which is the better choice at $150: new router or powerline adapters?

Discussion in 'Networking & Security' started by tantalus, Dec 25, 2019.

  1. tantalus

    tantalus Limp Gawd

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    I have a TP Link n600 dual band router. Pretty basic - total of 600 mpbs. The router is on the second story of our house (1700 sq ft.) at one end. Downstairs in the middle of the house, wifi is ok for phones but not for tablets, which sucks because my daughter uses one all the time. And if Peppa Pig goes down, she gets really upset!

    I first thought it was my old Ipad mini she was using. So I got a new Samsung tab and the connection is still bad. Phones don't connect seamlessly either. All in all, though, my needs are pretty minimal. 2 smartphones, 1 tablet, 1 Roku tv, 1 laptop, 1 desktop.

    I don't want to spend more than 150 bucks. I could either get a new, better, faster router, or I could get powerline adapters. If I did that, I could run an ethernet to my desktop, which I would really like, and put a wifi adapter downstairs.

    But maybe it's better just to get a better router. I've heard powerline adapters being described as a last resort.

    Any advice?
     
  2. bman212121

    bman212121 [H]ard|Gawd

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    Considering you already have a simultaneous dual band router, you should be able to separate traffic from one device away from the others. The phones probably have AC in them, but the tablet, roku, and laptop might not.

    I'm assuming you have the router upstairs right now simply because that's where a coax jack was for the modem. If that's the case then I'd possibly consider powerline adapters. Not for going between the router to the desktop, but use it to connect the modem to the router. If you can get the current router into a better position, you might be fine with what you have now. If you can get that into the same room as the desktop if it's centrally located, that would be a big plus. For zero dollars what I'd try right now is simply moving the router into other rooms and seeing if you get better coverage. Better coverage = better speeds. You should be able to run a quick test from the laptop and see if that improves the signal. If it really doesn't then I'd say just go with the 3rd option. Buy a pair of Unifi AC Lites and let them mesh together over wifi. In the size house you have I would actually expect one AP to cover it just fine, provided you can get it into a decent position. I've had no issues covering houses with AC Lites that were two stories, but I usually put it into the ceiling of the lower story somewhere in the middle of house. If you can't even a hybrid of powerline + Unifi might also be the ticket. The import thing is locating the AP in a desirable location. That's harder to do with an all in one router, it's a lot easier when you're just feeding an AP with a single cable.
     
  3. owcraftsman

    owcraftsman Gawd

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    Short answer. A Router is better.
    Your best bet for even consistent coverage is to but a new router and keep the old one to use as an access point.
    Put the new router where WIFI is critical and the old where it is not.
    This will involve running an Ethernet Cable from one router to the other and changing one of your routers IP address if your new router has the same address.
    I assume since your N600 is on the second floor that your modem is there too.
    If I knew your floor plan I could tell you the best way to route the new Ethernet cable but it should be fairly easy to drop a cable from 2nd to the first floor.
    It would be nice if it dropped down as close to the center of the home as possible.
    Routers like to be up high for best coverage so putting a shelf say 18" down from the ceiling where the cable drops down would be ideal.
    Here is a guide for adding the router for a two router setup.
    Keep in mind the extra ports on the second router will be available to hardwire other devices such as a streaming TV something not possible with a powerline adaptor.
    Bottom line Powerline adaptors are convenient but suck for performance.
    If you want to keep it in the TP Link family tray a TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router and you won't be disappointed.
    New Router Upgrade Pick NETGEAR Nighthawk X4S better performance overall but again the budget pick is fine
    Merry Christmas
     
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  4. tantalus

    tantalus Limp Gawd

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    Thanks for the help. A couple clarifications/follow up questions.

    1. The modem/router are on second floor. My office is also on second floor. I just need a bit more juice to the first floor. I would also like more speed to my desktop, which is on the second floor in a room across from the room the modem/router are in. I can't move the modem due to location of the coax, and so I can't move the router. I don't want to string ethernet cable. I'd rather spend money and make it easier on myself.

    2. So my options are a) new router, b) powerline adapters, c) new router plus old router as wireless AP (again, I can't string ethernet cable either to my office or downstairs).

