Review: Google Wifi (Part 2)

5 GHz Wireless Performance (Multi-device)

For a more stringent test, our Multi-device benchmark sees five wireless clients connect to the router simultaneously (a mix of 1×1, 2×2 and 3×3 devices). We then run a similar iperf3 test to and from the wired PC connected to the test device.

Here you can see a clearer range in performance, from the 298 Mbps average speed delivered by eero up to Google Wifi’s 416 Mbps, which wins this particular test. Again, to remind you, this test is also conducted at short-range, with clients connected directly to the router.

google-wifi-multi

To put these results in context, a result over 400 Mbps in this test is really good. The only routers I’ve tested this year that are faster than this are tri-band devices with a Smart Connect band steering feature. In the best cases, they’re able to reach up to 900 Mbps + but they’re also twice, if not three times the price of Google Wifi. For a $129 router, it’s impressive.

5 GHz Wireless Performance (Mesh – Wireless Backhaul)

So, on to the final test – mesh performance. As with previous home Wi-fi system reviews, I tested Google Wifi’s speeds in three locations. The first Wi-fi point is positioned in the bedroom, where our cable Internet connection is located. We run a first test here with a Surface Pro 4 on client duties. Then we move a floor up, to the Attic before a final test is conducted down in the basement.

In this first run, the Google Wifi points are connected wirelessly to each other.

google-wifi-wireless-mesh.png

To date, no device has been able to get anywhere near the performance of NETGEAR Orbi at long-range. Its dedicated 5 GHz backhaul band delivers impressive speeds of 228 Mbps down in the basement, where a direct connection to my everyday router (a Google OnHub) musters just 18 Mbps.

Google Wifi isn’t going to upset the apple cart here. An average speed of 90 Mbps in the basement leads the chasing pack, but NETGEAR Orbi is streets ahead, with the least reduction in speeds at long-range. That said, when you consider the price of these systems – $258 for two Google Wifi points vs $400 for some of its competitors, Google’s system makes a strong value case. But Orbi remains the fastest home Wi-Fi system we’ve tested this year.

5 GHz Wireless Performance (Mesh – Wired Backhaul)

But wait! Google Wifi has one extra trick up its sleeve. If you have wired Ethernet points around the home (or coaxial points with MoCA 2.0 adapters) then you can take advantage of Google Wifi’s wired backhaul support. Here the access points in the system pass data to each other over Ethernet, freeing up the wireless signal to connect with your clients.

Not all of the systems we’ve tested this year offer this feature and while we may not be “comparing apples with apples”, let’s see how Google Wifi’s performance is improved when we wire it up.

google-wifi-wired-backhaul-two

Suddenly, Google Wifi becomes very compelling. Speeds of 233 Mbps and 343 Mbps in the basement and attic respectively are certainly faster than Orbi can deliver over its dedicated wireless backhaul. Google Wifi was also faster than Google OnHub in my test, the latter suffering poor upstream speeds, as we discovered in the first part of the review.

For completeness, I reset the test with a Google OnHub router as the first Wifi point and a Google Wifi device as the second point. The idea here was to understand the best combination of devices. Annoyingly, results were inconclusive with slower performance (273 Mbps) in the attic (compared to an all-Google-Wifi combo) and a faster result (260 Mbps) in the basement.

So, NETGEAR Orbi remains the fastest performing home Wi-fi system with regards to fully wireless mesh performance. But if you have the luxury of Ethernet points positioned around the home, Google Wifi’s performance and value is a winner.

Summary

I originally considered Google Wifi to be somewhat of a “me-too” home Wi-fi System. One that had the edge versus its competitors on price, but certainly not on performance. But the more time I spent with the system, the more I liked it. Great looking hardware combined with simplicity and expandability ensures it’ll do a fine job in mainstream homes.

It’s not the fastest wireless mesh you can install in your home – NETGEAR Orbi’s crown remains in place – but from a value perspective, Google Wifi makes a compelling case.

