HTG Reviews the D-Link DAP-1520: A Dead Simple Network Wi-Fi Extender

By Jason Fitzpatrick on September 25th, 2014

Even with the advances in Wi-Fi routers it’s still possible you have a dead spot or two in your house (and if you have an older router it’s likely you have entire portions of your home with a poor or non-existent signal). D-Link’s DAP-1250 offers a dead simple and low-profile way to extend the reach of your home network.

What is the D-Link DAP-1520?

The D-Link DAP-1520 is a wireless extender with a wall-wart form factor. The purpose of the DAP-1520 and similar products is to extend the reach of your wireless network by tapping into the existing Wi-Fi signal and extending it beyond it’s previous reach by providing a digital lilypad for it to leapfrog off of.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re stuck putting your Wi-Fi router on the far east side of your home because that’s where the fiber optic line terminates and all your network equipment is hardwired. It’s likely that on the far west side of your home you have a significantly weaker Wi-Fi signal (or no Wi-Fi signal at all). An extender placed in the middle of the home or toward the edge of the router’s signal strength will allow the extender to extend the signal beyond the reach of the router and provide coverage in what was previously a dead zone.

The D-Link DAP-1520 offers simple setup and 802.11ac Wi-Fi standards in a tiny (nearly) plug and play box. Read on as we show you how to set it up, place it, and how it performed.

How Do I Set It Up?

D-Link seems to be on a roll with the whole ease-of-setup factor. Just like previously reviewed D-Link DIR-800L the DAP-1520’s setup was straight forward and painless. The first thing you need to after unboxing the unit and removing the protective film is to plug it into an outlet near your router. Don’t worry at this point about finding an optimum location for the unit; we want it close to the main router with a strong signal so we can complete the setup process before relocating it.

Once the extender is plugged in and powered on, you can set it up one of two ways. If your router supports WPS (and you have it enabled) you can simply press the sync button located on the right side of the DAP-1520 along with the sync button located on your router.

We prefer to set things up manually both because we’ve disabled WPS on our router for security reasons and because we like having more control over the setup process. For manual configuration you will need a laptop, Wi-Fi enabled computer, or mobile device within range of the extender as you need to connect directly to the unit via its unique SSID to configure it. This SSID and password is clearly identified via stickers and card included with the device as well as via label on the device itself. If you should make an error in the configuration process and render yourself unable to access the extender, you can always press the reset button on the device and reset it to these default values.

Outside of any serious network changes this is the first and last time you’ll need to log directly into the device. First, connect to the new SSID with your laptop or mobile device. Second, open a web browser and navigate to http://dlinkap (if your device balks at using local name schemes, you can also navigate directly to the device control panel via the IP address 192.168.0.50).

Once connected the setup process is very straight forward. Select the manual installation process and then select the the wireless network you wish to connect to.

Our one and only complaint about the setup process is found in this step (and many users may not even realize there’s something to complain about). If you have a home network that has both a 2.4Ghz band and a 5Ghz band you cannot select both connections. This seems intuitive, that you can only select one connect to use, but it’s actually a bit confusing because there is a system at work behind the scenes that isn’t adequately explained to the end user. The DAP-1520 appears to use the same setup as Netgear extenders and their “FastLane” system wherein the extender connects to the router on one band for transmission to the extender and another for transmission from the extender back to the router.

The extender itself, however, does provide access on both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz channel and you can specify both the SSID and passwords for the channels in the next step. You have the option of giving the extender a unique SSID (by default it is the router’s SSID + EXT on the end, e.g. wireless-EXT and wireless-EXT5G) or you can use the exact same SSID as your main router for a more seamless experience where devices will automatically switch between the two access points.

We will caution you, however, that the aforementioned feature is highly device dependent. Some laptops, smartphones, and other Wi-Fi devices do a fantastic job optimizing their connections and selecting which connection, among the many identically named SSIDs, and others do an abysmal job at it. If you find that your devices are frequently dropping their connection or the connection is otherwise malfunctioning you’ll need to set a unique SSID for the extender.

Once you’ve confirmed the settings the extender will reboot and the old SSID and password (the ones you read off the label) will no longer work and the new SSID and password will be active. At this point you can (and should) connect a device to the extender and confirm that you can access the internet through it before moving the extender to its final location.

