This weekend I wrap up the pain in the arse Nighthawk X10 router and send it back to Amazon. In its place is Ubiquiti Networks’ Amplifi HD, a wonderful boxy router that actually looks good wherever it’s positioned.

It’s interesting to note that Wi-Fi performance isn’t spectacular. I’m still trying to figure out whether this is a Wi-Fi thing, or whether it has to do with single-thread performance (not necessarily to do with Zen Internet).

I can absolutely max out my broadband’s 141Mbs download speed from the iPhone if I launch multiple downloads from iTunes (single download lands around 100Mbs). Speedtest.net shows around anywhere between 35Mbs-80Mbs (multi). Across the network (with MacBook Pro acting as server, connected via ethernet), it’s around 195Mbs.

The Mac, like the iPhone and iPad, can also saturate bandwidth on Wi-Fi if multiple threads from the likes of Steam and iTunes are running – but single threaded operations aren’t great. And I’ve never understood why this 2018 MacBook Pro keeps reporting back that the link speed is 54Mbs. The iPhone too seems to report back a poor receive rate of just 6Mbs from looking at the client stats via the Amplifi iOS app.

I’ve also not ruled out that the latest iPhones and Macs simply just have exceptionally poor Wi-Fi transceivers in them. Hooking the Mac up to one of the Amplifi’s HD 4 gigabit ethernet ports yields 141Mbs speedtest.net download results every single time. So I’m keeping the Mac on ethernet for the foreseeable future despite a bit of cable management bodge work.

Bodge job on the cable management here – but it’s to stop pressure on the USB-C port

That said, there have been no problems with the Hive home network since installing the Amplifi, and quite frankly, it looks good sitting in the middle of the room:

The LCD display can display time & date, total amount of data transferred, current speeds and port status.

Speaking of the Hive home network, they very kindly sent me a signal booster which sits in the middle of the room and ensuring – hopefully – a strong signal is sent between the thermostat and the Hive hub.

It’s tiny! Just plug it into an electrical socket, add it as a new device to your app and job done.

This weekend I’ll be adding a mesh point to the set-up. It’ll be located in the master bedroom and hopefully, will give me the strongest signal there. I have an Apple TV HD (3rd gen) which is connected via Wi-Fi. It’ll unlikely improve single thread performance again, but at least there will be no more Wi-Fi dead spots upstairs. If that works, I might need one more mesh point at the back of the house to ensure all over coverage.

No, Nighthawk. I’m not receiving you. I’m sending you back to Amazon!

My British Gas smart meter and Hive system went offline – again, and I’m putting the blame firmly on the Netgear X10 Nighthawk router – the one that looks like Hela from Thor: Ragnarok.

On Saturday morning I awoke to find that the British Gas Smart Meter had taken itself offline along with the Hive thermostat and receiver (and subsequently the app). Another call to Hive support eventually got things going again, but this time I was informed that the signal strength was all over the place.

However, I have a bone to pick with Centrica and Hive support – they’ve moved their support pages without setting up 301 redirects. The result is this – a massive SEO fail:

One problem I did have after getting the system back online was that one of the Hive lightbulbs had stopped responding. My living room’s front light. So I had to turn the lighbulb on and off 7 times before it reset and was able to be picked up by the Hive system again. As these lightbulbs act as a signal booster, I was wondering if these things had any part to play in all these problems. Whenever there have been a problem with the Hive system, the lights on my Netgear ProSAFE switch were constantly flashing – all at the same time – and in time with each other. Rebooting the Netgear Nighthawk fixed this, and things settled down to their regular on/off blinking.

So I decided to send the Nighthawk back to Amazon. And this is an odd thing. Amazon sent the thing via DPD. In order to return it, I have to drop it off at a Hermes drop-off place, or via the Royal Mail. It’d be nice, given the heft of the product, if Amazon could pick it up.

I’ve been using the Fritz! Box again for the past couple of days and haven’t had any dropouts from the British Gas smart meter or Hive. I am going to try the Amplifi HD mesh system which costs slightly less than the Netgear router, but should – hopefully – be a considerably better performer. The manufacturer of the system, Ubiquiti Networks, is a highly respected company within the networking community.

In fact, I specified and arranged the purchase of their UniFi system at work. And all that was based around on the antics of MarzBar (Alex Brooks) who, at the age of 18 set-up an entire WISP (wireless internet service provider) and uses Ubiquiti kit extensively. And here’s Alex explaining how the Amplifi system works:

The first thing you’ll notice about the Netgear R9000 router is how much larger it is compared to other routers. You’ll also notice that it kind of looks like Hela from the film Thor: Ragnarok, what with the big, thick antennae poking out from back and sides of the machine.

Which is which? Difficult to tell..

It took some effort just to get the blasted thing out the packaging. But once you’ve got it out the box and plugged in, it’s an extraordinarily easy experience to get it up and running.

The box is nearly as big as my Drobo’s box
A router so premium, it’s on its own pedestal…

You have a choice of configuring the Netgear via the web interface or via an app on your phone. I chose to use the web interface. A quick set-up wizard prompts you to connect to your ISP. It was able to detect the encapsulation required, and prompt me for my ISP username and password.

Once connected, speed tests weren’t that much different from the Fritz! box, and having done a bit of digging around with the Netgear app, despite the line of sight, I’m only achieving 62% signal strength from my Mac. I also noted something really odd about the Mac. Link speed is 54Mbs despite the transmission being over 800Mbs?

54Mbs link speed on the Mac, yet connected to 802.11ac?
MacOS Mojave’s Network Utility confirms link speed

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years being an Apple owner – Apple’s Wi-Fi hasn’t been terribly great with different third-party routers and Wi-Fi. Over the years when I’ve had PCs, they seem to have done a better job working with different router manufacturers. That said, when I had Virgin Media and their 300Mbs broadband connection, the SuperHub 3.0 (which is made by Netgear) never had any issues.

I’m intending on moving the router away from the brick wall and to the centre of the room. In order to do this, I’ll need 2 x 5m Cat6 cables in order to bridge the Netgear ProSafe switch where the TV, Apple TV, Sony UltraHD Blu-Ray player and the Hive Hub all reside along with the G.Fast modem. It should provide a stronger Wi-Fi signal, though I’m considering just connecting the Mac via ethernet. By bringing the router closer, it’ll make it much easier to hook it up without too much cable mess.

The Netgar Genie app conveniently maps your network and provides stats for each device.

That said, the HP printer works perfectly fine with the Netgear. With the FRITZ! Box, it constantly dropped off the network. Now it’s rock solid.

Netgear Genie apps shows signal strength of each device.

The router has confirmed that it has been able to connect to the full negotiated speed of the broadband connection here, using the Netgear Nighthawk app. Ookla speed tests from the Apple TV show regular download rates of around 122Mbs.

Even with a less than ideal signal strength, the MacBook Pro is able to achieve decent download rates – again, around 122Mbs – from the likes of iTunes and Steam.

Overall I have been very impressed with this router (and less so with the MacBook Pro), and it has a lot more tricks up its sleeve. I’ll be covering some special features that this router has that no other router has in another blog post soon.