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Over the past year, the term “mesh networking” has been on the lips of tech bloggers and wireless router manufacturers alike, touting the technology as the next big revolution in home Wi-Fi solutions. This August, the new AmpliFi HD mesh router system from Ubiquiti Labs joins the ranks with other contenders like the Luma and Eero, designed with working professionals in mind who are tired of hiding their big, bulky routers in the shadows. With a modernized design and serious horsepower underneath the hood, will this router be the first to lead the charge into a whole new era of wireless networking appliances for mid-to-large-sized homes? You can also check out Google WiFi – Best Mesh Router for Stylish Homes to see if it’s the best router.
Keep reading my AmpliFi HD mesh Wi-Fi router review to find out!
Summary: The AmpliFi HD is a beautiful mesh networking system that anyone with a pair of functioning eyes would be proud to plop down right in the middle of their living room, with enough performance and range to shatter every speed record we have on the books.
Price: $349.99 on AmpliFiAvailable: NowModel: AmpliFi HD
What We Liked
What We Didn’t
If there’s anything that routers have been in dire need of for a long time now, it’s a well-deserved facelift. Whether they’re made for gamers, media professionals, or just your average household, it seems like they all tend to cycle through a similar smattering of archetypes that fall into three main categories: black with lots of antennas (performance-only), neon-colored with sharp angles (for the “xtreme gamer” in your house), or some muddled combination of the two. Sure, there are outliers like the nostalgia-heavy Linksys WRT1900ACS or the TP-Link Archer C9, but other than those select cases pretty much every other router on the market right now looks like, well, a router. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it’s also not that exciting when you remember that by their very design, wireless routers often need to sit in the most central part of your home in order to get the best signal to every corner of where you live and browse on a daily basis.
Aside from the ultra-enthusiast who likes to show off that they take networking hardware seriously to their guests, most people would prefer to have a router that they actually want to look at sitting on their coffee table. The problem with this though is that without those big, gaudy antennas prodding out from every side of the unit, most routers can suffer performance issues once you get more than 10ft away from the base station.
Enter the AmpliFi HD router, which combines an elegant, subdued design with a newer technology known as “mesh networking” to make sure you get the best of both worlds without having to sacrifice anything on either side of the equation. We’ll get bogged down in the details of how this works in the next section, but for the purpose of design alone all you need to know is that it allows the router to maintain long-range performance without tagging a bunch of big, annoying antennas on all sides of the unit to maintain a strong signal. This means the unit itself isn’t much bigger than a few packs of playing cards stacked on top of one another, while the heavy lifting is relegated to two (or ten) plug-in antennas that you can spread throughout your house in the places where you use your network the most.
On the front of the all-white unit is a beautiful, multi-colored LCD display that will show either the current time or your speed statistics depending on your preference, while the base is accented by a thin white LED strip which will pulse when any activity is running through the router. Overall the effect pays off in spades, making for what is inarguably one of the most beautiful devices I’ve tested to date – router or otherwise. This is a device that you’ll have no problem keeping front-and-center in your home, and might even start a conversation or two with friends or family who come over and it catches their eye. Even though mesh networking is still just getting off the ground in the consumer space, if it helps other routers look this good in the future, it will only be a matter of time before the major manufacturers take note and start emulating a style of design that the makers of AmpliFi have come within inches of perfecting on their very first outing.
As we hinted to in the previous section, the AmpliFi router uses a new style of wireless networking known as “mesh networking”, joining the likes of Eero Wi-Fi systems which use multiple antennas that plug into a standard 12v outlet, spread out across the entirety of your house in order to transmit a consistent signal across long distances with as little bandwidth degradation as possible.
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The unit we tested was the $349.99 AmpliFi “HD” model, short for High Density, and came complete with the base router as well as two mesh antennas which we plugged in on the first floor (around 25ft away), as well as one upstairs, about 35ft away. The AmpliFi supports up to 10 extra antennas on a single network, though supposedly the HD model can cover a maximum space of 20,000 sq. ft with just the two included antennas alone. The AmpliFi HD supports an advertised top speed of 5.25Gbps (1300Mbps on 802.11ac) over the air using its three dual-band antennas and comes with four onboard gigabit LAN ports, one available WAN port, and a USB 2.0 port.