After the reboot you can log back into the device in the future by visiting the same local address (or checking your router to see the new IP address assigned to the device). The user interface is simple and there are few options save for the ability to update the firmware, change the SSID settings, and check the data transmission volumes. The last feature is a cool one, don’t get us wrong, but outside of curiosity and specific diagnostic situations we’re not sure how often anyone is actually going to analyze the data usage on their Wi-Fi extender.

Where Should I Position It?

The key to using the D-Link DAP-1520 (and other similar Wi-Fi extenders) properly is placement. Poor placement is a guarantee you’ll get poor results, regardless of the quality of the device. To that end it’s important to place the extender well within the reach of your existing Wi-Fi signal. It cannot successfully extend what it cannot successfully receive.

The quick start guide included with the DAP-1520 offers a helpful visual reference.

The image above shows poor positioning. If you were to plug the device in at the edge of the signal, as shown above, your Wi-Fi extender would have the same trouble reaching the Wi-Fi router as your devices are having. Instead you want to place the extender where it can get a solid signal and then extend that signal from that point outward.

In the ideal placement scenario, the Wi-Fi extender is placed within the reach of the Wi-Fi router such that it can receive a strong signal and repeat it beyond the reach of the original device.

An easy way to experiment with placement is to place the configured Wi-Fi extender in a location and then use the Wi-Fi selection tool on your smartphone or laptop to check the signal strength (for more precise readings, consider using an app like WiFi Analyzer for Android or the like).

How Does It Perform?

The setup was easy enough, now onto the most important matter: how well does the DAP-1520 perform? As far as signal extension goes, the extender performed as would be expected. For a small wall-wart size device is added a significant range to the base Wi-Fi router. It extended the signal of our router by approximately 50 feet when placed in an optimal location within the range of the router and boosted signal strength in the radius extending up through the house and out into the backyard by approximately 35dB on the 2.4Ghz band and approximately 20dB on the 5Ghz band.

Likewise, transmission speeds were satisfactory with an average throughput of 20 Mbps for both upload and download when using the 2.4Ghz band. The 5Ghz band averaged averaged 47 Mbps when downloading but only 18 Mbps on the upload. Although the speeds are more than satisfactory for nearly every application, the DAP-1520 is one of many Wi-Fi devices that we’ve tested that has finicky and less-than-expected performance on the 5Ghz band.

In aggregate the performance was satisfactory and gaming, video streaming, and casual web browsing on the base router and the extender were indistinguishable.

The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict

After setting it up and running it through tests, what do we have to say about it in summar? Time for the the good, the bad, and the verdict.

The Good

  •  Small form factor, easy to place and requires no extra wiring.
  • Reasonably priced; at $60 it’s the most economical name brand 802.11ac extender on the market as of this review.
  • Extremely simple setup; once setup requires no additional maintenance or user-interaction unless SSID or password of the main network is changed.
  • Transmission speeds consistent with the transmission speeds of the main router.
  • Statistics page is a novel and welcome, albeit likely not often utilized, feature.
  • LED indicator is adequately bright without providing unwelcome illumination.

The Bad

  •  Lacks Ethernet, USB, or audio ports found on more expensive extenders which means no hardline-to-AP setup, simple file sharing, or audio streaming. (Curiously, the less powerful D-Link DCH-M225 wall-wart style extender does support streaming audio via Airplay standards).
  • Lacks fine-tuning settings; can’t change the channel or tweak the Wi-Fi settings on the extended network.
  • Although the one-band-at-a-time connection is actually a feature the documentation and setup offers no explanation as to why the device only uses one band at a time to connect to the base station.
  • The single LED doesn’t provide much in the way of feedback beyond simply indicating that the extender is or is not connected to the router.

The Verdict

If you’re not looking for advanced features like file sharing, audio streaming, or to set up a hardwired access point, the DAP-1520 is a solid option, and the most economical at that, in the 802.11ac extender market. If all you need is better coverage and you’re not looking to spend $85+ to get it then this compact unit is a surefire way to get the extra Wi-Fi boost you crave without dropping a lot of cash on a more feature-laden unit all while enjoying the wire free convenience of plugging into directly into an out-of-the-way outlet.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 09/25/14
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