Due to COVID-19, I’ve been working from my apartment and doing a lot more video chats from there. While my aging ASUS RT-N66U can generally handle the traffic, I definitely have some dead zones and think it’s time for an upgrade. I thought this topic might be of broad enough interest in the Lobsters community that I’d ask about it here.
I’ve been looking at some Ubiquiti prosumer stuff, but I honestly can’t figure out their ecosystem at my price point. I had success setting up a Netgear Orbi mesh network in a suburban area, but I worry that a mesh network in a dense urban environment would suffer from more congestion than it’s worth.
Given a budget of around €200, can anyone recommend something with:
In the last year, I’ve had a ton of different routers to try out and the same thing seems to be consistent: The hardware is negligibly different and the software is always junk. In the last year, I gave up on my ASUS AC5300 after trying a bunch of other routers before it.
I got a Netgear AC2600 (R7800) because it has the best OpenWRT support and installed it. Things have been a lot better now. Since it’s open source, you can install software for QoS and such. If it doesn’t work well, you can just SSH in and do what you’d like to the network configuration. So far, it seems pretty good. For half the price of the ASUS, I now have better software and decent system.
I think it has all of the specs that you’re asking for, although QoS may required extra software. :)
I’m doing exactly the same; R7800 with OpenWRT. Works well & ticks all your feature boxes: 4 downstream gigabit ethernet ports, one up, 802.11ac networking (simultaneous dual band capable), bufferbloat under OpenWRT is A+. You can do QoS on a per-interface basis IIRC, but I’m just using the default packet shaping on the WAN port for bufferbloat avoidance.
You can convince OpenWRT to do mesh networking I think, but obviously if you can manage a wired connection between the routers themselves you’ll do a lot better.
I’ll also back up OpenWRT. It is very irritating when the factory firmware misses the one option or flexibility you really need. Being able to copy most of your configs across multiple-era devices is also really handy (and saves time).
OpenWRT isn’t perfect, I have some devices where the support is a bit flaky for wifi. I recommend sticking to the more popular and more expensive devices.
Once project I rolled out involved 20 GLinet devices running a tinc VPN for sensor installations; everything was OK until I discovered the wifi driver in the kernel crashed after a random amount of days. It was a known issue, I had to throw together a watchdog that tried to sense the interface failure without directly using any networking features (because that would hang the watchdog process itself). Fun.
For general wifi usage: I’ve had mixed success, depending on model. I bought some MR3420s because they were easy to get and cheap, but they do not seem to be greatly reliable. Albeit my config involves guest networks and traffic shaping, so there’s lots of room for error. YMMV.
Thanks for the info - I’ve been looking at the R7800 to replace my pair of Linksys WRTs (1900ACS and 32x) as their wireless drivers are not well maintained and have some issues with OpenWRT. What kind of wireless performance do you see from a reasonably close range (I find
iperfis reasonable for measuring this, between, eg, a laptop and the access point itself)?
iperf reports about 400Mbit/s real world data transfer to my laptop. For some reason I only get 120Mbit/s to the desktop. Not sure why - both are Intel chipsets.
That’s with an 80MHz channel in the 5Gz band. I could step up to a 160MHz channel, but I’m told the wider channels don’t gain you much in the real world when you have a lot of neighbours in the same radio spectrum. (I can see something like 40 access points from where I sit in the 2.4GHz band & about a quarter of that in the 5Gz band.)
Sounds like maybe not an AC wifi device in your desktop? or maybe the desktop case impacts the signal?
Thanks - that’s considerably faster than I get from my MacBook Pro to my WRT1900ACS (the closest AP to where I normally sit). I can normally get around 100Mbps, also using an 80Mhz channel. Quite poor really :(
How about: .. ?
I have the UniFi AP (802.11n, not ac) with this setup and it works pretty well. Occasionally I get lag but most of the time it puts down the data.