Wireless speeds at both short-range (directly to the router) or across the mesh are mostly in line with competitors (Orbi being the exception in the latter case) and its multi-device performance is really competitive. But the major advantage it has over most of its peers is Ethernet backhaul. If you have wired Ethernet ports around the home, then Google Wifi becomes a very attractive proposition for performance hunters too.

If you’re an existing Google OnHub owner wondering whether you should switch to Google’s latest hardware, my advice is to stick with the more powerful device you already own. Adding Google Wifi devices to your existing network, with OnHub at the heart, is the way to go.

For everyone else, if you’re seeking the best performing home Wi-fi system – pure Wi-fi, that is – NETGEAR Orbi remains at the top of the heap. But Google Wifi offers fantastic value and, if you can wire it up, will deliver speeds that few of its peers can touch.

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28 comments

  1. At LONG last, my ideal home Wi-Fi system is in sight. I DO have Ethernet throughout the house, but that has left the problem of connectivity with wireless-only devices — namely, phones and tablets — but also with laptops which could, conceivably, be wired, but are much more convenient when used wirelessly. I’ve tried Ethernet-wired access points and followed instructions for setup from the manufacturers as well as authorities listing cookbook approaches in forums, but I have always ended up with my printers (wired) and some other connected devices, like my Windows Home Server, on “different sides” of the network from tablets and phones, inaccessible. I’m not a computer pro, let alone a networking professional, so I’ve made little headway with my problems.
    I think that a Google On-Hub router with wired Google Wi-Fi mesh extenders will finally, after years of fretting and finagling, give me the system for which I’ve been searching for what feels like eons.
    Thanks, Terry, for this fabulous review!

  2. Hi Terry, best review I’ve seen on Google WiFi, a lot of great info.

    I currently have a Asus OnHub as the main router connected to three Google Wifi units. Works quite well. After seeing your review about wired backhaul from the Google WiFi units I’d like to give it a try.

    My dilemma is that Ethernet cables or Moca in my house is not an option and was wondering if I could use some gigabit powerline adapters for the wired backhaul?

    Thanks
    Paul

    1. Hey Paul – really glad that you enjoyed the read.

      You *could* try Powerline adapters, but to be honest, I think you’ll probably get better performance from wireless backhaul. Powerline can be pretty flaky depending on your home wiring.

      1. Thanks for the reply. I think I’ll keep it the way it is, no reason to fix something that isn’t broken in the first place. Happy Holidays!

  3. Hi Terry, I enjoyed the review. I have a question for you. Will the Google Wifi or OnHub still function without internet? So say one day my ISP goes out during the day, will I still have local access? I was reading about Eero mesh routers and how if you don’t have internet connectivity that they will not function. Well let me correct myself, if your eero is up and running and had connectivity before you lost internet, local access will still function. I was told by eero support that if you reboot the routers after you lost connectivity that when the routers come back online you will not have local network access functionality. Eero support mentioned they are working on “persistent” networking capabilities? have you done any of that kind of testing on the Google Wifi or Onhub devices?

  4. I deeply appreciate your research and testing. I have a problem in that I must have multiple SSID’s (at least two, but three is better) on my networks. We have a renter in our basement, and have two duplexes we rent and want their traffic separate and private though sharing the internet connection.

    We use one SSID for each “home” in the duplex, and one SSID for the smart home gear (nest thermostats/protects and Wink equipment (managing schlage smart locks, light switches, etc) with Kuna light/cameras. I love having one SSID across all three physical homes for smart home gear as it makes it easy to move gear around or set things up at my house and drop them in the other homes. Also makes it easy for my wife and our cleaners to have their internet “just work” at all three homes.

    We have MoCA in two of the three houses. Currently using either two routers or gear from Open-Mesh (Cloudtrax for management) in the homes. I would love to switch to Google WiFi for performance/simplicity but the multiple SSID’s is the hold up. With my need for multiple SSIDs what would you recommend? Does the Orbi support that? I would love to stick with ethernet for backhaul, but Google won’t work for me. I’ve been patiently waiting for multiple SSIDs in vain… 🙁

    1. Hi Aaron – all of these home WiFi systems are built with simplicity in mind. None of them are really going to be able to deliver what you’re looking for. They’re all single SSID (+ guest network) but you really need a device that allows you to manage multiple SSIDs and subnets. Really, your needs are more typical of a small business setup!

