ProsTremendous speed close to main node; decent mesh performance
ConsSmartphone app has lots of improper English; constant node drops
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.
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 TP-Link's own Deco M9 Plus 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 mesh pair. EnGenius, however, isn't taking this laying down; clearly, its enterprise experience means it can pack a tremendous amount of networking power into a fairly compact router. The ESR580 is quite impressive here.
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 four competitors lose a lot of performance, but one stands above the rest: the TP-Link Deco M9 Plus. The EnGenius ESR580 is actually able to beat the monolithic Archer C5400, which is certainly impressive, but it clearly doesn't have the mesh networking capabilities of its closest competitor.
At 100ft away from the main router, and 20ft from the nearest node, the EnGenius products are actually really impressive. They actually pick up some speed, which we attribute to the fact that there is no wall between the node and our test PC. The differing technologies at play here between the TP-Link and EnGenius mesh systems clearly show their strengths and weaknesses, but overall, we still like the TP-Link more.
We actually have another concern about the performance of the ESR580, and it's a serious one: throughout out testing, the remote node regularly dropped its connection, despite being right next to the competing TP-Link remote note, and despite the smartphone app saying it was within an optimum distance, as shown in the accompanying image. Our hunch is that this can be corrected with firmware, but it does call into question how robust EnGenius' mesh networking technology is.
This is the second time we've reviewed an EnGenius mesh home networking product, and we are seeing improvements. The ESR580's straight-line speed across a short distance is astounding, nearly as good as a massive ultra-high-end router with multiple radios and antennae. And the mesh performance was improved in the ESR580 versus the ESR530, no doubt because of the dedicated backhaul that EnGenius has added. But we still have some concerns. First is that poor quality of the English in the smartphone app. It does not inspire confidence that this product will provide the utmost in security. Second was that the mesh performance still doesn't match the competition, and more disconcertingly, the remote node regularly dropped off the network during several weeks of testing. Typically it just needed to be power cycled to get back on, but we don't want to do this regularly, and neither do you.
So what's our ultimate recommendation regarding the ESR580, and EnGenius in general. Well, there's no doubt that the experience that EnGenius has in the enterprise sector is translating to some amazing throughput from a very small device, but we don't think its home networking skills are quite up to par yet. So, if you want a mesh system that will provide blazing fast speed over a short distance, as well as decent speed over a much larger distance, it's a good solution. Coming in at the same price as the TP-Link Deco M9 Plus that we compared it to, it certainly has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall we still like the M9 Plus a bit more.
The EnGenius ESR580 Smart Mesh Router System is available for $250 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!