Wi-Fi System Roundup 2020: Wi-Fi 6 Replace

With each new generation of Wi-Fi there are new devices that use all new standard functions. There are tons of new WiFi routers out there, so today we're going to take a look at some of the major players. A comprehensive list of all Wi-Fi 6 routers is hard to make, but this buying guide will certainly give you a good idea of ​​how these systems will perform.

In a recent article, we recently covered the technical differences between Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). Be sure to read this information if you want to learn more about the upgrade. TL; DR: Wi-Fi 6 allows more bits to be sent with each transmission to improve speed. The radio spectrum is also better used to improve the performance of multiple devices in crowded environments. In less dense environments, Wi-Fi 6 allows more simultaneous connections from any device to increase throughput.

Regarding noticeable differences in performance, we also have an article on this, see: Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 5 Benchmarked. TL; DR Wi-Fi 6 is noticeably faster at transferring raw files, but not by leaps and bounds. Unless you have a super fast internet connection that is overloading your current Wi-Fi 5 system, you won't see a huge boost. The real improvements will come later, when most of our devices are Wi-Fi 6 enabled and all of them follow the new rules for sharing bandwidth.

Let's start with a brief overview of the devices in this round-up.

Most of the devices are mesh systems as they are becoming more popular. The models we have are the Asus ZenWiFi AX XT8, the Linksys MX10 Velop, the Arris SURFboard mAX Pro and the TP-Link Deco X20. For standalone routers we have the Asus RT-AX3000 and the Netgear Nighthawk AX4.

By no means is a complete summary, but rather represents Wi-Fi 6 offerings of some of the most popular product lines. Other Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems that we were unable to secure for verification include the Netgear Orbi and the Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien. When we finished these tests, Amazon was just releasing its Wi-Fi 6 enabled Eero, so it didn't make it in time. Google's latest mesh system also remains just Wi-Fi 5.

Before we look at the performance results, let's do a brief overview of each unit. We'll mention the stated coverage and bandwidth, but these numbers should only serve as a baseline as actual scenario performance tends to vary significantly.

In terms of ease of use, all routers were ready to go out of the box. This has kept improving over the past few years with any system offering a mobile app to walk you through the process from start to finish. Recognizing the devices via Bluetooth has largely replaced the standard passwords. All systems were up and running within 5 minutes with very easy to follow instructions. They pretty much all have some sort of RGB LED that lets you see the status of the network at a glance. For the entire industry, we're glad how far this process has come to help less tech-savvy people build their networks.

The mesh systems

First up, we have the Asus ZenWiFi XT8. It has an announced range of 5500 square feet for the dual-node system and a total bandwidth of up to 6600 Mbit / s. The price is $ 250 for a single unit and $ 450 for a 2-pack. A notable feature of the XT8 is the 2.5G WAN port. This can help people with fiber optic or other 1 Gbps internet packets get the most out of their service.

Asus offers several other Wi-Fi 6 products, including the lower-cost AiMesh AX6100 system to the over-the-top ROG Rapture GT-AX11000.

The ZenWiFi XT8 could be seen as the mainstream mesh offering. Of all the devices we tested in this summary, we like the Asus app and web interface best. It looks a bit "playful" but gives good insights and details about the network without being overly complex.

Next up is the Linksys MX10 Velop, pictured below next to a previous generation Wi-Fi 5 mesh node. It continues the same slightly tapered rectangular design and status LED at the top. It offers a range of up to 6000 square feet at up to 5300 Mbps.

The Velop costs $ 400 for a single unit and $ 700 for the pair. This makes it the most expensive system in our summary today. Linksys offers essentially the same product in a different package called the MR9600 and a lower model called the MR7350. The experience with mobile apps is positive and we were able to easily find all the necessary settings. Device management is effortless and allows you to switch access to individual clients on and off and also to prioritize them. Both units can provide 12 separate data streams to enable more simultaneous devices.

The Arris SURFboard mAX Pro is a newcomer to the market. Arris is known for making modems, cable boxes, and other service provider equipment. However, this is the first standalone WiFi router. We have the AX11000 model, which covers up to 6000 square feet with a total bandwidth of up to 11000 Mbps. It also comes with an improved 4.8 Gbit / s backhaul connection between the two mesh points compared to other systems.

Like the Linksys system, each device provides 12 network streams for improved multi-device support. The devices have two LAN and two WAN ports on the bottom, which can be combined for up to 2 Gbit / s. I would have liked a third LAN port, but if you're in the market for a system like this, a $ 15 switch won't break the bank. The SURFboard mAX Pro is $ 330 for a standalone device and $ 650 for a 2-pack. Arris is also offering an AX7800 kit for $ 455 and an AX6600 kit which will be available soon. The user interface is a bit simple and lacks advanced features like the AP mode found on all other devices.

