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Networks I'm Back! Fast Router Options?

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by PureSilver, 6 Apr 2016.

  1. PureSilver

    PureSilver E-tailer Tailor

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    Hi all,

    It's been a while since I've been digging around on computers - and it's been much longer since I last looked at networking. I'm in need of some advice on WiFi networking, and figured if anyone could help, Bit-Tech probably could. Here's the situation:

    1. I'm living in a 3-storey flat with 5 other people. It's not wired for Ethernet at all, and there isn't much prospect of that happening anytime soon - so everything has to be wireless.
    2. With 5 users (including a smart TV with Netflix, two games consoles, my desktop (enabled via Asus' PCE-AC68), 5 or more smartphones, and 5 or more laptops) there's considerable load on the network and connection. Only two devices (the TV and one of the consoles) can be connected to the router with wires.
    3. We have the fastest domestic internet connection available in our area: Virgin Media's 'VIVID' fibre @ <152Mbps, which is allegedly unlimited.
    4. We're currently using Virgin Media's supplied Super Hub 2, a.k.a. NetGear VMDG485.
    5. All devices are just using the network to connect to the Internet. Aside from very occasional use of Steam In-Home Streaming, there's no inter-device data transfer - no NAS, no Time Machine, nothing. There might be a NAS in the future, but there isn't at the moment.
    Now, I know that trying to stream Netflix on two or more devices and play FIFA online at the same time as browsing etc. is going to tax any domestic connection. What I want to know is whether it's worth upgrading to a more powerful router to better handle the demands being placed on the connection. At present the internet is occasionally stuttering, the consoles are struggling, and resolution on Netflix is dropping - and the range of the router isn't sufficient to reach the furthest extremities of the flat, even in 2.4Ghz.

    What I'm looking for is the fastest way to connect a lot of 2.4/5Ghz devices to a domestic connection. I'm planning to keep the Virgin router and run it in modem mode, and offload all the WiFi and networking to a router. From what little I can understand of the various standards, I'm looking for an 802.11ac router. The big question seems to be whether I should go with a dual- or tri-band router. At present the three I'm considering are:


    I don't have any particular preference for Asus - those are just three that are reasonably well-reviewed (RT-AC3200, RT-AC87U, RT-AC88U) and seem roughly representative of the market for dual- and tri-band routers.

    Can anyone help me decipher all the marketing? Does anyone know how many devices I have to have connected before I'll see a meaningful difference between dual- and tri-band routers? Does anyone have any recommendations for a good router to handle a large number of devices all competing for a reasonably fast connection?
     
  2. Bungletron

    Bungletron Well-Known Member

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    Those are three monster ASUS routers with price tags to match, but I am left trying to guess what your current issues with speed and connection are, as there are potentially many.

    You say the network is overloaded but what issue is specifically occurring that you want to remedy? When you say fast do you mean stable (getting buffering whilst streaming? laggy gaming? network connection is reliable in some parts of your house not others?) or are large files taking excruciatingly long times to transfer? Simply changing channels might improve things greatly.

    I also have an asus router, it is the DSL-AC68U, it is very good. I would say that the router internals when you are spending this matter will not be the issue of any such bottleneck and you could easily have it performing modem duties as well. If a router has extra channels then if you can spread the devices evenly between the extra 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands I think this will help, additionally Wifi AC clients must go on the 5GHz channel for the maximum benefit. That said if the issues you are experiencing are not caused by a total wifi bandwidth bottleneck then you may still have issues.
     
  3. David

    David Take my advice — I’m not using it.

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    I picked up an Asus RT-AC87U in PC World last week.

    £85 - Instore only; so it's pot luck whether your local branch has one.

    They were down to £80 at one point.
     
  4. PureSilver

    PureSilver E-tailer Tailor

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    Thanks for the reply!

    Buffering while streaming, automatic degradation of stream quality, laggy gaming or booted from games - these are the kinds of issues reported, especially when a lot of devices are running network-intensive tasks simultaneously. The connection obviously weakens further away from the router; that's understandable given the limitations imposed, and if that's not going to be fixed by a more powerful router I can use wireless extenders to increase the reach into the further bits of the flat. I believe the current router manages its own channels to avoid interference.

    As you've surmised, I'm concerned that the network is bottlenecked not by the upload/download speed of the internet connection, but by the large number of devices simultaneously connecting to the router. I would like to increase the bandwidth of the network such that I can be sure that the bottleneck will always be the internet connection, and that it will remain the internet connection after a scheduled improvement to 200Mbps later this year.

    I'm not sure if Virgin will allow me to use any other modem but theirs, but let's say that they do. My internet connection is FTTH; that is, it's a fibre-optic cable that's jacked into the back of the modem. I'm not aware of high-end routers with a built-in fibre-optic modem; how would I go about finding such a thing? As you can tell, I'm pretty far out of my depth when it comes to networks.

    Nice price. What made you choose the RT-AC87U?
     
