You are planning out your new home network, want those awesome Unifi access points, but which router should you add to it? Are you going for the Unifi USG to stay with the Unifi line, or is the faster and cheaper Edge router a better option?
If you search on Unifi USG vs EdgeRouter you will find two common answers; the EdgeRouter is difficult to configure and the USG is slower. Both are true, but there is more to it.
USG and EdgeRouter compared
So lets first start with the specifications and details of both products.
|Edge Router X (ER-X)||Unifi Security Gateway (USG)|
|Processor||Dual-Core 880 MHz||Dual-Core 500 MHz|
|Smart Queue Shaping Performance||min 100Mbit/s||max 60Mbit/s|
|Gigabit RJ45 ports||5||3|
|Price||Around $50||Around $120|
Both routers can support a connection with a speed up to 1gbit, but only with every feature turned off. So no DPI (Deep Packet Inspection), Smart Queue Shaping (QoS), VPN tunnels, or firewall rules.
When you start turning features like that on, the CPU is needed and your throughput will drop, resulting in the numbers showing in the table above. So the question is, do you need those features? If the answer is yes, then, in general, a faster CPU is better – Win for the EdgeRouter.
A fast WAN connection on your router is nice, but if you push your package with 1gbit up to the internet and your modem or ISP can’t handle it smoothly, you will get a high bufferbloat. Meaning that a lot of packages have to be re-sent, causing a higher latency (which you don’t want when you play games online or do a lot of video conferencing).
Configuration of an Unifi USG vs EdgeRouter
So on one side, we got the speed of the routers but the other big difference between the two is the interface. The big advantage of the USG is that you can manage it within in Unifi Controller. By adding a USG to your network you will get full network insight starting at your internet connection all the way through the client devices.
Configuring an Unifi USG
Managing an Unifi USG is really easy with the Unifi Controller. Within a few clicks, you can setup the WAN connection, enable SQM in the same screen for it and you are all set. If you already have some Unifi gear then you are probably already used to the Unifi Controller interface. If not, then don’t worry, the first run wizard will guide you through it nicely.
The EdgeRouter, on the other hand, comes with its own interface, just like any other router. But that doesn’t mean that it’s harder to setup. It comes with more, advanced, features and a couple of wizards that you can use to setup the router.
For normal home use, you can set everything through the web interface of the EdgeRouter. You won’t need to dive into the CLI (Command Line Interface). The only thing that you might come across in a home network is the need of a vLAN. They are a little bit harder to setup correctly in the Edge Router then in the Unfi Controller.
When should you buy the Unifi USG?
To be honest, that is a good question. Personally I always use the EdgeRouter, but more about that later. So I tried to come up with scenarios when you should buy the USG, and to be honest, they are pretty hard to find.
There are two real advantages of the USG that only work if you have an internet connection with a speed below the 100Mbit/s. Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) and site-to-site VPN. The fact that you get one dashboard is nice, but you won’t be looking at the dashboard all day. (you want fast and steady internet).
Intrusion Prevention System
In the USG you can enable IPS. IPS is an engine that identifies potentially malicious traffic based on signatures. The signatures contain known traffic patterns or instruction sequences used by malware.
This is a great addition to your network security but it comes at a cost. The throughput of your router will lower to around the 85Mbit/s when you enable IPS.
Another feature that the USG blinks out in is the ability to setup a site-to-site VPN to another USG router with only a couple of clicks.
Now for a home network it’s not likely that you will use the site-to-site VPN option.
Price and interface
The Unifi USG cost around $120, an EdgeRouter X is around $50. So let’s assume your internet connection speed is below the 80Mbit/s. You will have to ask yourself if one nice looking dashboard and management console is worth the extra $70. You won’t get more performance for it, that is for sure.
The EdgeRouter X (SFP)
So why I am such a fan of the EdgeRouter X? Well, you get a lot of value for your money. The EdgeRouter X line is capable of handling internet connections up to 1Gbit/s (if you turn all the features, SQM, DPI, etc, off) for only $50.
To be clear, if you turn all the features (DPI, IPS, VPN, etc) off in the USG, then the USG is also capable of handling 1Gbit/s internet connections. Only the router is more than twice as expensive. With all features off you won’t gain anything from the USG compared to the EdgeRouter X (except a green checkmark in the Unifi Controller Dashboard).
But even with Smart Queue Management turned on is the router still capable of handling internet connections up to 250Mbit/s with a minimum of 100Mbit/s. SQM is one of the features you most likely are going to use in your network.
With SQM you can prevent bufferbloat, assuring a network connection with low latency.
Now the EdgeRouter can do a lot more than SQM alone, but for normal use, this is one of the most important options.
EdgeRouter X SFP
If you also have, or planning to get, some Unifi Access Points, then you probably want to go for the EdgeRouter X SFP. This version comes with 5 Ethernet ports that all support PoE (Power over Ethernet). This way you can connect and power up your Unifi Access Points without the need of a Power Adapter (eliminating the need for extra power sockets and extra UTP cables)
The price for the EdgeRouter X SFP is around $90, so it comes close to the Unifi USG. But keep in mind that it comes with more network ports then the USG (only 1 usable). So with the EdgeRouter X SFP you may not even need a switch for your home network.
Speedtest EdgeRouter X vs USG
I have done a couple of speed tests with the EdgeRouter X and the USG. The internet line that I tested it on is DSL 50mbit down and 20mbit up connection. The actual speed that I can reach on the line is around 57mbit down max and 28mbit up.
On the EdgeRouter, I have enabled SQM and have set it to 50Mbit/s down and 20Mbit/s up limit. With these settings, I don’t experience any bufferbloat and have a nice and steady internet connection. As you can see the upload is a bit limit to 15Mbit/s, the download is nice on target with almost 50Mbit/s:
After I connected the USG I made sure that Hardware Offloading was on. This way you should be able to get the maximum performance of the USG. By turning Hardware Offloading on, features like Thread Management and SQM won’t work.
As you can see in the results, I got a pretty high bufferbloat and the upload is just of the chart.
The USG has also the ability to set SQM on your WAN connection. Now, I have tried a lot of different settings, trying to get the best result with the USG. With, or without threat management, DPI on or off, playing with the up and download limits, but in all cases, with SQM turned on, I wasn’t able to get any higher download speed then 38Mbit/s.
Also, I couldn’t get a nice steady upload with the USG. The buffer bloat is gone, but I am not really happy with the results:
I hope this little comparison helpt you choose between the Unifi USG and the EdgeRouter. In this article, I didn’t go too deep into the technical differences because if you want to do advanced networking stuff, you should just simply go for the EdgeRouter.
I really like the full network insights that you get with the USG, the integration with the Unifi Controller is really nice, but it comes at a price. And from a pure network perspective is the EdgeRouter a far better choice.