    3. Someone recommended using powerline adapters to put between the modem and router so the latter could be near my desktop. Wouldn't that give me the same signal degredation as putting a powerline from the router to a powerline Ethernet adapter in my office?

    I know this is a little confusing because I'm trying to do two things - increase speeds to my desktop (Windows tells me I'm getting 300mbs, but that can't be right) and increasing signal to the downstairs. Getting signal to the downstairs is my main goal.

    Seems like getting a new router might be the best option. My TPlink isn't AC, just A.

    Or maybe separating traffic would be worth a try. Is that segregating devices or something? Would that increase signal to downstairs?

    Thanks!
     
  5. tantalus

    tantalus Limp Gawd

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  6. 5150Joker

    5150Joker 2[H]4U

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  7. bman212121

    bman212121 [H]ard|Gawd

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    So I'll try to explain the thought process the best I can.

    #3: Yes, using a powerline adapter between the router and desktop and between the router and modem will in theory have the same throughput. Powerline adapters are affected by whether or not they have to go through more or less wiring and more circuits. Ideally PLA (Power Line Adapter) are plugged into the same circuit, meaning that the wall outlet you plugged both ends into are fed from the same breaker on your panel. Easiest way to check is turn off a breaker and see which outlets are being turned off. You may need to move them around to actually get the speeds you desire, there is no full proof way to know if they are going to work well or not. That said, the reasoning behind using that between the modem and the router is this: The current standard internet connection for a big cable company is around 110mbps down, and 5 mbps up. Last I knew most basic powerline adapters should be able to achieve that amount of speed. One such device is the TP-Link-AV1000. In putting the connection between the modem and router it allows you some freedom to try to find a better location for the router. It also means if you wanted to say hookup a NAS unit at some point, you could put that in the same room as the desktop and they would still both have full speeds between each other. If neither of these goals pan out then sure, using it between the desktop and the router would be fine as well.

    Getting a new router might not solve anything. In one of the other recent posts I explained how wireless actually works.

    https://hardforum.com/threads/only-1-2-gbps-on-wifi6.1990457/

    Let me summarize it again, but in your situation. You have an 802.11N device currently. The device is "N" which is the previous generation before "AC". The only real difference between N and AC is that AC provides two faster speed tiers than N does.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.11n-2009

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.11ac

    There's charts on both of those links, but let me explain them. Using a single spatial stream, N has MCS 0 - 7. AC has the exact same numbers for 0 - 7, but it also includes two faster speeds at MCS 8 and MCS9. Why this matters is that think of these as power levels with 0 being the weakest and 9 being the highest. Your devices will automatically go up and down this chart to match how many "bars" of signal you have. So if you have a device that shows 5 total bars, then if you had say 2 bars of signal, that device would only be able to use MCS 0 through like 3. If you have 4 bars of signal you might be able to use MCS0 - 7. In order to actually see any benefit from AC over N, you have to have a stronger signal. If you're already having signal problems then moving from N to AC will do nothing for you because you can't take advantage of those faster speeds. (There are also wider channels, but those aren't backwards compatible with N devices. So if you want to use N devices on 5ghz, then you really can't take advantage of them)


    To increase signal you need to:

    1.Increase power
    2.shorten the range
    3.remove obstructions
    4.increase sensitivity of the receiver.

    For #1, this is kind of a moot point. The AP is almost always more powerful than the client, and the issue isn't the AP itself but rather the garbage wireless adapter that's in the client. That said, power levels in APs are actually going DOWN, not up. It's because each time you add another antenna, you take away some of the power per antenna. So a 4 x 4 device usually has LESS range than a 2 x 2.

    #2 Moving things closer is almost always the best answer. If you have read anything about 5G, you'll know they are putting the towers closer and closer to the end user. The closer you are, the better the signal, the faster it can go. This is the best way to fix a wireless issue.

