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Google OnHub Wi-Fi router review: It's designed to coddle novices and annoy power users

Michael Brown | Sept. 1, 2015
On the upside, it’s a very good performer. On the downside, it makes all networking decisions for you.

OnHub 5ghz 80211ac 153
Click image to enlarge.

Performance with a Mac

I use Access Agility’s WiFiPerf to measure TCP throughput between a server (an older iMac with an Intel Core i7 CPU) and a client (a late-2013 MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i5 CPU and an onboard Apple AirPort Extreme 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter). The first time I powered up the OnHub, it decided to use channel 36 on its 5GHz band. As I said earlier, I generally prefer to use channel 153, because it offers a little more bandwidth, but the OnHub doesn’t let you choose. After power-cycling the router, it decided to use channel 149, so I was able to test performance on both bands. This behavior was not consistent, however, which complicated my benchmarking routine.

OnHub mac 802.11ac chan 36
Click image to enlarge.

With Mac clients, interestingly enough, the OnHub delivered higher throughput on channel 36 than it did on channel 149—at least at close range (with the client in the same room, nine feet from the router). The OnHub significantly outperformed Apple’s 802.11ac AirPort Time Capsule, too. The more-expensive Asus RT-AC3200U ($279 average online street price), on the other hand, crushed both of the other routers, especially at medium range (with the client 33 feet from the router, separated by one insulated interior wall). (Note: the AC3200 designation shows that the Asus promises to deliver 600Mbps on its 2.4GHz network, 1300Mbps on one 5GHz network, and 1300Mbps on a second 5GHz network).

When I managed to get the OnHub to use channel 149, its performance at close range dropped, and its long-range performance (with the client 65 feet from the router, separated by two insulated interior walls) stayed about the same, but its midrange performance almost tripled. The AirPort Time Capsule, meanwhile, performed slightly better at close range on this channel, and was much faster when the client was further away. The Asus’s performance dropped at close range, was slightly faster with the client at mid-range, and was much faster with the client at distance.

OnHub mac 80211ac chan 149
Click image to enlarge.

Should you buy an OnHub?

If you want a router that just works and handles the basics well, with minimal intervention on your part, the OnHub is a good choice. It’s also a good choice for a power user to recommend to the tech-savvy family and friends looking to them for network tech support--the price and performance are good, and the OnHub will make troubleshooting easier. You don’t even need to worry about making sure the router always has the latest firmware—it will automatically download and install it for you.

 

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