The last mesh system we are testing today is the TP-Link Deco X20. This is the only 3-unit system in our summary. Despite the additional mesh point, the X20 only takes up 5800 square meters. ft. of cover. It costs $ 270, making it one of the most affordable mesh Wi-Fi 6 systems on the market. However, you are missing out on a significant part of the speed as this system reaches a maximum of 1800 Mbps.

If you want more, there's a Deco 3000Mbps X60 model for under $ 350 and an X90 6600Mbps model. The units are quite small and humble, which makes them less intrusive than the other models in our roundup. They have two Ethernet ports on the back, so you will almost certainly want to take a switch with you if you need to connect multiple wired devices.

The router

We also tested two standalone Wi-Fi 6 routers for testing purposes. The Asus RT-AX3000 offers speeds of up to 3000 Mbps at a price of $ 180. It's a standard WiFi 6 router for a reasonable price so there isn't much else to say. It is compatible with the AiMesh system to allow regular WiFi routers to form mesh networks.

Then there is the Netgear Nighthawk AX4, which is a direct competitor to the Asus model. It costs $ 190 and has a maximum speed of 3000Mbps. The Nighthawk has 4 creeks and is designed for smaller homes or apartments.

The test

We used multiple wireless clients to test all of the systems. Although many of these devices require enormous theoretical speeds, there is no practical way to test something so quickly without special laboratory equipment. Instead, we decided to test a home / home office environment with different clients, positions and distances.

We used two Asus PCE-AX58BT PCIe Wi-Fi 6 adapters, each offering up to 3000Mbps. For more portable testing, we relied on an Acer Swift 3 laptop with an integrated Intel dual-band Wi-Fi 6 adapter. For the previous performance of Wi-Fi 5, we used a OnePlus 6T smartphone. Without going overboard, this should present fast clients that you can use for a Wi-Fi 6 setup that is currently on the market.

In addition to the devices listed above, we used two older Wi-Fi 5 systems for reference. The performance results for them are the same as our Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 5 function.

The graphic above shows the representative location of each test. The Wi-Fi systems were in the red spots and the test clients were in the blue spots. This variety of devices and locations ensures that we get a more realistic example of device performance. We found this to be a more sensible setting than testing each device just once or twice in an isolated environment.

It should also be noted that testing in an open environment like this one means that neighboring routers are causing interference. Most of these routers are not Wi-Fi 6 and do not have the advanced frequency sharing algorithms and client management that Wi-Fi 6 provides. Therefore we cannot test these functions directly. In addition, our performance metrics are something that any home or small office user can achieve.

Wireless performance

Starting with the signal strength, the units of measurement are given here in dBm and indicate the signal power at the receiver. The values ​​are negative and larger numbers (closer to 0) represent a stronger signal. This scale is logarithmic so that every 3 dBm increase represents a signal that is twice as strong. There are state restrictions on how much power a device can transmit. Therefore, this test aims to characterize the antenna quality and how well each device is using its limited power budget.

Although there are different levels of performance depending on how much you want to pay, signal strength is a consistent metric across all models. The results are mixed in the 2.4 GHz band. Generally anything above -50dBm is considered a great signal. Between -50 and -60 is considered acceptable. Once you drop below -60dBm, the signal becomes weak.

Overall, the Asus ZenWiFi XT8 is the winner here, but only marginally. We see that the units with no mesh have difficulty getting through three sets of walls, while the units with mesh maintain good coverage all around. Different RF environments and physical obstructions can sometimes result in a better signal even if you are further away. In some cases this happens when moving from two to three rooms. We also get within better range of the secondary mesh point, which is why some systems had better signal strength three rooms away.

On the 5 GHz band, we will give the Arris system the win, with Linksys & # 39; Velop coming in barely a second, but the enormous gain of the SURFboard in the outer position surpasses it. Each device transmits signals in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Using advanced algorithms like 802.11 k, v and r, the client can choose the best one. We can say that Arris did her homework to streamline this process.

Now let's move on to throughput. The data was transferred via iPerf3 from each client to a server, which tracked the performance of the network. Tests marked "Wired" represent the speed of data transfer to a server connected to our router via Ethernet, while tests marked "Wireless" were sent to a wireless server on the same network.

In the wired tests, the data is sent once from the client to the router via WLAN and then to the server via Ethernet. In the wireless tests, the data is sent twice over WLAN: once from the client to the router and then from the router back to the server. The wireless tests are more demanding as the Wi-Fi connection has to split the transmission in both directions.

All of these results represent actual file transfers, not theoretical marketing numbers. You can expect to see very similar results on your network. However, be aware that such wireless devices can be very difficult. Depending on what other devices in your area are broadcasting and causing interference, faster or slower numbers may appear.