    #3 Simply changing what is between clients can help a lot. It's possible that in the current location there is 4 walls, a bathroom, a closet, etc between the AP and the client. Moving the AP to the other side of the house it might mean that the signal is traveling through a big open room like a living room. You might see a big improvement by changing the path it has to take. If the AP is sitting on the desk and there are clients directly below it, that signal has to travel through the desk. Moving the AP off the desk and onto a piece of plastic on the floor could theoretically improve signals. Also a lot of times you'll end up with issues with walls. There might not be much signal loss going straight through a wall into the next room, but let's say the signal has to travel almost parallel to a wall. What will happen is that instead of that signal needing to go through 1 stud, it might now have to travel though 5. Certain angles can have really sharp drop off in signal strength.

    4. Not much you can do here, but a general point is this. A laptop has a much better wifi card than a phone or a tablet, but price matters. Cheap android devices will use bargain basement wifi adapters, where premium devices like iPhones and MacBook Pros use receivers that can tune in weaker signals. Because they are more sensitive they can have more "bars" using the same sized antenna. I've seen where high quality wireless equipment can hold a signal hundreds of feet farther than a cheap one using the exact same antenna. But generally speaking phones and tablets are always the hardest to get working.


    It doesn't matter how many devices are connected or how much traffic there is, this has little affect on power levels. The absolute best thing you can do to make things go faster is to get your clients closer to the AP. That's what moving your AP to a better location is critical. Even something as simple as taking your AP, moving it off the desk and flipping it upside down, or on it's side could see a decent impact on wireless. The radiation patterns on antennas are not perfect spheres. Most have stronger output in a certain direction. The little 3" antennas are designed for maximum power output to the left / right of them, and not really for upwards and downwards. So pointing the antennas straight up and down, but putting a device directly below it that device will have less signal than if it were to the side of it. The one other thing to note is that in general lower frequencies will travel farther, so putting problem devices on 2.4ghz might help increase their signal strength. But in doing so 2.4ghz can be crowded by other devices, and has much less bandwidth to work with. You would ONLY want to put the misbehaving devices on 2.4ghz and have the rest on 5ghz.


    The TP-Link Mesh product you linked to might solve your issues as well. I'm generally a fan of mesh wifi, even though it's not without it's own issues. The biggest reasons why they work better is because their antennas are larger and tuned to work well with each other. Using one of those will get the AP closer to the device, and then the APs can work together to relay the signal. The biggest downside to a lot of mesh devices is that they are using the same radio to talk to the client and the AP. So this automatically cuts available bandwidth in HALF in a best case scenario. Generally it's worse than that. But if you look at those charts I listed, having like 3 bars of signal is going to cut speed in half anyway, so at least in this case the device will be able to talk to the remote AP at full speeds and be much less likely to drop connections. For the money I would probably suggest giving one of those a try first as it might be one of your better options. The biggest reason again is because you have more flexibility in AP placement. Find a good path between the primary AP and the remote AP, then hopefully there will also be a good path between the remote AP and the client. In this example you actually want your clients to be more isolated from the other APs they are not connected to so the other traffic doesn't interfere with performance.


    I'm not at all a fan of just buying another single router, tossing it into the exact same location, and expecting it to work better. Chances are it won't, and it might be even worse than the previous one. Anytime you want to increase speed, you decrease range. We used to be able to cover half of a 10,000 sq ft building with a single Cisco Areonet. But the bandwidth provides like 200kbps. In order to support more bandwidth, you need more APs because wireless is a shared medium. In the case of your desktop, you might have a connection of 300mbps, but if that's the max connection rate, even if all of the devices connected are at that speed, the most possible bandwidth is 300mbps split between all connected devices. So if you have 5 devices connected to that AP, and they are all connected at 300mbps then it's 300 / 5 or 60mbps per device. But wireless if half duplex, so that's only in one direction. And then you also need to account for overhead, so take that number and a ballpark is about 60% of the connection rate. So for a single device you are getting 300 x 60% or ~180mbps in the best scenario. Now put 5 devices on that, and it's really only 36mbps per device. And if you thought we were done killing your connection, we're not even close yet. Remember those charts I listed? Let's say you only had 3 bars. Well go ahead and cut that bandwidth in half again; So 18mbps per client. Now throw in some interference from neighboring wireless devices competing for the same spectrum (Two devices cannot talk at the same time on the same channel), then throw in a legacy roku stick or something that only has a single antenna on it. That device might only realistically be able to get ~3mbps of throughput.