Those Ubiquiti APs look nice, but I wish there was something with FOSS firmware. The closest I’ve found so far is the ALPHA AP120C-AC with openWRT…
Why not run the DNS ad block thing on the EdgeRouter??
Not much free RAM and CPU on the edgerouter to run a huge DNS blocklist
It’s too bad the djbdns approach hasn’t caught on here. Compile the DNS blocklist down to a cdb, which is little more than an mmapped lookup table. Fast, and adapts to however much RAM is available!
My setup is very similar:
I love pcengines,
but I wish more people would use the APU4 instead: https://www.pcengines.ch/apu4b4.htm it’s very excellent and much better for my workloads.
There is no APU4 yet ;)
The apu4b4 model belongs to the APU2 series. Here is a list of all models within that series:
I got an APU2 before the APU4 was out. I don’t see any major differences besides an additional Ethernet port and SIM slot. I’m curious, what makes it so much better for you, and why does it matter what other people use?
Oh you are correct, I was thinking the original APU so this was my mistake. The APU & ALIX didn’t have AES-NI support and were really hard to get to handle gigabit saturation, which is what I was thinking.
I posted about OpenWRT on the Netgear 7800 above, but honestly thinking of switching to one of these. This is pretty dope. Thanks a bunch for sharing!
Seems like maybe they’re releasing apu3 soon? Seems like this mentions it: https://pcengines.ch/spi1a.htm
But how do you use this? Do you install OpenWRT on this and use it as your router?
I’m using its predecessor ALIX with OpenBSD for
I see the APU2 mentioned a lot recently. What’s the big selling point for it? Would I use it instead of a Ubiquity Edge Router X?
One of the selling points for me is it being an amd64 machine and thus (probably) having better support in most OS. Being designed by a Swiss company is also nice.
Thanks. Use case is what I think it is? Edge Router/VPN Endpoint/things Raspberry Pis are used for? But amd64 and coreboot
Avoid meshes if you can. You’ll want n access points, where n is an integer and depends on the area to cover. Connect those access points to the upstream using cabled ethernet.
Mesh is fine if you want coverage, not so fine if you want capacity in a saturated environment. Every packet has to be sent more than once across the air, and the impact of that is worse than a doubling because if the way radio time is shared.
Clueful friends of mine tend to use either Ubiquiti or Mikrotik. One has Cisco Aironets brought home from work when they replaced them with new radios. I have Mikrotik hardware myself, the oldest is 10+ years old at this point and still receiving OS upgrades. If you consider Mikrotik, look for metal hardware, not plastic. The metal is built to last.
My own policy is to use those slow old APs forever, and to say that if something wants 100Mbps or more then that device needs an ethernet cable. That’s been a good policy for me in practice. For example it’s kept the WLAN free of bandwidth hogs, even if those hogs (like a few giant rsync jobs I run) aren’t time sensitive.
[I asked an extended version of this in a different reply in this thread]
Is there anything special you need to do to enable switching amongst the various access points as you wander around the house?
Enable, no, but there are things you can do to improve quality of service. I use a Mikrotik feature called capsman, I understand that Ubiquiti and Cisco Aironet provide the same functionality. (I don’t know about other vendors, those three are just what friends of mine use.)
The only thing to watch out for is really that you have to purchase APs from one vendor if you want the nice roaming. If you mix brands, TCP connections will be interrupted when you move through the house, and a moving station may remain connected to an AP for as long a that’s possible, not just for as long as that AP is the best choice.
If I could get ethernet to everywhere I want wifi, I wouldn’t need the wifi.
That’s true of course, but isn’t it rather beyond the point? The goal is to get ethernet to enough points that the entire area has a good WLAN signal.
When I installed my cables I strictly needed two APs, but I got three instead in order to simplify the cabling. More APs, but less work pulling cables.
I don’t know if you’d call the environment saturated here in an urban road but mesh is working nicely. No dropouts, fast, covers everything, cheap. What sort of environment would cause it trouble?