Even for the most tech-savvy among us, getting a new router set up and running the way you want can be a bit of a pain, and this is to say nothing for what the layman user goes through when bogged down by confusing terminology like “mesh Wi-Fi networking” or “MU-MIMO beamforming”. And although the setup/management process for getting a router running properly has been streamlined significantly in recent years by all the major players in the game (Linksys, TP-Link, and Netgear just to name a few), it can still be a daunting task if you’re not 100% up to date on how networking hardware is supposed to work from the get-go.
Luckily, none of that confusion is a problem when you set up your AmpliFi router, which incorporates your smartphone into the mix with the help of a Bluetooth connection and the onboard touchscreen to get you up and running in the simplest way possible. From pulling it out of the box and plugging the mesh antennas in, it took less than five minutes to get the AmpliFi system fully operational; a rare feat in the world of mesh-style routers. With that said, take a look at our Amped Wireless ALLY Plus WiFi Router review.
The app is equally as intuitive to use, giving users the option to manage all their settings and options directly from their phone or desktop with ease. Plus if that wasn’t enough, the app even includes a native Live Chat feature which automatically connects you to a support desk that can help you with any technical issues that might pop up during the initial installation or during daily use. The AmpliFi HD takes all the disparate parts of managing your home router and streamlines them to the extreme, making for what is arguably one of the user-friendly software packages we’ve tested to date.
Unfortunately, there were a few areas where the AmpliFi dashboard options fall flat on their face: namely in the lack of any discernible QoS features or an onboard firewall. These are core parts of almost every other router on the market right now, and if you depend on your router to keep your network safe or to control which games or applications get bandwidth priority, this is not going to be the device for you.
Because of the way mesh Wi-Fi networking operates, it’s difficult to put the AmpliFi HD in the same category as we would any other router we’ve tested thus far. What would normally equate to “30 feet” of distance from the router actually ends up being closer to 5-10ft when you take the position of the mesh antennas into account, and even though it would be technically possible for us to get 30ft away from those, we would be clear across the street by the time we actually achieved that kind of range.
That said, the router still performed well beyond any of our expectations, given its deceptively small size. At a distance of 5ft on the 2.4GHz band, we achieved a blisteringly quick speed of 195.22Mbps download/177.99Mbps upload, a reading which was taken off the mesh antenna we had installed upstairs. The results only continued to impress from there, achieving 146.29Mbps down/197.23Mbps up when at a distance of 30ft from any mesh antennas or the router’s base station.
The AmpliFi HD didn’t even have to take a moment to catch its breath once we jumped over to the 5GHz spectrum, posting an all-time high score of all the routers we’ve tested thus far with 534.86Mbps down/368.04Mbps up at a distance of 5ft from the base station itself. Finally, we saw some semblance of normal speeds when we upped the distance to 30ft from any of the antennas on the 5GHz spectrum, walking to the furthest reaches of our fence to record a rate of 372.34Mbps down/161.06Mbps up.
When I first laid eyes on the AmpliFi HD, I was doubtful that it would turn out to be anything more than a temporary gimmick; albeit one that was dressed up in very fancy clothes. Without any external antennas to be found, I thought its performance wouldn’t even come close to the results we’ve seen from some of the best routers we’ve tested, and that for all its bark, there’d hardly be any real bite to speak of.
Related: Amplifi HD Wi-Fi system by Ubiquiti Labs review
But, however skeptical I may have been, I can confidently report that this gorgeous, thoughtfully designed device has quickly dashed any complaints or concerns I had about mesh wireless technology, and instilled total confidence in everything it has the potential to do for the future of modern home networking.
Over the past few months, every major router maker has either announced or released their own version of a mesh networking system – and with results like what we achieved above – it’s not hard to see why. Although mesh systems are effectively redundant if you live in an apartment or home smaller than 2,000 sq. ft, they’re pretty much the perfect solution for users who live in large homes and want to get the best signal possible transmitted to every room on the property (and then some).
Ubiquiti Labs has accomplished something truly groundbreaking with the AmpliFi HD, combining beautiful design and staggering performance with intuitive (if feature-limited) software into one, cohesive package that can not be missed by anyone who takes their wireless setup seriously in 2016.