Many moons ago, I replaced my Google Fiber Network Box with a UBNT EdgeRouter Lite router at our house in Provo, Utah… and never looked back!
With a street price of under $90, the ER-Lite was a tough act to beat for the money. But later, when Ubiquiti Networks released the newer EdgeRouter X with a street price right around $50, many (including me) wondered if the even more budget-priced ER-X could produce similar routing performance on high speed networks like Google Fiber.
The UBNT EdgeMax forums and Ubiquiti Subreddit are rife with questions, discussions, and comparisons between the ER-L and ER-X, asking which is “better.” Many insist that based on the hardware and specs, one will be theoretically faster than the other, while others argue they’ll theoretically be the same.
What I didn’t see, however, were any posts from anyone with a high speed Internet connection who actually tested the two routers back-to-back and posted actual results. So I bought an EdgeRouter X to compared, and performed some speed tests last night and this morning vs. the EdgeRouter Lite.
Speed Test EdgeRouter Configurations
First, I configured the ER-X as closely as possible to my ER-L’s working configuration. The two major differences in their configurations were:
- The ER-X had ports eth1 – eth4 configured as switch0 (because the ER-L has no hardware switched ports).
- The ER-L has 12 port forwards and 32 DHCP reservations configured (because it’s my working router) while the ER-X had 2 port forwards configured and no DHCP reservations. I didn’t (and still don’t) know how whether that would affect the test, but I don’t think it mattered much in the final results.
Other than those two differences, the two routers’ configurations were as close to identical as I could get. Both configs were essentially the
config.boot.erx example configuration files in the Google Fiber directory of my UBNT EdgeRouter Configuration repo. DPI, which is considered one of the more CPU-intensive features, was enabled on both routers.
- I ran two sets of tests on two days. On Friday night, I ran two sets of three “grouped” tests: three tests in a row on the ER-X followed by three tests in a row on the ER-Lite. On Saturday morning, I ran a total of 10 “alternating” tests: one test on the ER-Lite, then one on the ER-X, switching after each test until both routers had completed five tests each.
- The tests were conducted using Google’s own test site at Provo.Speedtest.GoogleFiber.net.
- The group tests were performed between 10:55 AM and 11:01 AM Mountain Time on Friday night (2/17/17).
- The alternating tests were performed between 8:26 AM and 8:34 AM Mountain Time on Saturday morning (2/18/17).
- All tests were performed using Google Chrome on a MacBook Air.
- Each router’s WAN port was connected directly to the Google Fiber Network Jack.
- Each router’s LAN port was connected directly to the MacBook Air via Ethernet.
- No other network clients or cables were connected to the routers during testing.
EdgeRouter X vs. EdgeRouter Lite Speed Test Results
To make analyzing the data easier, I put all the speed test results into a publicly shared Google Sheet.
The sheet shows the timestamp of each test, so you can see that not much time passed between each speed test.
I calculated overall average download and upload speeds using both routers across the test periods and showed the MIN and MAX results for comparison.
I used green and red backgrounds to flag the fastest and slowest test results. I also used a green background in the MIN and MAX comparisons to identify the highest minimum and maximum down and up speeds.
All results are shown in megabits per second (Mbps).
Friday Night Grouped Tests
- Highest tested download speed. ER-X: 827 / ER-Lite: 890
- Highest tested upload speed. ER-X: 945 / ER-Lite: 938
- Slowest tested download speed. ER-X: 755 / ER-Lite: 861
- Slowest tested upload speed. ER-X: 861 / ER-Lite: 931
- Combined average down / up speeds over the test period: 829.5 down / 923 up
- ER-X average: 780 down / 912 up
- ER-Lite average: 879 down / 934 up.
- On average, the ER-X was 11.93% slower down and 2.38% slower up.
Saturday Morning Alternating Tests
- Highest tested download speed. ER-X: 880 / ER-Lite: 916
- Highest tested upload speed. ER-X: 933 / ER-Lite: 938
- Slowest tested download speed. ER-X: 740 / ER-Lite: 858
- Slowest tested upload speed. ER-X: 863 / ER-Lite: 930
- Combined average down / up speeds over the test period: 862.3 down / 920.1 up
- ER-X average: 835.2 down / 907 up
- ER-Lite average: 889.4 down / 933.2 up.
- On average, the ER-X was 6.29% slower down and 2.85% slower up.
Interpreting the Results
Based on this quick and dirty testing, it looks like the EdgeRouter Lite barely wins on both downloads and uploads, though it’s a closer race on the uploads. I weigh the Saturday morning results heavier than I do the Friday night results, as alternating the routers seems more likely to help minimize the effect of external factors.
That said, I’m sure purists will be quick to point out that these weren’t laboratory conditions. But residential network users don’t live in laboratory conditions, real world testing seems appropriate for network hardware that intends to live in the real world.
Across all the tests, upload speeds were consistently faster than download speeds. All the ER-Lite’s upload tests in both test periods were in the 900s, while three of the ER-X’s upload tests (one on Friday, two on Saturday) dipped into the 800s. Overall, however, the upload speeds between the two devices were very close.
On Friday night, all three of the ER-Lite’s download tests were faster than the fastest ER-X download. On Saturday morning, four out of five of the ER-Lite’s download tests were faster than the fastest ER-X download test. Only one of the ER-X’s download tests (880) was faster than the slowest ER-L download test (858).
The EdgeRouter Lite consistently “edged out” the EdgeRouter X in uploads and downloads during both test periods, with the exception of one upload test where the ER-X’s max was 7 Mbps faster than the ER-Lite’s max. Apart from that, even though the ER-Lite’s results were only slightly higher, they were higher nonetheless. Whether or not the differences would have been greater with identical port forwards and DHCP reservation configurations potentially eating a few more CPU cycles is hard to say. Probably not, but I suppose it’s possible.
Final Thoughts – EdgeRouter X, EdgeRouter Lite, or EdgeRouter POE?
OK, so the EdgeRouter Lite barely won the real world head-to-head speed battle. But will you actually notice the difference between 916 vs 880 down or 938 vs 930 up during normal everyday Internet use? Probably not. The only time it will likely matter is when you’re screen capping speed tests to taunt your geeky friends on social media.
Beyond that, the speed differences themselves are close enough to not really matter that much. What should matter more are the features you care about in a router. If you have a small number of clients and want to get away without an additional switch, choose the EdgeRouter X and configure four of its ports as a hardware switch. Looking to power multiple PoE access points like the UBNT’s UAPs? Choose the EdgeRouter PoE, which lets you configure three ports as a hardware switch, or an EdgeRouter X-SFP which supports passive PoE over all its ports at half the cost of the ER-POE . Looking for the absolute lowest cost? Get the ER-X. Care about squeezing out the absolute highest speed test result? Get the EdgeRouter Lite. Working with UniFi wireless gear and want all the pretty dashboard features in your UniFi Controller to light up? Forget about the EdgeRouters and pick up a UniFi Security Gateway (USG) — which also runs EdgeOS (though is slightly trickier to customize).
Also, it’s worth noting that I didn’t compare performance of additional features of both routers. I only tested speeds using an online speed test. You’ll have to look elsewhere for comparisons of VPN performance, or IPSec performance, or any other number of things that make head-to-head comparisons more complicated than simply “choose this one.” I knew this going in, and understand it as a limitation of this testing method. I was mainly curious about reported Internet speeds, so that’s what I tested. Take it for what it’s worth.
Regardless of which one you pick, all of Ubiquiti’s router options will perform fine on a high speed Internet connection. What should drive your decision is the needs of your network.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback below.