At one point 27 different WLANs were visible in what’s now our kitchen, two of them often with a great deal of traffic, and intuitively I think there was some other noise source, not sure what. That was usually good, occasionally saturated, and bulk transfer throughput would drop deep, even as low as 1Mbps. I cabled and now I don’t need pay attention to the spectral graph.
I’ve worked in an office where over 50 WLANs from various departments and companies in the same building were visible. Some people did >100-gigabyte file transfers over our WLAN, so I expect our WLAN bothered the other companies as much as their us. The spectral graph was pure black.
As of right now, I see 21 networks from a Macbook in my living room. 2 of those are even hotspots from the street, run by competing phone companies. It doesn’t help that many ISPs offer “homespots,” where customers who rent their router create several SSIDs – one for the user, and one for other customers of that ISP to use as a hotspot. So I guess mesh is not a good idea where I am.
Well, most people don’t have a lot of guests who transmit a lot of traffic, so maybe?
Still, I haven’t regretted the cable I had installed. Remember that you can simplify the problem, you don’t have to install the cable along the most difficult route.
Fritz!Box routers and wireless repeaters can run as a mesh and are inexpensive (especially used).
Our provider gave use a Fritz!Box router + AP, plus another Fritz!Box AP. I connected both APs with ethernet. I can video conference with high quality video and without stutters anywhere in the house. I am maxing out bandwidth where I am currently sitting (speedtest says 207MBit downstream, 245MBit upstream, we have 200/200MBit, but the provider seems to give some extra leeway, ping to Google/Cloudflare is between 6-12ms on Wifi). I just use ethernet on my Linux machine.
So far, we have been very happy with the Friz!Box equipment, especially compared to the crap that some providers send out.
We used an AirPort extreme before, which was also great. But it’s now collecting dust. It’s a shame that Apple doesn’t make access points anymore.
I’ve been super impressed by AVM. I’m still using a FRITZ!Box 7390, a model from 2011, and they keep releasing firmware updates for it (last auto-update October 2019). In the time I’ve owned it the web UI was completely redesigned and they added a security feature where you have to press a physical button to change some settings.
Unfortunately this particular model is showing its age. AirPlay isn’t always reliable over the 802.11n, and the CPU gets overwhelmed by major P2P activity. And for some reason it worked terribly with the WiFi adapter in the Surface Go, but every other client I’ve had is fine. I have no idea why.
I used to like them as well until the company removed telnet and the possibility to flash your own images.
I can second that. So far, I am very happy using a mesh network consisting of the Fritz!Box 7590 and two Fritz! repeaters (the 1200 and 2400 model). The most important part for me was that everything works well out of the box since I was getting sick having to deal with crappy firmware’s (TP-Link/D-Link, whatever) and misconfiguration of my OpenWRT setup. The only thing that is missing for me in the Fritz!Box firmware is that there is no support for WireGuard at the moment.
If you want to fiddle with it, get the R7800 and put OpenWRT on it.
If you want to install something quickly and move on, a wifi extender (with ethernet to the RT-N66U) sounds like it’d be very cheap and low-effort. Can’t speak to specific models but good reviews appear to start around the €30 point.
Avoid PoE if you can (it generates quite a bit of RF noise).
The uplink in my home is on the middle floor of a multi-unit building. I use PoE to connect an AP and a printer in a room on the opposite side of the building, one floor up. It’s not especially fast but it has solved the problem of providing continuous wireless access. I haven’t had trouble with RF in either Wi-Fi or 2m amateur radio bands but the building is relatively new (built in 2011). Maybe older wiring is leakier? I don’t recommend PoE but if you’re on a tight budget, the TP-LINK gear was cheap and reliable.
MikroTik is very good quality at a low price point. The catch is that their interfaces are nowhere near as streamlined as Ubiquiti - if you’re familiar with router CLIs you’ll be at home, otherwise there will be a bit of a learning curve.
