Peplink Multi-WAN Routers

Update Sept 2014: My favorite Peplink is now the Balance One, and my favorite router if you’re super-techy and want to configure networking stuff is the Ubiquiti Edgerouter Lite. Read more about Ubiquiti here.

I live and work on the internet, so when I have trouble connecting it really slows me down. About a year or so ago I started looking into multi-WAN routers that would, at least, support two internet connections and failover to the other one, and as a bonus maybe provide some speed benefits as well. Here’s the story of that journey.

After a ton of research I ended up with a Peplink, probably in part because their website is the best organized designed of the vendors I found. I’m very lucky to access to two great internet providers in my building: Webpass, a local ISP which provides symmetric 100 Mbps (albeit shared with neighbors), and Comcast with DOCSIS 3.0 support (they sometimes market it as Extreme 50) which provides around 50-60 Mbps. Because the combined speed was above 50 Mbps put me as a “mid-sized business” according to Peplink’s product line-up and I ended up with a Peplink Balance 390 (which seems to be the same as the 380 on their website).

First on the Balance 390, which I’ve used about a year and a half: it’s a really solid product. It did everything that was promised including the failover, has been rock-solid, and the Peplink-delivered firmware updates have made the interface significantly better since I bought it in December 2009 especially for router-centric things I like to do like have the DHCP reservations and naming. (The interface is significantly better than what I’ve used on Linksys and D-link routers before.) The 390 only had one downside: it’s incredibly loud.

Now as background I should caveat that I’m pretty sensitive to ambient noise, especially from computing devices. Over the years I’ve gone from 4 computers in my office to just a laptop I take with me, and when I moved one of the things I looked for was the closet with the ethernet patch panel and where all the connectivity came in was far away from where I’d work or sleep. I’ve stopped using devices before, like the Drobo, because they were too loud. (I think the Drobo still takes the cake.)

But the “server closet” is actually the closet in my guest room slash TV room, so even though I was relatively shielded from the noise in there my guests were subjected to it, which was made worse because I had so much stuff in there the closet would get quite hot so I would usually leave the door cracked.

Late last year I started minimizing everything in there to bring the noise, heat, and my electricity bill down. I went from a couple of switches daisy-chained together to a single 24-port D-Link. For network storage I’m a big fan of QNAP devices and have owned their 5, 6, and 8 drive versions. I had a TS-809U (rackmount, also really loud) I shipped off to be an off-site backup, retired the old 5-drive, and standardized on a (pretty quiet) TS-639 with 6 1TB drives in RAID6 so about 3.6TB usable. Finally I replaced old desktop machines and Linux servers I had accumulated over the years with a single beautiful Mac Mini. (Still planned is to replace old rackmount UPS with this much-quieter Cyberpower and some nifty liberators.)

But I was still stuck with the Balance 390 providing the lifeline of connectivity to the house and sounding like a plane taking off. However after a post on Peplink’s bbPress-powered forums I decided to check out two of their new products, the Balance 30 and Balance 310, as I said:

It looks like you guys have some new products that would be a little slower but adequete for my needs. I noticed on the comparisons that the 20/30 is a smaller and lighter than the 210/310, and they draw the same amount of power.

They responded “The 20/30/210/310 are all completely quiet because they don’t have a fan!” Awesome, we’re in business. But how about performance? Since I’m in a unique position of having three of their products in front of me, and their website is a bit confusing, I decided to do some rough but real-world tests of each product and found a pretty counter-intuitive results.

As a background for the following benchmarks, I upgraded each device to the latest firmware (5.2.2), unplugged everything from the network, and plugged my laptop directly into the LAN port of each router and ran some speed tests as suggested by Peplink themselves, which I found on this thread. Basically the tool just downloads some big files from Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft and tells you how long it took. The following table is the average of a few tests I ran for each while only having a single WAN link plugged in, then I tried some additional tests just on the Microsoft download paired with Comcast since that seemed to be the fastest possible, finally I plugged in both WAN links and kicked off multiple downloads at once and tried to observe the peak throughput. The absolute numbers aren’t as interesting, mostly the maximums. I basically wanted to test their assertion that “The ratings are derived from the actual performance (combination of sw and hw) and not limited by software.”