  5. Terry, it seems like a number of the other mesh systems — Luma, Eero, and Plume as well as Google Wifi — also allow wired backhaul. Do recommend Google over the others for this application?
    I am weighing one of these mesh systems with wired backhaul versus POE WAPs. I live in a recently renovated home with ethernet jacks, and, though I have almost no networking knowledge, I chanced it a couple of years ago and installed Ubiquiti Unifi APs with a Ubiquiti POE router. It was a little scary getting it going, but then it ran without a thought or hiccup for two years straight, until I turned on the automatic firmware updates on the APs, and they all died. My efforts to troubleshoot with Ubiquiti about this were pointless and infuriating, and since they were out of warranty, Ubiquiti didn’t bother to respond to my emails. It’s a little hard to buy more Unifi’s after that experience, and with young kids at home I would like some of the parental control features of the consumer mesh systems, but I wonder if you think I should swallow my pride and stick with Unifi APs.

    1. FYI, I posted a similar question on thewirecutter’s review of mesh products. One responder reported that switching from a Ubiquity Unifi setup with 3 AC Pro access points to 3 Google Wifi units with wired backhaul yielded improved range and speed. I’m surprised but excited to give it a try whenever GWifi starts shipping again.

  6. So, for a two story home with the modem coming in to the lower level, would you recommend the Google WiFi (3 positions) or two Onhub units (1 up and 1 down)? Sounds like it would be pretty much a wash. House is not wired throughout.

    1. Whichever is cheaper, TBH. Two OnHubs would provide ample coverage and would be slightly faster with faster wireless clients.

      But, you may find a single device covers you in a two storey home. I’d start with an Onhub and then add a second device if needed.

  7. Great review Terry.

    I’m running a mesh of 3 ASUS OnHubs and things are pretty great. It’s just as fast as the ASUS RT-AC5300 for me (500mbit synchronous Ethernet).

    My only issue is finicky band steering where devices get pushed onto 2.4 Ghz for no reason and get stuck there. I have to toggle the wifi off/on on the device and then I get 5 Ghz again.

    I think this is a firmware bug, but I’m not sure.

  8. Pricing aside, would you recommend google wifi over eero? Also, were your tests conducted with eero 2.0 firmware? Great review by the way!

    1. Thanks! The eero review I did was firmware 1.x. Performance was similar, but the way you frame the question highlights the issue – price.

      I found eero to be less stable than Google WiFi, so there are a couple of reasons I’d take GW over eero.

  9. thanks for the awesome review, this indeed is exactly what i am looking for, but i have a single question

    router is connected to WAN and chained to port1 of node1, node1 port2 is connected to node2 port1

    will that work ? having node one connecting the router with the furthest node2

    1. and i noticed that the radio speeds are 1200, how much is that effect compared to the 1900, 2600 that regular routers offers ?
      i have wired connections, but would love the hassle free setup/managment for all the nodes in my network

    1. thanks for the answers terry, 1 last question
      does the OnHub integrate with the google wifi ? single SSID, shows up in the mesh app, and activate the guest network

  10. did you connect the mesh Onhub to ethernet via LAN or WAN? WAN has been shown to slow down ethernet backhaul speed.

  11. Is it possible to connect a switch to the Orbi satellites or Google’s Wifi secondary points to connect more than four wired devices?

  12. Hi I was WO daring which would you recommend? Getting rid of current ISP router and then getting three google WiFi nodes. Or getting rid of ISP router and getting an onhub and two google WiFi nodes or getting two more on hubs instead? And BTW I agree with you on the fact that google severely failed on the smart home aspect.

  13. Thanks for this thorough review. Glad you checked the wired backhaul numbers. Netgear says they plan to add that to their devices. It could be awesome if do it right.

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