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Wireless Reviews

Wireless Performance

Contrary to the logo displayed on its datasheet, the PowerAP N is not Wi-Fi Certified. (In fact, I found only one Ubiquiti product—the UniFi AP—in the Wi-Fi Certified database.) But it properly defaulted to 20 MHz bandwidth mode on power-up.

It doesn't support Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), so I manually set up a WPA2/AES secured connection before testing using our latest wireless test process. As is our usual procedure, testing was done on Channel 1. All router defaults were left in place, which included transmit power was set to maximum.

First up in Figure 6 is a summary of all the wired routing and wireless performance tests (Simultaneous Sessions are not shown since they severly compress the plot scale). The intersting thing here is wireless throughput. Not only are these results comparatively low for a two-stream N router, but there is very little throughput gain when using 40 MHz bandwidth mode. So if you're looking for the fastest wireless speeds, the PowerAP N isn't for you.

PowerAP N Benchmark summary
Figure 6: PowerAP N Benchmark summary

But when you look at the PowerAP N's ranking among single-band routers in Figure 7, it's right at the top for both 20 and 40 MHz bandwidth mode downlink. Uplink rank, however is 5th and 7th for 20 and 40 MHz modes, respectively.

PowerAP N Performance rank - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, downlink
Figure 6: PowerAP N Performance rank - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, downlink

To peel the onion a bit more, I put together four radar charts including the D-Link DHP-1320, Buffalo WZR-HP-G300NH and Cisco Linksys E1500 with the PowerAP N. Radar charts are good for comparing overall performance. The highest performing router would form a shape that completely enclosed those of the other products.

That usually doesn't happen though, and so is the case with the PowerAP N. If you click on each plot to open a larger view and compare, you'll see that the PowerAP N beats the other three routers only in the weaker signal test locations D and F in three out of the four tests. For some reason, results with 20 MHz mode uplink were not quite as strong. Note, however, that in none of the four tests does the PowerAP N turn in the highest speeds.

20 MHz bandwidth, downlink radar plot
Figure 7: 20 MHz b/w, down radar plot
20 MHz bandwidth, uplink radar plot
Figure 8: 20 MHz b/w, up radar plot
40 MHz bandwidth, downlink radar plot
Figure 9: 40 MHz b/w, down radar plot
2.4 GHz, 40 MHz bandwidth, uplink radar plot
Figure 10: 40 MHz b/w, up radar plot

The IxChariot throughput plots provide a bit more insight into the Power AP N's wireless performance. Figure 11 shows 20 MHz mode downlink with three of the four throughput lines closely tracking. It's usually the case that the Location D plot is separated from Locations A and C, since it normally represents a transitional medium-low signal strength location. For the PowerAP N, however, Location D looks more like a strong to medium-strong signal location.

Comparison Radar Plot - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, downlink
Figure 11: IxChariot plots - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, downlink

The close tracking of Location D with Locations A and C are found in every other plot except 20MHz mode uplink, which accounts for its lower average throughput results. Here are links to the other plots for your reference.

Closing Thoughts

People love to attribute all sorts of benefits to loading alternative firmware like Tomato and DD-WRT onto routers that allow it. One of the oft-sited reasons is the ability to turn a stock router into a bridge, client or repeating bridge. With Ubiquiti's PowerAP N, you get this and plenty of other knobs and switches to twiddle and a 2.4 GHz spectrum analyzer, too!

Ubiquiti's PowerAP N may not be the one router to cover your entire home and yard that the mini-reviewer found it to be. But it is a flexible multi-mode wireless box that can be just about anything that you need it to be and be it with above average performance in normally weak signal locations.

Yes, $100 is a lot more than the going rate for a single-band N router these days. But if you've been struggling with spotty performance from your current router or want many of the features and functions provided by "alternative" firmware, but backed up by vendor support, you should give the PowerAP N a try.

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