How to speed up your home Internet and Wi-Fi on the cheap

Estelle Sidler

You can speed up your home Internet connection and Wi-Fi for cheaper than you’d think. It’s a need many homes are facing now, when the pandemic traps both students and parents under one roof, all trying to work online at the same time.  Wi-Fi range becomes an especially painful issue. […]

You can speed up your home Internet connection and Wi-Fi for cheaper than you’d think. It’s a need many homes are facing now, when the pandemic traps both students and parents under one roof, all trying to work online at the same time. 

Wi-Fi range becomes an especially painful issue. In our tiny home, spreading out meant we needed solid signal even in corners of the house, deck, or yard that never mattered before. While an Internet drop-out while surfing the web was no big deal a year ago, a drop-out during a Zoom call is about as embarrassing today as showing up to work with your shirt on inside-out.

Here’s how I sped up our home Wi-Fi and even coaxed more speed out of our main Internet connection (with an assist from our ISP). It takes some smart shopping and DIY can-do spirit, but my cash outlay was minimal–and could have been less, if I’d known everything I know now.

Need more tips? Check our our story on 10 ways to boost your Wi-Fi router speed at home. 

Mesh router (Asus AiMesh) to the rescue

When our current troubles first hit, my first step to improve our Wi-Fi was to purchase a used Asus RT-1900P Wi-Fi router. One of the cooler features of Asus routers has been support for a feature called “AiMesh.” This is basically the company’s take on node-based mesh routers that you place around your home to fix wireless dead zones.

Asus AiMesh is a little different. Most mesh networks ask you to buy only matching nodes, or to buy them in sets of two or more–and to be fair, that is the best way to do it. AiMesh gives you an alternative, though, allowing you to mix and match different Asus router models. This can lower your initial cost, or let you build on a conventional setup you already have (provided your existing router is from Asus and supports AiMesh).

Even better, Asus backdated many of its older routers with AiMesh support via a simple firmware update. My original dual-band RT-AC88U MU-MIMO 4×4 could get the firmware update, so I decided to pair it with a 2015-era Asus RT-1900P router. The RT-1900P also supports Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac).

My main reason for buying the RT-1900P was cost. Not just because I can be a cheapskate, but in March when there was a run on hand sanitizer and toilet paper, there was also hot demand for wireless routers. The situation was so desperate that I was happy to pay $70 for a five-year-old used Asus RT-1900P router on eBay.

rt ac1900p 02 Asus

In March, the run on routers was so bad, I was happy to get a five-year-old Asus RT-1900P for $70 on eBay.

Mesh router vs. Wi-Fi range extender

The other, even lower-cost option (assuming you could find one) was to use a Wi-Fi range extender, also called a repeater. Wi-Fi range extenders basically take a Wi-Fi signal and rebroadcast it on a neighboring Wi-Fi channel. It works, but it can be inelegant, creating multiple repeat Wi-Fi SSID’s (like [Your network name] and [Your network name]_Repeater), and broadcasting the same packets regardless of need.

With AiMesh and Mesh, you can have just one SSID, and the traffic is handled more intelligently. Management of the network is also done from one device, rather than having to run around the house resetting the range extender or hauling a laptop to it with an ethernet cable to update firmware. In my anecdotal experiences setting up extenders for friends and family, performance has also been sketchy, so it wasn’t my first choice. 

Setting up AiMesh

The first step in setting up AiMesh is to bring both routers to the same room, and update the firmware to the latest versions available that support AiMesh. You then factory-reset the node, connect it to your PC directly using ethernet, and tell it to set up as an AiMesh node. Finally, you connect your PC to the AiMesh router via ethernet, and tell it to set up the AiMesh network.

It didn’t go as smoothly for me as it did in the Asus YouTube videos, but if you can find your router’s IP address (check the manual, or the bottom of the router) and roll up your sleeves, you can get it done. It may require resetting both routers to default states, but if one router is already set up, you can save the configuration file, which can be uploaded to the router after it is reset and paired.

For the five months I’ve had the RT-1900P, Asus has pushed no fewer than three firmware updates for it. That many updates suggests that there might be lots of bugs to fix, but the fact that Asus is actively pushing out firmware for a five-year-old router (when other vendors might ask you buy a new one) is overall a strength rather than a weakness.

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