At your price point and with what sounds like a smallish installation, I’d probably be looking at the hAP and cAP lines.
I went from an RT-N66U to a Ubiquiti setup with a USG and UAP-AC-M-Pro Mesh Pro around two years ago and haven’t looked back. I introduced a Pi-Hole shortly after, again, no regrets. I’ve since traded the Mesh Pro for a pair of UAP-AC-Pro to improve signal quality at the extremes of my house. I maintain a similar setup with older APs for a family member, no regrets on that US$300 investment. The USG’s site-to-site VPN is easy to setup.
You could go for a Ubiquiti Dream Machine and build out from there.
In a WiFi-rich environment, avoid meshing equipment.
Hi! A bit late to the party, but I’ve tried a number of setups before and to be honest the thing that’s given me the best results is Google Wifi (the old model, not the new Nest one). I have three distributed across a two floor, pretty solid wall apartment and even at the furthest point from the cable box (one floor down, about 70 feet distance) I get great speed (>100mbps). Honestly, can’t beat the price/convenience ratio.
That said, each one of the devices has only a single Ethernet port (well, two, but one of them is for ‘upstream’ the other for ‘LAN’ and I’m not 100% sure if you can use the ‘upstream’ as a LAN port on the devices that are downstream from the cable box).
Very happy user of Google WiFi here. Can confirm both Ethernet ports work on each node. Covers my three-story house with good signal. Can easily have 3 people streaming while doing heavy downloads in the background etc.
Can I piggy-back on this question to ask a related one? How do I determine if a flaky or intermittently slow connection is primarily caused by my ISP or my router? I know I have dead zones, but this sometimes affects devices that are 5 feet from the router.
Needs more info. Is your router also your modem/switch? Are you using ADSL? Cable?
Cable modem provided by my ISP, with my own router plugged into it.
I would use Unifi’s Wifiman app to determine the wifi quality. in conjunction with doing some
iperftests between your client and your router/AP. That way you can separate your local network quality from your ISP.
I’m using a Synology rt2600ac. It should be in your price range. It also offers VPN server and other goodies you may not care about, and can be easily extended with a mesh of MR2200ac.
Thanks for the suggestion! As others I have been on the lookout for a new router to replace my current one. Since I’m using a 3G/4G dongle for the internet connection, support for such dongles needs to be available. And the RT2600AC ticks that box and many more - just ordered it!
Happy that this was useful. Tip for the initial config: connect to it with a browser, not the Android application. Once the router is configured, the app works fine, but not for initial config.
I just wanted to circle back and say that I ended up going with @colindean’s recommendation and bought a Ubiquiti Dream Machine. So far I’m really happy with it, although it was confusing to set up at first.
For the record: for home use you probably want to set it up using “remote access” (formerly called “cloud access”), and access the controller via https://unifi.ui.com/. It’s possible to log in via the controller’s IP address directly, but then you’d need to accept its cert or bypass SSL cert verification. Additionally, read performance optimizations from the Ubiquiti forums with a grain of salt – some of those people are optimizing for business or conference installations with dozens or hundreds of devices, and what they recommend may not be appropriate for a home network with different use cases and constraints.
Other than that initial setup, it seems to do everything I want. Thanks again!
Glad to hear it. Welcome to the Ubiquiti world!
I’m using a Linksys WRT 1900 ACS and it works well for gigabit. Runs a reskinned OpenWRT, and you can use the standard firmware update to install a stock version. Wifi quality is also very good for my purposes, though my house is small and mostly wired so I don’t stress it hard.
I used to use Mikrotik and it was great if you wanted their custom interface stuff, but the cheapo one I had couldn’t route more than 2-300 mbps and I prefer OpenWRT. I’ve heard excellent things about Ubiquiti and my limited experience with them is good, but again I’d rather just use raw Linux at that point.