  5. David

    David Take my advice — I’m not using it.

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    Because it was £85! :lol:

    I was killing time while my car was having new tyres fitted across the road. So I had a wander around Currys and PC World - I could've just as easily come home with a half priced smoothie maker.
     
  6. PureSilver

    PureSilver E-tailer Tailor

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    Hah! I'll shop around before buying anything, then... :lol:
     
  7. Bungletron

    Bungletron Well-Known Member

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    Got mine in a black friday type discount for about a £100 at pc world too, their promos can often discount items like this quite massively, one of the few items i would purchase there other than the aforementioned smoothie maker.

    I reckon do a bit of management and probably get a better router to improve things further. Consider checking you are on the best wifi channels using an app like wifi analyser for android, stick all the smartphones and any smart devices on 2.4Ghz, and any laptop that does not stream or game much, reserve your 5Ghz channel for streaming/gaming pcs. If you are concerned about wifi performance from your free isp router it is likely that any of the asus routers you have identified will be an improvement, spreadie's was certainly a bargain must buy at that price. I think most top end routers have poseable visible antennae for a reason, I have always had better range with these and would suggest if not asus then something designed similar.
     
  8. edzieba

    edzieba Virtual Realist

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    If you have a LOT of devices, then pretty much all consumer combined router/modem/switch/AP devices are garbage. They'll work great and provide tons of bandwidth for one or two devices, but once you have several devices all live and trying to upload and download at once they slow to a crawl.

    Instead, get an adequate switch/router (you could even continue to use the Superhub and turn the WiFi off) and a separate dedicated AP. Ubiquiti's UniFi APs are cheap and capable, and easy to set up.
     
  9. play_boy_2000

    play_boy_2000 It was funny when I was 12

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    The only thing you can do it try to split the network as best you can. All the new standards rely on 5ghz, so you need to focus on coverage rather than a better router. If you can get just one Ethernet cable to a different floor or across to the other side of the flat/house/whatever it can make a huge difference to place a second AP. Just use the same password and WPA2 settings (but not channel) and devices should roam from AP to AP just fine, and it should split the load.

    The newer AC tri/quad band routers essentially have multiple AP's in one, so it helps a bit with congestion, but does nothing for range.
     
  10. Bungletron

    Bungletron Well-Known Member

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    Looks like Amazon have a Netgear routers on discount for their pc gaming week.
     
  11. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    So, to a point I'd agree with this, but what's "a lot" ins't a real number, and I don't think all consumer grade devices can be tarred with the same brush either.

    Case in point, when I visit my parents with a linksys... something or other... The added devices and traffic from my wife and I (6 more, over their usual 4) means the router needs bouncing pretty much daily.

    At home I have... more than 6 (~50?) and had occasional problems on an older netgear (running DD-WRT as well), causing me to consider something more "enterprise grade" with which to replace it. I ended up taking a punt on an AC68U and it's been faultless in the year or so I've had it. If I were to replace it tomorrow, I would do so with either the same again or an AC88U in a heartbeat.

    I won't argue that something more esoteric will handle more devices, but "more than 10" is clearly a great deal different and more relevant to reliability at home than more than 50, 100, 200 etc.

    I've never got this to work reliably. I always found devices were hanging on the last threads of signal from the "old" AP when moving to a different part of the house, seeing enough of it to not drop off and switch to the new one, but not enough to actually get anything meaningful from it.

    I now use separate SSIDs - it means sometimes having to switch manually when I move (sometimes devices will do it themselves), but at least I can force to which I connect.
     
    Last edited: 7 Apr 2016
  12. PureSilver

    PureSilver E-tailer Tailor

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    So you'd recommend the RT-AC88U in principle, at least? The number of devices online at any one time could frequently be 10-15 (albeit most of them passively) but will only very rarely be more than that. Do you think the tri-band or dual-band would make more sense?

    Can't do it, unfortunately. If coverage is insufficient WiFi repeaters are possible.

    They're $300ish for the 802.11ac variants, so not much cheaper than the combined routers I'm looking at - but the key issue is they look like they're supposed to be wall-mounted throughout an area. I'm really looking for something that can be stuck on a side-table next to the modem.
     
  13. Mister_Tad

    Mister_Tad Will work for nuts Super Moderator

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    I'd (personally) disregard the AC3200 simply because it throws another 5GHz band into the mix, which isn't really a solution to anything, for me anyway. In theory, this helps with increasing numbers of wireless devices, though I've not had issues in my current setup, and as 5GHz often lacks range compared to 2.4GHz, I find that devices often end up on 2.4 anyway.

    I chose the AC68U over the AC87U at the time as tests suggested that at range, the AC68U was the better performer.

    I'd consider the AC88U today because it looks to be at least an equal performer at range to the AC68U and has the added bonus of more throughput on the single 5GHz band, however since that's merely theoretical and I'm not sure any of my devices even support it (for now) and I'd never use the onboard ports, the AC68U would still be a contender.
     
