Page 4: Geekier Features, Buying Advice, and Article Changelog
Geekier Features: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, UPnP, KRACK
The features we listed in the previous sections here are generally the ones most people care about. That said, there are more than a few of us who have setups which require some of the geekier, more esoteric features of each router. We didn’t want to leave any of that out, so we’ve listed all of these features above as the subject heading here, and then in the per-device comments below we’re showing which features each of these systems supports.
- Amped ALLY: Bridge mode, Guest Network, Subnet Configuration, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. No KRACK patch as of last article update.
- eero: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Version 3.7 added IPv6 and Thread support, and 3.5 added KRACK patches.
- Google Wifi: Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Bridge Mode is not supported for mesh configuration. KRACK patched with 9901.53.2.
- Linksys Velop: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. KRACK added with 1.1.2 in December, 2017.
- Luma: Guest network, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Bridge Mode and IPv6 are not. Subnet is limited to 192.168.55.x. KRACK patch with firmware 2017.12.08-0.
- Netgear Orbi: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, UPnP, and Inbound OpenVPN Server are all supported. KRACK patch with 188.8.131.52 firmware.
- Plume: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported.
- TP-Link Deco: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, DHCP reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Subnet defaults to 192.168.0.x and is not changeable by the user. KRACK Patch with 1.1.6 firmware.
- Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD: Bridge Mode, Guest Network, IPv6, Subnet Configuration, DHCP Reservations, Local DNS, Custom DNS Servers, and UPnP are all supported. Firmware v2.4.3 adds KRACK patches.
Advice: For most folks these features won’t be deal-breakers, but guest network, bridge mode (also called access point mode), and IPv6 are popular enough that it’s worth considering those before making your choice.
Mesh Wi-Fi Buying Advice
There is no one system that makes sense for every scenario. For most folks in most homes, though, it’s hard to look past the TP-Link Deco right now. At less than $250 for a 3-unit system, it performs well and TP-Link has been very aggressive at adding features with regular software updates (they even just released their tri-band Deco M9 Plus, which shows their commitment to the mesh product line). It’s not the fastest unit, though, so if high speed and efficiency are top-of-mind for you, it’s worth expanding your budget and looking upwards.
eero, Linksys Velop, and now Plume are worth considering, especially given their new hardware that keeps the feature set and performance very high while keeping the costs down. Tri-band units are definitely more efficient, but they bring the cost up quite a bit. Velop now comes in two form-factors, the original, tri-band Velop three-pack is currently $399 and the new dual-band three-pack is $279. eero comes in a few different configurations. For $399 you get a tri-band 2nd gen eero base station and two dual-band eero Beacons that plug right into your wall outlets. To get an eero setup that’s similar to the Velop with three tri-band units currently costs $499. Plume is a slightly different beast, with the option of an annual or lifetime subscription to the adaptive management service and updates. For $399 you get three, tri-band Plume SuperPods and lifetime service. Plume also has the very best adaptive Wi-Fi that we’ve seen, with devices constantly being pushed around to the best access points and radios, resulting in a very efficient system.
The NETGEAR Orbi is worth considering, too, especially if you have a very long distance to cover between satellites. In our tests, the AC3000 Orbi with its 4×4 backhaul radio was able to reach a satellite 125-feet and two buildings away and still maintain a rock solid transfer at over 110Mbps in both directions. Orbi now has support for Ethernet backhaul, and each unit does has 4 Ethernet ports, which can be handy if you’ve got more than one thing to plug into either your router or a satellite. [Update: OrbiOS 184.108.40.206 significantly improves the stability of their Ethernet backhaul connections.]
If you’re into the geekier details of your network, Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi HD is an option to consider. The AmpliFi iOS app currently has the most-detailed data available in terms of who is connected to your Wi-Fi network, and how. With it’s 3×3 radios, too, the AmpliFi HD has the ability to outperform some of the other systems, depending upon your specific scenario.
Google Wifi is in an odd spot in this market. It’s one of the fastest dual-band mesh systems available, but lacks some of the important features like BufferBloat protection, Bridge Mode, and Intrusion/Malware protection. For the money, there are currently better options available.
Which Mesh Wi-Fi System is Best?
The one question I can’t answer for you is, “which mesh Wi-Fi system is best?” I’ve personally tested every system mentioned here, and they all work very well. If you’re moving from a single router setup where you have some weak or dead spots, any one of these mesh solutions is very likely to bathe your home in Wi-Fi bliss.
I can also tell you that, price aside, the gen 2 eero is my current favorite hardware. It’s got three radios, setup is a breeze, the app provides enough detail to satisfy most of my inner geekiness, and it just works. But that may or may not fit your criteria or your budget. And it’s worth noting that the Plume SuperPods are a very close second on my list. If/when they get the software sorted out such that it doesn’t kill my Wi-Fi the moment I have an internet connection hiccup, it may well jump to first place for me.
The point of this piece is to teach you enough to make this decision for yourself. By now you’ve probably got a feeling about which units resonate with your scenario. Pick from those and you’ll be fine.