    You can see how wifi can quickly spiral downward because all devices within range need to share the same airtime. Now there's one final thing that also kills wireless performance. It's the sharing of that airtime with slow clients. Let's say you have 2 clients that need to both transmit 20MB of data. Client A, your desktop, has a perfect 300mbps connection. Client B, a sub $200 android tablet, has a junky single antenna and only 1 bar of signal. It's connection rate is 54mbps.

    So let's do the math:

    Desktop

    300mbps x 60% to account for overhead

    180mbps

    20MB x 8 = 160Mb

    160 / 180 = ~.89 seconds to transfer that data.

    Tablet

    54mbps x 60% to account for overhead

    32.4mbps

    20MB x 8 = 160Mb

    160 / 32.4 = ~4.94 seconds to transfer that data.

    So it takes that tablet well over 5x as long to transfer the same amount of data. But what that means is that if the wireless device isn't using "airtime fairness" then it's going to allocate 5x as much time to the tablet so it can move it's data. So to move 40MB of data this will take almost 6 seconds. That tablet with it's weak connection and slow adapter is going to cripple the speed your desktop will get because the bandwidth it shared. So in reality your desktop is only able to transfer 20MB every 6 seconds, or an effective speed of around 27mbps (A far cry from the 180mbps it should be able to do on it's own). Simply getting that device to full signal and tripling it's connection rate will give back a ton of airtime and let other devices use the network. I could double the performance of your desktop to 600mbps and it's operation would go from .89 to .45, which is barely perceivable in the big picture. That means 6 seconds is now 5.5 seconds of total airtime. The take away is that optimizing your slower devices will have the biggest benefit, and that's usually first through getting better signal. If you can't do that, then you want to push them down into 2.4ghz so they don't bring down the speed of all of the 5ghz devices that are connected.


    There's probably more information than you ever wanted or needed to know about wireless. There should be plenty of information to help you decide what you can do to make things better. The free solution is to attempt to move around the router, the second cheapest is to use a powerline adapter to relocate it to a better location. The more expensive solution is replace the current router with a mesh one, which gives you more flexibility to get the best signal. The final option is replace the current AP with another one, leave it in the same position, and likely solve nothing because the tablets will still have connection issues. Thankfully mesh is now an option that didn't exist before. The ideal solution it to run a wire and place the AP into the best position in the house, but thankfully mesh can help get you into the ballpark without the need to run the wire. Is it as good as a hard wired AP? Not even close. Is it better than a single AP in a poor location? Absolutely. Would it be better than using a PLA to relocate the AP/router to a better location? Possibly. Overall mesh is probably a big more simple to configure since the devices are designed to work together. You can always pick up a PLA if you're not getting the speeds you want to the desktop and / or you want to offload some traffic from wireless.


    TL;DR

    Wireless is shared, better signal is key to making it work. Mesh is a good solution to getting better signal.
     
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  8. tantalus

    tantalus Limp Gawd

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    Holy crap, thanks so much for the detailed response. I think that should be all I need! I didn't know that such subtle differences in placement mattered so much. That will be a huge help in moving forward. Not to mention all the other advice you gave.
     
  9. tantalus

    tantalus Limp Gawd

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    It also really helps to see how the crappy connection to my downstairs tablet is hurting my desktop speed. That's pretty nuts, I had no idea.
     
  10. tantalus

    tantalus Limp Gawd

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    I feel like this should be stickied somewhere for know-nothings like me :)
     
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  11. bman212121

    bman212121 [H]ard|Gawd

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    The one thing I should probably clarify is that just because you have 5 devices connected doesn't necessarily mean that each device can't get full bandwidth. Even if 5 devices are connected your desktop can pull it's ~180mbps half duplex provided the other devices are not moving any traffic. But if another device is streaming something, it will negatively impact your desktop as well as any other clients trying to stream or move data. The more devices that are connected, the more chatter there is on your wireless. So at a certain point simply having like 15 devices connected chances are you will no longer be able to get as fast of speeds as you would when only one device is connected. In dense deployments with a lot of clients it's unlikely that they expect a single client to even get 10mbps, but if they can get like 5mbps it should be more than enough for HD video.