We will start at ideal speeds. For these tests, the routers and clients were approximately 1 to 2 feet apart. This is the maximum speed a consumer can achieve. All Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems had a speed of 830 Mbit / s. The winner, however, was the Asus RT-AX3000 with a transmission speed of a whopping 950 Mbit / s. It's the fastest wireless performance we've ever seen. It's also almost certainly a bottleneck from the router's single gigabit WAN port. While mesh systems get the most attention and hype, standalone routers tend to offer the best performance. Since they don't have to share a network environment with two or more other access points, they maximize performance on a single device.

Let's stay in the same room, but now move to position 2 at a more reasonable and convenient distance. When we are only 10 feet away, our performance drops 10-20% while other Wi-Fi 5 devices do almost the same Perform. The standalone Asus device is still our winner, while the other Wi-Fi 6 mesh devices are close behind. Also of note is the previous generation D-Link DIR-882 which works just as well.

The next place we're going to look at is in the basement or at position 5 in the graphic above. This is pretty close to the router so we don't get much use out of the network functionality. Most devices are in the same area when tested with a single device. The Asus RT-AX3000 wins here, and if we add a second device to increase network congestion, the Linksys MX10 wins there. Although the RT-AX3000 and the Netgear AX4 are both devices of the 3000 Mbit / s class, the Netgear device only achieves about half the speed of the Asus device.

The next test takes place in the same location, but on a wireless server. This effectively doubles the network traffic for the same test. In the graphic above, we are testing throughput from Site 5 to Site 1 to Site 3 and then back. The results aren't even close.

The Arris device destroys the competition in this test, with the Linksys MX10 taking a distant second place. If the network performs well with wireless endpoints, the network can not only provide fast transmissions but also handle concurrent connections efficiently.

If we move outside to position 7, we can see how well these devices transmit through outside walls and glass windows. The two standalone devices work fine as expected since we're still pretty close to the router. Surprisingly, despite being a Wi-Fi 5 device, the D-Link device wins. Looking at the Mesh Wi-Fi 6 devices, the Arris device is our winner for this test.

Our next two tests take place in two rooms on the other side of the house. The Arris wins in this scenario, closely followed by the Linksys system. Achieving 400-500 Mbps sustained speed on the other side of a house is very impressive. The deco drops a lot as our test system only has AX1800 speeds. The Netgear AX4 looks really bad at speeds around a third of other devices.

Let's switch to the wireless server in the same place. We're seeing a ~ 50% drop in performance as expected, but the Arris device is still the clear winner. The performance of the TP-Link Deco system does not decrease so much here, so that it remains competitive with the other systems. We are also at the limit of coverage from a single access point. The performance of a single device is gradually becoming unusable in this area.

Our last test is at the opposite end of the house in position 4. As you can see, the non-meshed systems in this area hardly work. The Netgear AX4 and D-Link DIR-882 could not maintain a connection to more than a single device. If your floor plan is such that you need connectivity in this area, a mesh system is needed. In terms of performance results, the Arris device is again the winner. The Asus XT8 takes second place and the COVR 2202 also does surprisingly well.

What we learned

After all testing was done, it was clear that the Arris SURFboard mAX Pro was the winner of this roundup. Although they are new to the consumer Wi-Fi market, they certainly know what they are doing. At $ 650, this system is out of the reach of most consumers. However, when you look at the tri-band 4×4 MIMO router category, it happens to be on the affordable side of the spectrum.

We would have liked to compare the Arris to Netgear's Orbi system, Ubiquiti's latest Amplifi mesh system, and Eero's new 6 Pro system, but we couldn't do it. We expect solid KPIs from the Orbi considering how well the previous generation system worked while we hear less prominent things about Eero's latest version.

The Linksys Velop system also performed well, but costs at least as much as the Arris system depending on current sales. The Asus and TP-Link systems performed well but were not noticed. However, they are considerably cheaper. If you are looking for a simple mesh Wi-Fi 6 system and you don't need the best of the best, the TP-Link Deco system will do just fine. It's half the price of the other devices, yet still offers decent performance.

The relative size of the four-mesh Wi-Fi 6 devices tested

If you're in a smaller space and don't necessarily need the extra range of a mesh system, the Asus RT-AX3000 is an excellent option. At $ 180, it's a lot compared to other devices in this roundup. If you're not sure whether you need a device or two, an added benefit is that it can be expanded later through the AiMesh system. That would be a very powerful solution, with performance similar to that of devices that cost hundreds of dollars more.

The main consideration when choosing a wireless system is this: you can always pay more and get faster speeds. The level of performance you want to achieve and the speed of your internet connection will determine whether a mesh system makes sense or not. If you only pay for 50Mbps, it doesn't matter how fast a device is, as long as you can reach your full speed throughout the living area.

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