max out the read/write speeds on our test NAS at close range.

It is important to adjust the antenna positions, though, for the fastest speeds, and make sure the back of the computer faces the router.

Verdict: High-end desktop Wi-Fi connectivity at a very affordable price.

Price: $89
From: TP-Link

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

TP-Link TL-WPS510U

TL-WPS510U_0New wireless inkjet printers are super cheap, but that old battle-axe of a LASER printer is much cheaper to run.

The problem is sharing a wired printer between multiple users, or simply being able to put it somewhere out of the way, rather than close to a specific computer.

The TP-Link printer server allows you to connect any USB printer to your wireless network, for handy remote access.

It supports 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n networks, including WPA2 security. Using the included cable, the server simply plugs in place of a normal USB lead on the printer. It is externally powered, though, with a small wall wart style PSU.

Setup is simple thanks to the TP-Link wizard, and the unit will work with most printers. We tested on an older Samsung ML-1740 with no issues.

The server has a adjustable external antenna, so we had no problems with range when connecting to our network.

It can also be used with Mac OS and Linux, as well as Windows.

Verdict: An affordable way to bring new functionality to an older printer.

Price: $69
From: TP-Link

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5