    There is actually a really good article that Cisco has which covers some of the points I talked about with pretty pictures, they are using those examples to explain how clients go about setting up auditoriums and other large venues. If you're curious about wireless at scale, it should provide to be a fascinating read.

    https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/td/do...ireless_high_client_density_design_guide.html
     
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  12. owcraftsman

    owcraftsman Gawd

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    Yes, all great advice for sure and kudos bman212121 for a well-written piece. Let me say where my advice comes from so buts or however just plain simple advice. I'm a general contractor and have been for 30 years and I have built many 2 story homes. As one might expect in recent years (10-15) tech has become increasingly more and more in demand and I have had to keep up with the times giving my clients solid advice that will last for decades into the future. No doubt a part of the process has been trial and error. What I have learned is that hard wire is the answer to a multitude of issues and have resolved 90% of them. Understanding how a house is built to illustrate my point. Typically all mechanicals for the 1st and 2nd floor runs through the floor trusses. Plumbing pipes A/C ducts electrical wiring and insulation for noise control all run throughout the trusses. What might appear as a short distance between two areas (1st and 2nd Floor) is therefore cluttered with stuff that will degrade a WIFI signal. It's not if, it will. We've tried mesh and powerline and still, complaints roll in... What's wrong with my wifi? The solution is hardwiring (Ethernet Cat6 or above depends on budget) every room in the house with a central hub for distribution and depending on the size of the home anywhere between 3 or 4 Acess points. Our homes are between 3000 to 10000 sq ft and some 3-story so planning ahead is key. I realize your home is 1700 Sq. Ft so there is no need for more than what I suggested above. For the trial and error part, I have gone back to make clients happy many times to help resolve issues and as you might expect I can't waste a lot of time trying useless trouble-prone solutions. My best advice remains the same, bite the bullet and run a hardwire from 2nd to the first floor it cost me anywhere between 150 -200 bucks and your trouble will vanish otherwise you will be tweaking and tuning an always failing spotty poor-performing antiquated solution. You can buy a 400 dollar router in hopes of better performance or spend half that where a lesser router will get the job done feed by hardwire and in the right spot. Bottom line, you can't get blood out of a turnip.
     
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  13. tantalus

    tantalus Limp Gawd

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    I know I'm resurrecting an old thread, but for anyone who has the same question as I did, bman's advice was spot on. I used a cheapo powerline adapter (Tenda AV1000 - maybe $30?) and moved our old router to a center room upstairs, instead of one end of the upstairs. (I also aimed one antenna so that it was parallel to the floor.) This allowed me to get much faster connections on my phones downstairs. Oddly enough, the 2.4gz channel on the tablets didn't show any speed increase, but given the new router placement, I was able to connect the tablets to the 5ghz channel. Speeds went from under 1mbps download (which meant the tablets were pretty unusable for internet) to 17mbs. Which is a huge difference. Youtube no longer stops randomly and I'm guessing my daughter's skyping with grandparents will be much smoother.
     
  14. bman212121

    bman212121 [H]ard|Gawd

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    Glad you got it working!

    If you’re seeing that poor on 2.4 still it’s probably interference. Because it can travel farther than 5 it’s much more likely something else is using the airtime. There are tons of other devices using that band, Bluetooth, cordless phones, baby monitors, R/C, security systems, etc.

    The only things you can really do is check to make sure that the channel width is set to 20mhz, and try to pick channel 1, 6, or 11 as they are the only 3 non overlapping channels. Some routers default to 40mhz in auto mode and then you’ll end up overlapping all 2.4ghz.

    Some android tablets will only have a single antenna on them, so max connection rate is like 65mbps in 2.4ghz. You should still be able to squeak out like 30 - 40mbps of bandwidth provided the channel is clear. But generally if you’re seeing bad performance like that the channel is already saturated. If 5ghz is working I definitely wouldn’t worry trying to make 2.4ghz work.