  14. megamale

    megamale Member

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    This is where I would focus a bit more before spending any extra money. I am on the same Virgin connection, and whilst it's usually very fast, it slows down significantly in the evening between 6pm and 11pm. I bet this is the time where everyone gets home in your household as well.

    When the network slows down, have you tried connecting one of the laptops by ethernet just to isolate Virgin as the source of the issue?
     
  15. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    3 story - But you can't wire at all? Or maybe just one wire?
    How many devices is a lot? 10+?

    OK here's my advice:
    Router: Something/anything with MU-MIMO for definite. You connect a single low-end device to one band and EVERYTHING connected slows down, but MU-MIMO mitigates that - the 68 series doesn't have it but the 87/88 does. Assuming you'll all be downstairs frequently enough with several phones/tablets/notebooks on it in the living room/kitchen. These routers are recent and expensive though, so up to you whether you want to manually dictate to all housemates that 2.4(slow devices)/5G(fast devices) or pay for the router to do it.

    Run a single Ethernet up to the top floor landing area and hook up a wireless to ethernet adapter. You can go fancy-pants like https://www.asus.com/Networking/EAAC87/ or more basic like an EA-N66 if the upper levels don't care for AC speeds. That'll guarantee your coverage; connection reliability is more always important than speed and 3 floors is several floors+carpets+brick walls away.

    General rule of thumb with commercial routers: never buy the latest version near launch. Always buy one that's seen at least 6 months on the market as it takes this long for the firmware to settle down. I'd opt for the 87 over 88 for that reason.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: 8 Apr 2016
  16. PureSilver

    PureSilver E-tailer Tailor

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    Thanks a lot for the advice! OK, so I'll discount the RT-AC87U as inferior to the RT-AC88U. I'm still kinda tempted by the RT-AC3200 because it's £100 cheaper than the RT-AC88U, because I don't really need a lot of the RT-AC88U's features (no requirement for special gaming VPN or 8 Ethernet ports) and because if I end up having to use WiFi repeaters (which I'm anticipating needing to spread the 5Ghz signal throughout) I could dedicate one 5Ghz band solely to the two repeaters that would be necessary.

    I'm beginning to think that I need some kind of logging system that will test the speed of the connection intermittently (e.g. once every 5 minutes?) and allow me to graph the results. That way at least I could see when we're getting the best and worst connection and what kind of range it's operating between in Mbps. Is there some easy-to-use software that I could install that would do that for a week or so, that you know of?

    I'm guessing the supplied modem/router isn't going to be something I can modify (e.g. with DD-WRT) so I guess an Ethernet-connected device will have to be dedicated. There's an Apple TV that could be used if there's anything that can be installed on that - otherwise, recommendations for a dirt-cheap computer-on-a-stick are solicited...

    The genius that renovated the house before purchase put coaxial connections throughout for TV connectivity, but not a single millimetre of Ethernet - and I unfortunately can't justify routing slots in the walls etc. for cables just yet. It'll have to be wireless for the moment. The number of devices is definitely 10+ and could end up at 15+ occasionally.

    Thanks! The RT-AC88U has nearly been around six months, and I'm prepared to put up with a bit of annoyance while Asus thrash it out, so that's looking promising. You don't think it's worth moving up to tri-band?
     
  17. Guest-16

    Guest-16 Guest

    Rental?
    Last time I rented a multi-floor house with others we just threw up cables with zip-ties and Velcro to anything that'll hold tme. I guess if you actually want a nice place to live that's unacceptable though ;) ONE wire can be discreet though, and making a small nail hole using cable tacks is also v.unlikely to be seen by the owner, unless he/she visits.
    You could do wifi repeaters but it's more difficult to diagnose when something goes tits up.

    I've no experience of the hassle/benefits of using tri-band in RL sorry.
     
  18. PureSilver

    PureSilver E-tailer Tailor

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    Well, update for anyone that's interested. I ended up going with the RT-AC3200, and I'm hugely impressed by it. The control interface is exceptionally good (barring one key irritation that I've contacted Asus about), and the traffic monitoring capabilities are like something out of a Bourne film. It was reasonably easy to configure; it attempts to explain the choices you're making and the system self-tests itself for security to confirm those decisions. So far range and speed seem to have improved markedly, with no stuttering even with 15+ devices connected at a time. For the moment it's juggling the various connections itself (using a feature called 'Smart Connect') and I'm perfectly happy with the job it's doing.

    I'd wholeheartedly recommend one to anyone that wants a high-end router to manage a lot of devices; it's excellent.
     
  19. MSHunter

    MSHunter Well-Known Member

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    Why not wire up what you can with AV 500 PowerLine adapters? Much more reliable than wireless. Especially through floors and thick walls. Basically get what ever you can off wifi, especially the stationary things like consoles and laptops.

    Sent from Bittech Android app
     

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