Balance 30 Balance 310 Balance 390
List Price
$395
$1,495
$1,995
Vendor-rated Throughput
50 Mbps
50 Mbps
170 Mbps
USB 3G modem support
Yes
No
Yes
Adobe Webpass
21.3 Mbps
37.1 Mbps
17.4 Mbps
Apple Webpass
22.1 Mbps
36.6 Mbps
18.7 Mbps
Microsoft Webpass
22.2 Mbps
41.3 Mbps
22.3 Mbps
Adobe Comcast
22.1 Mbps
42.6 Mbps
52.3 Mbps
Apple Comcast
21.6 Mbps
44.3 Mbps
46.7 Mbps
Microsoft Comcast
22.4 Mbps
46.9 Mbps
57.9 Mbps
Microsoft Comcast #2
31.3 Mbps
47.2 Mbps
57.3 Mbps
Observed CPU load
100%
100%
~35%
Comcast + Webpass Microsoft Download
90.16 Mbps
49.5 Mbps
116.2 Mbps

So the conclusions and things I discovered from these numbers:

  1. The 390 is the most powerful, it was able to handle 116 Mbps with some room to spare.
  2. The 310 interface would freeze up and become completely unresponsive as the transfer got higher. Though it did better than the 30 on the single-WAN tests, it completely fell over on the dual-WAN test. The 30 stayed responsive even when the CPU pegged at 100%.
  3. The 30 has bonus unadvertised gigabit LAN ports (the 310 has 10/100 Mbps ports) which surprised me because it seems from their comparison chart that you only get gigabit LAN ports starting with the 380.
  4. The 30 was able to peak just under 100 Mbps combining the two connections, which is not that far away from the 390, which is 5 times the cost. And it crushed the 310 which is 4x the cost.

Now as for the why of these numbers, I don’t know, maybe Peplink could comment. This test was pretty unscientific, but I was able to recreate over and over again that plugged into the Balance 30 I got double the performance at a quarter of the cost of the 310, something I ended up repeating over and over because it was very counter-intuitive to me. Perhaps the 20/30 are just newer generation products and the 210/310 line will catch up in their next refresh, or after they clear out their existing inventory.

So in summary: Peplink is great, their 380 and above products are fantastic if you need the power and can put them someplace no one will hear them. The 210/310 is a rip-off and should be avoided. The Balance 30 performs above its ratings and I’d recommend it for anybody like me with multiple internet connections. The “Next Generation Broadband Ready” rating on the 210/310 appears to be incorrect.

I’ve unplugged my 380 and now have my entire home network going through the Balance 30, and it’s as snappy as can be. One of these days I’ll play around with the 3G failover stuff. I can leave the door to my server closet closed now, and guests will sleep peacefully.

24 thoughts on “Peplink Multi-WAN Routers

  1. Matt thanks for posting this. As a work-at-home professional I rely completely on my internet connection as well. Until now I have used my Android phone as a backup in rare instances of ISP failure. Your post has convinced me I need a more reliable second ISP.

    1. The Balance 20/30 has a USB port as well which you can have a 3G modem in, but it would feel weird to me to pay for one and leave it at home.

      1. How many times have both connections been down simultaneously? Probably not many. Plus, your laptop has 3G built in. Seems like a completionism trap. 🙂

  2. Nice! Yeah, you’re not kidding about that server closet. Poked my head in back when the place was being remodeled and it about melted my face off, Indiana Jones style. I’ll bet the ambient air temperature was approaching the 90’s.

    So the Peplink does NAT/firewall too? Or do you have something else between that and the switches?

    We’ve only had a handful of fiber outages here, so I’ve not been tempted to get dual connections. I’ve just fallen back to 3G in those instances. But power is absolutely an issue. The fiberoptic lines are buried, but Florida is a mess of above ground power, palm trees with razor-sharp fronds, squirrels who like to build nests in transformers, tropical storms, and in addition, Tampa is the lightning capitol of the world. I have APC’s equivalent model of the Cyberpower model you linked. It’s saved me bunches of times (computer, router, monitor, and a few other essentials are powered by it). It would be nice to have more juice, though. If you add a few high draw components, your powerless time quickly drops.