My network has been a little in flux over time as I’ve hunted for equipment that can properly leverage my gigabit internet connection. For a while, I had a Ubiquiti ERL-3 and that seemed to do okay on WAN-to-LAN but has since been disappointing for reasons I never could identify. I’ve since moved onto WAN-to-LAN routing with an Asus RT-AC68U using the Asus Merlin WRT firmware.
I’ve got the two satellites for the Orbi system setup in strategic locations - mainly my Office to provide a “wired” connection and downstairs next to our TV for the streaming setup. This gets us pretty consistent 350mbps+ wireless connections through the house, regardless of walls and other interference. For my pseudo-“wired” connections, I can get closer to 500mbps, usually sustained at 425+ with bursts up to 500.
That being said, the Orbi’s are annoying to work with due to the custom Netgear shenanigans in play. They also won’t startup correctly in AP mode unless they have DNS access so if you’re using a separate DNS server, make sure it’s up.
Having moved from a one-room loft to a 3-story house in the last year, I’ve been working on this too.
I bought a cheap E8345-based pfSense box and it has been awesome. I can’t recommend this enough for your firewall/router.
Then I chose to get a couple standalone wifi access points. And I’ve since come to the conclusiong that Ubiquiti is overrated. I invested in several access points and am committed to making it work for me now, but I’m not very happy with them.
They do perform fairly well, but the centralized management paradigm is so weird. I can see the value if you’re running a dozen of them, but for one or two access points I just want to configure them and have them run standalone. Instead I need to also run a controller, which has its own dependencies like java and mangodb. I can run it on my mac laptop just when I need to change configuration. It starts a web browser on :8080 and then opens a web browser (already a pretty unrefined experience). If I change laptops or otherwise lose this delicate configuration, then I need to screw around to re-adopt them to a new controller.
I spent yesterday evening trying to get it all running in a docker container on a raspberry pi, but I couldn’t get the access points to be adopted without doing a full reset, so I gave up. I will persevere and it will all be fine. I’m just not very happy with it.
I run my controller in a minimal Debian vm that spends most of its life offline. When I want to run things, I start the vm on some machine, make sure ports forward to it correctly, and log in.
I found this balances the power of the configuration (3 sites, one controller) and sanity with running such an annoying stack.
I’ve done the ASUS ac-1900 reflash and it works nicely. You can pick these up cheap as t-mobile devices.
You can also combine multiple or a 86u for mesh wifi and cat5 backhaul work.
These tables might be useful
Last August I bought a AmplifiHD.
Amplifi is a consumer-level home mesh network made by Ubiquiti. And while every thing word of that was what I was looking for at the time, I can’t really recommend it.
To be clear it works, and works fairly well. But it’s really really limited in functionality. And Ubiquiti hasn’t done a great job in supporting it. UNMS support is kind a good example for it. It was advertised that it UNMS support would be added in Q4 of 2018. It was then punted mutliple times, then silently feel of the roadmap. When asked about it they said
Within a couple of months on the same thread, from the same person
This isn’t really a isolated thing either. Amplifi is the neglected step sibling, and while new partnerships versions, or newer versions will occasionally breathe hope of supporting features or fixing bugs, nothing has really changed.
Personal choice is old PC (there always seems to be one or two around, so practically free) + OpenBSD.
Even old PCs tend to be beefier than most high-end purpose-built router hardware.
Text configs have been easier for me to get right than slowish web GUIs with features spread all over the place–especially for more complex configs. Also easier to diff and source control.
Gigabit NICs are cheap, and sufficient NICs are usually all that’s missing from a salvage computer. If the built-in wifi is missing or crappy, decent APs seem to run in the $50 to $75 range.
You’re likely to spend the $50 you saved not buying an AP on electricity in the first year.
Old P4 or Core2 won’t skip a beat on traffic that would murder latest netgear/linksys/etc.
