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Router Dying - Need Advice (WiFi 6 vs AC, SQM, and more)

lifereinspired

Occasional Visitor
Hi,

We have a Netgear X8 R8500 AC5300 router. Its a little over 3.5 years old and starting to show signs of struggling (specifics below). I was previously thinking of waiting till fall and trying to invest in a Wi-Fi 6 (AX) router because the final specs of the new technology was supposed to be finalized/ratified by then but now I’m hearing that the new specifications won’t be ratified until sometime late in 2020. It feels a little early to be spending $400 on a router that isnt guaranteed to work with the new spec. I read the fantastic article on here about the (lack of) benefits AX offers at this point, so I’m looking elsewhere. Having said that I know we have a higher spec’d router and dont really want to go backwards to something slower nor do I think I can limp through with the router we have for another year or even 18 months (till WiFi 6 is ratified).

I also think (from what I’ve read) that I may see improvement with a router with SQM or something similar as my current internet service has a very lopsided up/down ratio (250/10). I hope to switch provider to a symmetrical gigabit but in the event that doesnt work out, I think I need the SQM for bufferbloat. I did multiple test on DSLReports and got Ds on the bufferbloat section.

What would you do? Would you look for a deal on a $150-200 router that you'd plan on using in 2 years? I’m ruling out a WiFi 6 router, for now - unless someone here can give reasons to rethink. I saw that Costco has a number of sales on routers that are possibilities - the TP-Link Archer C4000 is at $135, the Netgear X6S is $149. Im also intrigued with routers like the Asus AC88U and RT-AC5300 (because of the Asus-WRT interface and features (which should also give SQM, right) and other firmware options like Merlin. However, the AC88I a dual not tri-band router. I’m trying to compare specs with what we have now and the processors are faster/powerful/more cores but the stated speed of the bands is slower. I dont know how this works out in real world usage.

Here are some specific questions:
Are current AC routers like those mentioned going to perform faster or slower than what I have (given that the processor is better in the new ones but the stated speed capabilities are lower)? Our X8 is AC5300 and the others are AC3200, 4000, etc. Given the release date of our X8 router, its likely AC Wave 2, right?
Does having 3 bands actually help with speeds and stability w/a lot of devices connected being able to spread them across two 5ghz bands as compared to having just a 2.4ghz & 5ghz dual band in real world usage?
I’m seeing some mixed things about Ubiquiti hardwear & the future development of their platform. I think it has SCM but speeds are slower than other routers. Im wondering what you think about this too.
What routers would you be looking at, at this point?
What would benefits be of considering a non “all in one” solution and what might that look like? I don’t want to be constantly tweaking stuff, so I’m not sure this is the best option.
The budget isn’t entirely static at $150-200. I’d consider spending more. I’m not wild about spending $400 on something that will only be used a year or two but I’m open to ideas, if it would improve our networking experience. If it might be usable for longer or if it might be sale-able when we’re ready to upgrade, we would consider spending more.

Any thoughts or advice would be super helpful. Thanks so much in advance!

Network & Other Info:
Internet: Cable Internet from Xfinity/Comcast (Docsis 3.1 modem) 250mbps down/10 up (we’re trying to switch to a different provider w/ symmetrical gigabit but its not a certainty)
Devices: Usually around 50 devices connected to the router at any given time including smartphones, tablets, computers, printer, scanner, IoT/home automaton, media server, 4K/HDR streaming media boxes, tv, voice assistants, etc. Its much more when individual products are counted (ie we have over 30 smart lights connected to a bridge, which is then just seen as 1 device to the router. With this in mind, its over 100 devices, but likely less than 150).
We use wired Ethernet when possible, otherwise connected via WiFi.
We stream a lot of music, podcasts, & video (much in 4K/HDR), and often 2 streams at a time.
We do need to have access to devices from outside the network. The current X8 comes w/ one free dynamic DNS name for easy access in this situation w/o paying for a static IP.
Our apartment is a little over 800sf. Even in that small of a place w/ a router that says it will cover 4000sf+, we have no WiFi signal in the bathroom. Its maybe 25ft from the router.
Router issues:
My iPhone won’t connect to our router most of the time while it connects immediately to other routers in the building (like Xfinity hotspot). Rebooting it sometimes works.
iPad is sluggish.
Streaming video will sometimes break up and buffer - even with SD content.
Sometimes router will just stop putting data through altogether (though the status lights continue like there isnt any problem). Occasionally, it will be just the WiFi or the Wired data affected. This has happened multiple times while traveling for long periods which is a pain since we lose all access to our home server and cant easily reboot/resolve.
The Nighthawk app can’t pull up any of the devices connected or complete a speedtest.

(I know this is a lot of info, but I thought it would help more than not including it. Sorry if it’s too much.)
 

Dave Parker

Senior Member
Did you see the above post by Starrbuck selling an Asus RT-AC86U for $115. If I didn't already have one I would definitely buy it. Might be what you are looking for.
 

Trip

Very Senior Member
First off, I generally operate with this rule: buy the grade of gear that is most stable and appropriate for today. Solid AC Wave 2 wifi plus beefy-enough routing and switching are all you need to ensure a high-performance network for many years to come.

Given your environment, WAN link speed and traffic profile, the most effective solution is likely one of two paths: 1) another all-in-one than can run Merlin, or any firmware capable of proper SQM, or 2) discrete components, ie. a wired router (with SQM) and discrete AP(s), ideally mesh-capable, enterprise grade.

The advantage of the all-in-one approach is that it's a known quantity, but with 50 endpoints and likely growing, three radios may be necessary to ensure you have enough overhead to manage that many concurrent clients (most consumer-class radio hardware/firmware can only handle about 20-30 clients per radio before starting to show measurable performance degradation). If sticking with Asus, that would mean either the RT-AC3200 or GT-AC5300 -- $180 or $320. Downsides are you're still pinning all your wifi hopes on the back of one erector set, and AiMesh really isn't as good an alternative as decoupling wifi from the router and running a mesh-capable distributed setup.

Onto option #2: a wired router with proper packet flow management and discrete AP(s). The advantages here are just about everywhere. Best-in-class hardware for each role. Easier upgradability. More resiliency. Higher total performance from the sum of the parts. Etc, etc. That being said, the downsides are cost and the fact that this will take a bit more skill to setup properly, but once set should stay that way. Specifically, I'm thinking a Ubiquiti ER-12 (~$250) for routing and switching. The 1Ghz MIPS chip will drive 260Mb/s aggregate via SQM no problem, and the built-in L2 switch should be fine. For wifi, I would run Ruckus Unleashed; it's a controller-less, mesh-capable product that provides a better connection experience in high-interference/obstacle scenarios, especially for mobiles. I'd start with a single R710; can be had for $200-250 working-pull off eBay. Max clients lists at 512, real world is less but still can easily handle 150-200+. Then add in a gigabit PoE injector ($20-30) between the router and AP. With that combo, I can all but guarantee your issues will end. I do understand the choice of brand and buying used could be a total no-no for some. Fair enough. If you have to go with UniFi or TP-Link Omada to buy new, not the biggest deal in the world. It won't perform as well, especially for mobiles when interference is an issue, but for most everything else, will be good enough.

So there you have it, both options laid out. It goes without saying that the more wired architecture you have, the better, even it has to be a few MoCa 2.0 adapters over coax. Bottom line, wire as much as you can; to K.I.S.S., go all-in-one, or for max performance everywhere, go discrete components, all day, every day.
 
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