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Moving A Node

Location matters when placing mesh nodes. However as noted earlier, help for this important step is largely missing from mesh products so far. So I decided to see how much moving the center node could affect performance. The composite / x-ray view of my home's floorplan shows the single downstairs office node location along with the Hallway and Kitchen office locations. It's clear the Hallway location isn't the best.

So I threw WAF concerns to the winds and moved the middle mesh node to the new Living Room location shown. This location puts the center mesh node on a more direct path between the Office and Kitchen nodes. This should provide higher throughput for the Living Room node to pass along to the Kitchen node.

Mesh test locations - composite view w/ Living Room location

Mesh test locations - composite view w/ Living Room location

The photo shows where each node type (desktop / wall-plugged) was located and its surroundings. No attempt was made to aim any of the nodes to tweak performance.

Living room location surroundings

Living room location surroundings

The downlink comparison again shows eero with strongest one-hop performance (Living Room). Luma takes the award for most improved two-hop performance (Kitchen - Reconnect), improving from a barely-connected 0.7 Mbps to a quite respectable 58 Mbps, second only to eero's 70 Mbps and ahead of both Amplifis.

Mesh throughput summary w/ Living Room node - downlink

Mesh throughput summary w/ Living Room node - downlink

Uplink shows Luma this time taking top honors in the two-hop test with 64 Mbps, up from its previously dismal 1 Mbps. Amplifi HD edges ahead of eero for the top spot in the single hop (Living Room) test with 120 Mbps vs. eero's 107 Mbps.

Mesh throughput summary w/ Living Room node - uplink

Mesh throughput summary w/ Living Room node - uplink

In general, both one and two-hop throughput improved. With the middle node in the Hallway location, only a single product, eero for downlink and Amplifi HD for uplink managed throughput over 40 Mbps. Moving the middle node to the Living Room location boosted two products over 50 Mbps for downlink and three running uplink. A significant improvement!

You may have noticed asterisk on Luma's Kitchen - Reconnect results, which are the same as the Kitchen results. That's not a data entry error. Luma apparently decided that the best performance for the client sitting at the Kitchen test location was via the Living Room node. Try as I might, I could not get the test client to connect to the Kitchen node, even after changing client roaming settings. Since I just copied the Kitchen results, Luma's Kitchen - Reconnect results are the only case where Kitchen - Reconnect represents single-hop results.

So you don't have to flip back and forth between the two sets of charts, I created charts showing throughput % change between the test runs with the middle mesh node in the Hallway and with it in the Living Room locations. There really shouldn't be much change for the root node, since in both cases the client connected directly to the base node. So I'll chalk the Amplifi's 160% change up to an anomaly.

eero benefits the least from the middle node move, Luma the most and both Amplifi's somewhere in between. Note I had to limit the chart maximum because of Luma's extraordinary improvement.

Throughput % change from changing middle node position - downlink

Throughput % change from changing middle node position - downlink

Luma once again gains the most on uplink for both one and two hops. But keep in mind again, Luma's two hop improvement is a mix of two hop and one hop results. eero gets a significant two-hop boost and not so much for one-hop.

Throughput % change from changing middle node position - uplink

Throughput % change from changing middle node position - uplink

Closing Thoughts

I think it's pretty clear that eero turned in the best overall performance. No, it didn't produce the highest downlink throughput with the test client directly connected to the root node. And in the two-hop uplink test it basically tied with the Amplifi with about one-third the throughput of the Amplifi HD. But in the single-hop Hallway test, it had almost 3X the performance of the other three products on downlink and tied the Amplifi HD on uplink.

eero also turned in the best one and two-hop performance when the middle mesh node was moved to the Living room. Although this move greatly improved Luma's results, eero still did better on downlink. Luma bested eero only on two-hop uplink, but again, Luma would not let me test two-hop in this case.

But the big takeaway is what Wi-Fi pros already know: wireless hops can really eat up throughput. So no matter which mesh wireless system you choose, be prepared to experiment with node locations. Unfortunately, only Amplifi provides signal strength information to guide mesh node placement and also provides a clear indication of how nodes are connected. With the others, you're on your own to devise your own methods to determine best node placement. Let's hope vendors improve the situation, because it's clear mesh node placement matters...a lot!

Update 10/3/16

After this review posted, Ubiquiti contacted us to protest our use of a 2x2 test client. Amplifi HD uses 3x3 AC1750 class both in its router and "mesh point" extender and Amplifi uses 3x3 AC1750 in its router and 3x3 N900 class in its mesh point. So it is true our 2x2 STA will not show the higher throughput that Amplifi should be capable of when used with 3x3 devices.

However, since eero and Luma are 2x2 designs, using a 2x2 test STA provides a level playing field for comparison among all three products. There is also nothing in the use of a 2x2 test STA that should prevent Amplifi from using its 3x3 architecture to obtain higher-bandwidth backhaul between mesh points and router. But our tests do not show a noticeable performance advantage from Amplifi or Amplifi HD.

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