Update August 11, 2018: I’m asked a lot about choosing between eero, Plume, Velop and Orbi. On the surface they all seem quite similar in terms of them being tri-band, higher-end units aimed towards the person who wants to spend a little extra money to get the right solution. Every time I’m asked this question, I wind up recommending eero because of eero’s robustness, though as noted above Plume is making a run for first place here. It’s important to note, though, that I tend to color outside the lines a little in my testing. I do a lot with Ethernet Backhaul, Bridge Mode, and other features that most people might not ever use. Recently I tried adding a unit to my Velop system to find that I couldn’t add a unit in Bridge Mode. It needs to be in normal/router mode. With my Orbi in Bridge Mode I tried changing the SSID and only one unit’s SSID changed while the others remained the same. I’ve tried both of these things with eero and they worked perfectly, just as expected. You may never try any of these things, but it’s worth noting that eero and now Plume tend to test and cover more edge cases than any of the others, and that’s important to me.
We’ll keep this article up-to-date as new updates and features are made available, and we’ll track a changelog right here so you can see how this industry evolves, too. Mesh Wi-Fi is a fast-moving market, and we’ll help you stay as current as we can. If there’s a feature or a system you’d like to know more about, ask us in the comments below and we’ll take a look!
- August 11, 2018
- Added Plume to the list, started tracking them and reviewed Plume in Mac Geek Gab 713. Added “lifetime” subscription price, though annual options are available.
- Added the new Deco M9 Plus to the list.
- As we’ve learned more about Deco’s capabilities, their engineers have confirmed for us that they do not currently have any BufferBloat protection, and we’ve updated everything to reflect that.
- Since Luma still doesn’t have any BufferBloat protection, we’ve changed “Coming Soon” to “No” in the chart.
- June 1, 2018
- eero’s 3.8.0-1205 firmware (May 29, 2018) adds support for Bufferbloat-preventing QoS under the name “Smart Queue Management” in the (beta) eero Labs section of the App.
- Linksys has released the dual-band version of the Velop, bringing a lower-cost alternative to its tri-band mesh product. All other features remain the same.
- Added a note comparing robustness of eero, Velop, and Orbi to the Mesh Wi-Fi Buying Advice section.
- Added a note about the continued issues with Orbi’s Ethernet Backhaul. In our tests it will work, but it often takes time (30 minutes) for the Orbi to “see” and map things properly.
- March 30, 2018
- eero’s 3.7.0-948 firmware (February 22, 2018) adds IPv6 and initial support for the Thread radio.
- AmpliFi’s 2.6 firmware builds added in support for Hardware NAT, allowing full gigabit speeds for wired connections, plus the beginnings of 802.11 k/v/r support for faster/smoother roaming between access points.
- Google Wi-Fi 10032.86.2 (February, 2018) adds some packet queuing improvements for voice and video calls.
- Amped ALLY updates to 1.10.02 (January 26, 2018), with UI, stability, and memory management fixes.
- NETGEAR continues to struggle with stability of their 2.1 series firmware. This brings major topological changes, including true mesh and Ethernet backhaul. NETGEAR has officially pulled the 2.1 firmware from autoupdates (their support site recommends 220.127.116.11), but on March 23, 2018 released 18.104.22.168 as a beta for some Orbi models, addressing quite a few issues and encourages users to test it. We’ve got it installed here. It’s too soon to tell yet, but we’ll keep on it for you.
- KRACK updates for Linksys Velop.
- December 13, 2017
- NETGEAR’s Orbi firmware v22.214.171.124 (December 5, 2017) adds Ethernet backhaul. Combined with the daisy-chain topology introduced in October, this makes Orbi a full contender in the mesh scenario, especially for folks that already have some wired points in their homes. Our ratings and preferences have not been updated yet based upon this… we need time to test, and we’re doing that now. [Update 22-Dec-2017: OrbiOS 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 introduced a torrent of reports about stability issues relating to Wi-Fi backhaul, many of which we have experienced in our test environment, too. We are suspending our testing of Orbi pending further updates.]
- Orbi’s v184.108.40.206 firmware also adds Disney’s Circle for full-featured parental controls.
- Google’s 9901.53.2 (November 29, 2017) adds the ability to edit the LAN IP address range, allowing folks to (finally) change their networks to something other than the 192.168.86.x range.
- KRACK also added to Orbi, Google Wi-Fi, Luma, Deco.
- October 18, 2017
- Updated QoS and BufferBloat Protection to clarify that eero does not currently support any such thing.
- Added KRACK to the Geekier Features list, noting patches from eero and AmpliFi. No one else…yet.
- NETGEAR’s Orbi firmware v220.127.116.11 adds “daisy-chain topology”, which means one satellite can get its connection from another satellite. Previously all satellites had to talk back to the main router, effectively limiting range (though Orbi’s range has always been stellar). This is an improvement to that, and lets Orbi check the “actual mesh” box now.