ProsGood combination of speed and range for the price
ConsTerrible smartphone app; limited USB functionality
While a lot of wireless networking tests focus on in-network transfers, we've invested in a Century Link 1Gbps fiber connection to allow us to test networking performance the way most users use it: by actually connecting to the outside world. The EnMesh app indicated that the hard-wired ESR530 router connected to the Internet at a 330Mbps download speed (whereas our TP-Link Archer C5400 received data at 506Mbps). Note that neither comes close to getting the full bandwidth available on 1Gbps fiber, which is in part a server issue, and in part an issue of network overhead. With that said, 330Mbps is a bit lower than we'd like to see, as we've been able to sustain downloads of 400Mbps on several occassions, so we already know the ESR530 would bottleneck those transfers.
We start with a Speedtest.net benchmark at a moderate 25-foot distance. For typical routers, this is close to a best-case scenario, and in this benchmark, the traditional Archer C5400 router comes out way ahead. Its massive throughput just can't be beat in this "straight line" test.We'd consider this the equivalent of a 0-60mph test for automobiles. In this analogy, the TP-Link Archer is most definitely the muscle car of the group, and the ESR530 is simply outclassed. That should be expected, however, because here we're really just relying on the throughput provided by the main router in the ESR530 pair, and at around $75, it's far less expensive (and not surprisingly less powerful) than the monolithic $200 C5400. With that said, EnGenius scores a win against its more expensive competitor, the Deco M9 Plus, suggesting that its mainstream routing hardware is at least as good, if not better, at a lower price to boot. But what we're more interested in is mesh networking performance, so let's turn to that now by moving 75 feet from the main nodes:
OK, here all three competitors lose a lot of performance, but the ESR530 loses the most. For the two mesh systems, we're now engaging the mesh interconnections, and clearly EnGenius still has a lot of room to improve. The M9 Plus lost less than half of its speed, whereas the ESR530 loses about two-thirds. Of note, the traditional Archer C5400 is still in the lead at this distance, so you may be thinking what's the point of mesh networking in the first place, but watch how the tables turn in our next test!
Oh wow, it's a whole new ball game! The Archer C5400 is now clearly out of range, and the benefits of a mesh system become clear. Interestingly, the two mesh systems actually perform better here than in the previous test. While we are much further from the base nodes, and slightly further from the secondary nodes, in this test there were no walls between us and the nodes, which goes to show how many factors play into wireless networking speed. In any event, both mesh systems perform quite well, but the ESR530 remains behind its more expensive competitor, which has the advantage of a dedicated "backhaul" channel. With that said, the ESR530 is also about 40% cheaper, so the performance is in line with pricing.
Overall, we were fairly impressed with the EnGenius ESR530 Smart Mesh Router system. It offered far better long-range performance than you could ever achieve with a traditional router at its $140 pricepoint, and it was just a step behind the higher-priced mesh competition we threw at it. That's a good place to be. But we're not sure that EnGenius is quite ready to conquer the consumer market yet. We found its design pleasant, but not inspiring, and its smartphone app was severely lacking in both polish and performance. In our opinion, it barely qualifies as a beta release. Luckily, software is something EnGenius can improve over time, even after the product is in consumer's hands, so hopefully it invests a bit more time to bring the software side up to snuff with the very competitive hardware it has on offer.
The EnGenius ESR530 Smart Mesh Router System is available for $141 shipped from Amazon as of our publication date. As always, to see our top picks in every category of home networking gear, check out our Networking Buyer's Guide, updated quarterly!