Wireless routers have come a long way since they first appeared on the scene. Those who have no memories of the countless hours spent getting one to properly sync up with the modem and create a usable home network — consider yourself lucky. Since then, wireless routers have increased their abilities — adding features to make setting them up easier and allowing you to “tweak” how they work. But the most single important function of a wireless router is to provide a signal that “reaches” where you want to use it. That’s certainly the case with the EnGenius X-TRA RANGE ESR750H Dual Concurrent Wireless Media Router.
Now the EnGenius X-TRA RANGE ESR750H Dual Concurrent Wireless Media Router — or ESR750H for short — is fairly unassuming. It’s not shaped like a pyramid or a rocket ship and at first glance appears the same as many of its competitors. But two things say that there’s something different going on: the first being that there are dual antennas to use for sending the signal, and the second being that “X-TRA RANGE” is in the name.
The front of the ESR750H has a series of informational LEDs and a control nub. At the extreme left is the WPS/Reset button: holding it down for around 5 seconds activates the WIFI Protected Setup that does an auto-pairing with those other devices utilizing the same technology. Holding it down for around 10 seconds does the same activation, only in this case on the higher 5 GHz waveband (as opposed to the 2.4). The LEDs to the right provide a visual indicator that the power is active, as well as the status of the wired/wireless network.
No surprises on the back either — it’s a fairly straightforward series of inputs (4) for wired Ethernet cables, a mains power rocker switch and input for the AC, along with the input for the modem. At either end are screw on connectors for the dual antennas. The one thing that stands out is the USB port — unlike the very old days where this was used for firmware updates, here it is the portal for providing Samba, NetUSB and shAIR connectivity for those device on the network. Since “Media” is in the router’s name, lets cover this right now.
NetUSB works by making a PC think the USB device is connected to it — while it is actually connected to the ESR750H. A device driver might need to be installed (this depends on the device), but in general the procedure for getting this up and running is straightforward. In a somewhat but not exactly the same fashion, you can connect a printer or a scanner to the ESR750H and access it from the PC.
This router also supports shAIR music — basically you’re running a music server that, once set up, enables devices to access — of course you have to have a USB connected, pair of powered speakers working. So you can use iTunes to play music through t his, or select the speakers through a mobile device, for example using the AirPlay” icon on an iOS device.
Samba is basically a procedure for accessing the USB connected storage drive by any device connected to the network. It does NOT support Mac-specific formatting so you had better go with NTFS or FAT (12-32). Getting this to work the way you want to is straightforward but, as is the case in most things, plan on allocating some time and patience to getting it to sync correctly with your network.
Setting up a router has become a fairly standard procedure — you have it connected to the modem (cable, DSL or otherwise) and to a computer in close proximity. Then you run a disc that takes you through the settings needed for your particular network. In many cases the disc is NOT Mac-compatible; requiring the user to manually handle the setup. Let’s assume that’s the case this time and enter 192.168.0.1 into a web browser and go the manual route. What you’ll get here is a “Dashboard” that highlights the features/functionality of the ESR750H. But best of all — it provides a “Wizard” for hand-holding you through the router’s installation (quite helpful, whether you go with 2.4 or 5). You’re also able to adjust the security (i.e., Firewall) settings, along with that for setting up a Virtual Private Network (should you want/need one).
And of course the settings are “locked in” once you are done — even if you have a power failure causing the ESR750H to reboot, it will return to those settings. But with a heavy sigh — I again implore those who look for stability in this age of power grid momentary glitches to connect it to an uninterruptible power supply . The same for the modem, btw.
As should be the case with any wireless router, the higher it can be placed so that it has an uncluttered view of the area coverage is best. The ESR750H includes mounts that can be attached and which can then be used for wall mounting. As should be obvious, aiming the antennas so that they too are facing the coverage area works best. But placing the ESR750H on a flat surface does not by definition mean signal loss — it all depends on the situation. For this test I have placed it on top of a bookcase that is aprox. 8 feet high (with a 10+ ceiling). True I have to run longer Ethernet cables than in my own setup which has my router at the top of my desk — but in the case of the ESR750H, the extended range being the issue to fully look into requires some modifying what is “normal.”
The ESR750H’s coverage isn’t just adequate for my apartment (aprox. 1700 square feet), but reaches far beyond that which my own router handles. Two examples point this out: the first being the gym in my building which is about 50 feet away from my front door and from where I can not get a signal from my own network (drywalls primarily between the gym and me). That isn’t the case with the ESR750H, which is providing me with about 60-65% strength in the gym. That might not be optimal for streaming movies, but for most other uses — including streaming music — it’s better than just “good.” Especially since in comparison I got no signal whatsoever.
The other example is outside. I’m able to get a signal with my network when I go downstairs (one flight) to the lobby and then outside and up the block for about 40-50 feet — almost full strength. But going across the street and about 100 feet away — no go. Again, the ESR750H doesn’t see that as an obstacle and is providing me with almost full signal strength. The only negative thing here is that I better increase the password strength since now a whole lot more people can pick up my signal. Just another example of technology versus human nature, I guess.
But the real “proof of the pudding” comes over time, and in varying situations and locations around that “circle” where the router is to provide a signal; no drop-offs or stability issues existed. Not having exoteric equipment to test for signal strength and the like, I can only go from my experiences over time — which is pretty much the whole idea when you use something in the first place: does it doe what it’s supposed to do and do it time and time again. The answer here is yes, but with a caveat: your own location will be different and affected by things that I didn’t encounter (i.e., more powerful networks running, power line transformers, etc.).
Bottom line: To stand out from other routers, the EnGenius X-TRA RANGE ESR750H Dual Concurrent Wireless Media Router touts the effectiveness of it providing a wireless signal over a long distance — and with stability and strength. Paying $129 for a router to use in your home network isn’t a hardship, but not getting a signal in those locations where you want one is. No complaints here.
- Small footprint
- Front-panel LED status
- Antennas can get a bit wobbly over an extended length of time
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.