Although most power supplies seem rated for 300-400W, I’ve never measured actual consumption over 150W. Power management subsystems are decent, and it’s headless OpenBSD, not an FPS pounding my radeon.
Where I’m at, it’s 46F outside right now. Even if this rig burned 300W continuously, it’s still not wasted power.
edit: will also add that wasting a little electricity instead of throwing a machine into the landfill, or the “recycler”–where we poison poors with it–is probably the more eco-friendly option.
edit 2: this setup is more about features than cost for me. if i had to pay more for it, i would.
For sure, if it’s cold outside it’s not a waste.
Climate where I live is 45C on a hot day, so I pay to use the power and then again to air-condition the excess heat back away.
I bought a set of TP-Link Archer C7’s this week… flashed openwrt on them, enabled 802.11v roaming. Works like a charm, dual-band, fast wireless network (ac/n on 5Ghz, n on 2.4ghz). 5 gig-e ports. They were about €60 each.
The only other configuration-change I did was limit their 2.4Ghz output power, so my laptop would roam to a closer AP quicker when changing floors in my house (there’s one AP per floor, but on 2.4Ghz I could see all AP’s in reach, now with only 10mw output power, I only see the AP on the current floor)
Coincidentally, a working-at-home friend just asked me about adding a second device to his network to get better coverage in his home. He conveniently has cat-6 already run between one end and the other.
I’m confused about the state of the art for devices switching between AP’s. One of the comments below mentions ‘802.11v roaming’ as if it’s a special thing that needs to be enabled (commenter was using OpenWRT).
I suspect that my friend is currently using an ISP provided router as his AP; details pending.
Is roaming exotic or a fairly standard part of the world?
I’d like to make a counter-proposal and convince you to stay with your RT-N66U, as it is already doing well, unless you really want to have a side project and make some changes in your flat.
Dead zones are quite ok, there is really no need to cover every possible place in the apartment with WiFi. If you plan to work from home a lot, these dead zones will be good places where you can have some peace and quiet and avoid touching your phone, tablet, or laptop (due to bad experience). They will be great places for you to decompress and avoid information overload, which most of the time leads to stress. In addition, they will help you keep a good separation between home and work, as you won’t be able to work from every possible spot. Finally, having horrible traffic at some spots could actually be good for testing how browsers/websites feel for users in remote parts of the world :)
I have a full unifi setup. The APs are janky with chromecast, but otherwise it works well for me.
Although they no longer make them, Apple AirPort routers have very good coverage (I have one in the basement and am currently getting good reception in my bedroom on the top floor) and run NetBSD with a little Apple daemon that lets you configure it through a nice iOS or Mac app. Enabling SSH requires a weird Python module, but it does work and can give you access to the underlying UNIX system.
Even though they haven’t been produced for a while, there’s still software updates. You can probably find a used 6th gen Extreme for pretty cheap. Even if the hardware isn’t the newest/fanciest, the software is nice (both the GUI and what runs underneath). I like being able to run tcpdump on the actual router.
can you enable ssh, then remove the apple stuff and just use it as a netbsd router?
I haven’t tried that but I don’t think there’s that much weird Apple stuff besides the configuration and update features. I didn’t want to brick it since I don’t have a spare so I haven’t done too much investigating besides an occasional packet capture.
so the “configuration” part is the API which communicates with an iOS or Mac program, and the “update” part updates the configuration part?
do the apple frontends link into standard netbsd tools like hostapd(8)? can you configure it without the apple programs? i wonder if this is practical if have no apple devices and i want to do most of my configuration via the command line.
I’m not quite sure how standard the NetBSD system is. There isn’t very much information on the internet about it, so you’ll probably find it much more practical to use another machine as a more standard BSD router than an AirPort. I already had one before I learned it ran NetBSD, so I was just pleasantly surprised that I could run some standard Unix networking utilities on it. Beyond that, I wouldn’t expect that it would be too much fun to configure via the command line compared to a system you set up yourself.