Range Extenders (or Wi-Fi Boosters) and Powerline Adapters are two different home networking products for solving weak Wi-Fi and getting a better internet connection in the home, but which of them is better for gaming? Is there a preference there between the two products when taking online gaming into account?
A quick comparison between extenders and powerline adapters for gaming can be summarized as follows:
Powerline adapters are almost always preferable to Wi-Fi extenders for gaming, since powerline adapters provide a wired ethernet connection, which almost always has lower ping than Wi-Fi. Extenders keep the user on a wireless connection, which is more prone to signal drop outs and congestion, even when amplified.
That said, powerline adapters are not guaranteed to work in all houses and circumstances, so gamers cannot always automatically default to using them, even though they are usually the next best option to running a wired ethernet connection direct to your router.
Sometimes, you may have to use range extenders as a last resort if you have exhausted all other options and need to stay on Wi-Fi. In some cases they may actually work OK if you are playing slower paced games online which aren’t so latency sensitive.
Lets look in more detail at how both range extenders and powerline adapters work, and then look at different circumstances when each product might be more useful.
How Do Range Extenders Work?
Range extenders are the simplest of Wi-Fi boosting home networking products. They consist of a simple single plug adapter which you plug into a wall outlet somewhere between your main router and your console, preferably with a direct unobstructed line of sight between the extender and your router.
The extender then “catches” and boosts the existing wireless signal across a wider area, hopefully delivering a stronger and more reliable Wi-Fi signal to your console for better gaming.
The idea behind range extenders is that they are basically just expanding the range of your existing wireless router by capturing and amplifying the existing signal. They can work very well in delivering stronger Wi-Fi across shorter distances, when there are not too many walls and other obstructions in the way. And you can connect games consoles to them just as you would with any other device.
They are also very cheap entry level networking products, with plenty of extender models available for under £/$30 on Amazon. In this sense they are a budget networking solution, but can do a perfectly good job in certain cases, usually where there is not too much distance involved and bandwidth use is not too high on the network.
In this sense, a range extender model could be useful for someone who needs a better signal but only tends to play slower paced, turn based games like golf for example online. As soon as you start moving onto faster paced racing and shooting games which are most sensitive to lag, then you may run into problems staying on Wi-Fi as we will go into further below.
Here is an example of a simple Wi-Fi Booster/Range Extender product – the Super Boost Wi-Fi
Here are some popular Range Extenders models (click affiliate links below to view products on Amazon):
Netgear Wi-Fi Range Extender EX3700 – Cheaper lower end extender model, but still has decent average review scores from plenty of ratings. Easy setup, small discrete white plug design, and generally reported to have decent range. Also has an ethernet port to connect up a wired device if needed.
Rock Space Dual Band Wi-Fi Extender/Booster – A mid price range product with a very good average review score from plenty of reviews at the time of writing. Small, discrete black plug design, compatible with all Wi-Fi types, very easy setup.
TP Link AC1750 RE 450 Range Extender – Generally well reviewed, easy setup, and delivers very good throughput in a large number of cases. More towards the pricey end though for single plug Range Extenders.
How Do Powerline Adapters Work?
Powerline adapters are more advanced home networking products, which provide a wired internet access point in the home and consist of a pair of adapter plugs, not just one.
You plug one adapter in and connect it to your router; you then plug the other adapter in and connect it to your console or PC. The two plugs then communicate through the existing electrical wiring of the house to deliver a wired internet connection to your device.
As long as the wiring and circuitry in your house is in good condition and allows the adapters to properly pair up with each other, this will deliver a very strong and reliable wired ethernet connection for your gaming, which will almost always beat WiFi (normal or boosted) hands down in terms of connection strength and reliability.
This is why powerline adapters can be such a good solution for gamers if you can get them to work, which you can in most modern and semi modern houses where the wiring is in decent condition.
They get you off WiFi altogether and onto a wired connection, which is always going to be preferable for gamers who need low ping or latency for a good experience playing online. We will go into the importance of this more further below.
The Strengths & Weaknesses of Each Product For Gaming
Here is a quick summary of the positives and drawbacks of both range extenders and powerlines, as it relates to your needs for online gaming.
Powerline Adapter Pros – Deliver a strong, wired ethernet connection when they are working that will beat WiFi hands down for consistency and keep latency low, which is exactly what gamers need most. No nonsense plug and play devices; no complex setup or DIY needed.
Entry level models available cheaply; sometimes even cheaper than some range extender models. More advanced models with multiple ports and WiFi functionality added on also available.
Powerline Adapter Cons – Only work if the circuitry of your house allows it and the wiring is in good condition. Everything needs to be running off the same meter. Also prone to interference from certain devices, though this can usually be resolved by moving them away from appliances. Older or very large houses may present problems.
Range Extender Pros – Simple devices, very cheap (less than $/£20 for basic extenders), plug and play. Can be great for boosting Wi-Fi over short distances and open plan spaces like apartments especially. Can do a good enough job if you play slower paced games online which aren’t so sensitive to lag.
Range Extender Cons – Very hit and miss in terms of reliability, especially when you start putting more walls in the way. Mixed reviews on performance. Also still keeps you on Wi-Fi, which is always less reliable than a wired connection and is always prone to weakening and dropping out over distance, even when boosted with an extender.
Wi-Fi also prone to congestion when lots of people are using the internet, whereas wired connections aren’t.
The Bottom Line – Extender or Powerline for Gaming?
The bottom line here is that powerline adapters are almost always going to be better than range extenders for gaming, as long as you can get them to work with the wiring of your house, which you should in most modern and semi modern houses.
Here is the logic of this:
- Wired connections are always better than wireless in terms of consistency and solidity for online gaming.
- Powerline adapters deliver a wired connection, whereas range extenders keep you on wireless.
- As a result, powerline adapters are better than range extenders for gaming whenever the wiring of your house allows for it.
When presented with the choice between a wired and wireless connection for gaming, the smart money is always to go for a wired connection, and this is what powerline adapters allow by using the house’s existing electrical circuitry instead of running long cables through the house.
Range Extenders do boost and amplify the Wi-Fi from your existing router, but this doesn’t change the fact that it is still Wi-Fi, with all the inherent weaknesses it comes with compared to wired connections, like weakening signal, congestion and so on.
In this sense, the range extender models could be seen as a very last resort if you can’t get powerline adapters to work and you have exhausted all other options, even running a long ethernet cable down to the router or using a more advanced Mesh System model, which does the same job but with more sophisticated technology.
Here are links to resources on some last ditch options:
- See our article on creating a wired home network for links to resources on running long ethernet cables through the house.
- See also our article on using switches to add more ethernet ports to your home network. Goes well with the wired network article above.
- See also our article on how WiFi Mesh Systems work for a look into them, as a more advanced (but also far more expensive) form of a range extender.
- See also our troubleshooting guide for powerline adapters to make sure there isn’t something else stopping them from working if you are having difficulties.
If the wiring in your house is such that you can’t use a powerline adapter, and none of these other options are appealing or possible, then you could use a Range Extender for gaming as a last resort. You can also sometimes get what you need from range extenders if you only play slower turn based games online that aren’t so badly affected by lag spikes (something like online chess or golf).
Reliability of signal is not guaranteed though, and you may still have problems with signal strength and reliability as performance of extenders is hit and miss. Use a powerline adapter whenever you can.