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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 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 AmpliFi
Model: 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 the Luma and 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.
Related: Amped wireless tap ex range extender review
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 setup 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.
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 wifi 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.
Is is really a mesh, IE do the two extender antenna talk to each other, or is it more like a router with two access points? My friend has the crappy Frontier modem/router combo in the BASEMENT of a huge house so I was hoping to put an extender a third of the way and then another. Or do both have to talk to the base? Thanks.
Hi Chris and thank you for the great Review.
Did you also test the wired speeds of the 4 LAN ports?
Like many others I’m experiencing significant speed issues with my synchronous fibre gigabit internet access when I’m using the AmpliFi HD in router/DHCP mode. The max speed I can reach with my PC Cat.6-wired on one of the Ampli’s LAN ports is only around 480 – 500 Mbps, whereas the same setup in bridge mode will deliver me the theoretical max speed of about 940 Mbps synchronously.
Unfortunately I can’t use the AmpliFi HD in bridge mode because I need DHCP, port-forwarding and many other functions which are only available in router mode.
So imo there should be at least an asterix besides the ports specs:
Ports 4 10/100/1000Mbps LAN Ports
Ports 4 10/100/*1000Mbps LAN Ports
*theoretical speed of 1000Mbps in bridge mode only!
Shouldn’t the community be aware of this restriction?
Detailed oddyssee for the interested here:
(dead link removed)
How is the router performance WITHOUT the extenders? The wi-fi on the router provided by my ISP is garbage
Just replaced an Asus RT-AC68U with just the base station. The AMPLIFI HD outperforms the Asus and I now have WiFi througout the whole house.
So if Your living is not very large or complex the basestation might be good enough.
I also have the Asus RT-AC68U and I’m considering a replacement because of CPU limitations in my Asus router. Meaning that I cannot reach my full internet speeds because of a CPU bottleneck. I can only reach around 550Mbits because of that, but I have 1Gbit connection. Have you tried speedtesting this router with a wired connection? If so, what speeds did you reach?
i live in a 900 sqft apartment and I’m thinking of purchasing the amplifi hd without the two wireless mesh points. Will that affect my speed? is it still worth the purchase?
Hi Chris, great review. Very helpful insights. One side note though… I think you may be mistaken on the firewall feature. According to another review (over at Ars) the unit supposedly runs Busybox, with iptables as the firewall. If that’s the case, then it does have a pretty competent firewall layer. That makes sense based on the inclusion of a WAN port. That implies NAT, and I can’t imagine them doing NAT and DHCP on a device that doesn’t actually firewall.
Chris stated there wasn’t a firewall exposed in the app’s interface, which jives with my experiences. I’m adding more IOT / Smart Home things, and would like to take a little more control over what I’m showing to the world.
Do the antennas have LAN ports
No, unfortunately it’s wireless only from the extenders. But they get such good performance, you won’t need anything else!
I really like what I see and read to solve size problem at our house. I would be willing to pay the price point but am concerned to hear that AmpliFi doesn’t have IPv6 capability. Does anyone else know if this true?
It does! No problems on that side, all brand new routers have the spec.
Well, I got one of these setup yesterday and experienced the fastest speeds I have ever seen at my house! 30-50 Mbps down, 4 Mbps up, and pings of 30ms. Then I discovered the firmware update button. Now I am sad because I am capped at .5 Mbps download speed! Tech support is aware of it and says it will be fixed in the next firmware release. Do not update your firmware if you get one of these in the next few days!!!
Also, I posted this warning to other users at the AmpliFi facebook page and it was promptly deleted. Rather than acknowledge the issue and use it as an opportunity to display how reactive they can be to their customers, they silenced me in an effort to hide that there is an issue. My warm and fuzzy feeling has been squished. Honesty is the best policy and I was not being rude or anything. People can accept bugs and snafus with new products if companies are honest about them.
On a positive note, the update added a lot of new features that I really like! I just do not like the download cap they imposed.. 8(
Hey Stephen, thanks for the tip and I’m sorry to hear that your D/L speeds have been some how artificially capped. Out of interest, did you try switching channels or try another frequency? That said, I haven’t used the product (Chris did) so I could be a bit off base.
Well, they contacted me on Facebook and apologized for removing the comment. They say that tech support was wrong last night and this is not a known issue, that something else must be going on with my unit. So the issue with my comment there is that it was inaccurate. I am still having issues with mine and am working with one of their engineers to try and work it out.
They are shipping me a replacement unit as the performance is just not right.
Excellent. Glad to hear it!
I been using Amplifi for a week now , this is a must buy! 199 compared to the 500 of eero it’s a no brainier, I had one eero setup before wasn’t even close to covering my house 3300sqft. Amplifi has been great and much faster speeds than my eero set up
the only thing thats keeping me reluctant from getting one is the fact that they still havnt annouced how are you going to actually expand your mesh….
i have concrete walls so while ethernet enabled extenders were more than welcomed, i at least need to know that i can get a couple of extra extenders to kill any dead spots
I live in an NYC apartment building with dead spots throughout. This wifi is amazing. I get nearly max speed in every inch. The trick I found is that instead of putting the antennas at the furthest edge of the apartment, you should put them in places that they can bounce the signal around the tricky corners.
Each additional antenna to add to the mesh is plugged in via wall socket.