    Some of the UPS units have a USB connection, which is nice, because the UPS can signal the OS that power has been lost. It will alert you, and if power is about to run out, it’ll do a safe shutdown.

    Good call on the power strip liberators! I lose a bit of my sanity every time I lose a plug to a needlessly bulky wall wart.

    1. Yep it does NAT and firewall (inbound and outbound), as well as supports UPnP and NAT-PMP, which is useful for things like Skype.

  3. Guy, you just have to buy a router which is supported by OpenWRT and install it. Or build a PC with linux on it.

    1. It’d be hard to build a device as small or quiet with 3-4 NICs, I think this is a good example of a purpose-built device being a good value.

  4. Why something from these guys? http://soekris.com/ with http://pfsense.org/ on it?

    Like maybe this: http://soekris.com/net5501.htm

    It has 4x FastEthernet, and room for a crypto accelerator if you feel so inclined. And they’re like $100-200, instead of $400-2000.

    I personally use a Dell SC420 server with PfSense, and it’s awesome. Feature-rich, powerful, and expandable. And Dell servers are quiet unless they get hot. The fan gets loud if the CPU temp gets really high, but it takes a lot of heat. I’m in Vegas, and it’s never louder than a distant hum.

  5. I actually bought that exact Cyberpower UPS a few weeks ago and absolutely love it. I’m even running the coax cable for my FiOS modem through it.

    At idle, my power-hungry desktop and two large monitors pull 387 watts through it which is good for about 16 minutes of battery life. That’s pretty dang good.

    I’m not sure about Mac support, but it uses a standard printer-style USB cable to let your computer know what it’s doing (battery time remaining, etc.). The Windows software is also fairly nice allowing you to see all the stats as well as control some of the things that you’d normally control from it’s front panel.

    Highly recommended.

  6. Do you happen to know what CPU each of the devices use? My company develops a similar product and we’ve found that the Atom platform is terrific for devices like this- much more power than the Geode processor in the Soekris Chris mentioned above, but less power draw (and noise) than a proper Core desktop/server CPU.

    For those looking to build their own multi-WAN router box, there are a number of good options from Lanner and Portwell. Also, the upcoming Soekris 6000 series is Atom-powered.

    An alternative to multi-WAN load balancing like Peplink offers is known as WAN bonding, where the on-site device sends and receives packets to/from an aggregation server somewhere on the Internet first, rather than straight to the remote host. The aggregation server then re-assembles the original stream of packets and forwards it on to the destination. This has the benefit of being able to combine the bandwidth of all your links for a single download or upload, whereas the Peplink would max out at the speed of your fastest link for a single transfer (unless I misunderstand how it operates). It also allows a static IP or even a whole block of IPs to be allocated to the device, which don’t change even if a link goes down. But it does require an intermediate server and is typically sold as a managed service, with extra monthly costs. Peplink advertises a bonded VPN feature with some of their models, which they can do because there they fully control both ends of the connection. I guess you could build your own bonded multi-WAN service by putting a second Peplink in your datacenter, setting up their bonded VPN, and figuring out a clever routing configuration to use the VPN as your route to the Net.

  7. Hello Matt.
    Like the way you reduce clutter.

    when will you plan to write about
    1) Photography
    2) HiFi Tube Amp
    3) Jazz Music

  8. Somewhat late to the conversation, but I’m trying to figure out if there’s a difference between the Peplink products and the Cisco RV line. The top-end RV016 does up to 7 links and costs about as much as the lowest-end peplink. According to Cisco, their NAT throughput is 200Mbps (as opposed to 100), and it does VPN. The advantage on the Peplink seems to be Gbe ports. I’m planning an install at a local business and I ruled out the Peplink on cost alone.

    Any ideas from your experience?

    1. I actually have the rv016, two of them to be exact. I also have the rv042. They’re solid devices for sure, but show their age now, and I’d get peplink products now if I had to recreate my setup.

      I have three cable modems and use 3 of the 7 wan connections. But the amount of ack/nak packets Knology’s Arris C4 head-end sends it causes it to constantly reboot or crash because it thinks its under attack unless I use another router to ‘pre-filter’ these packets. Knology and Cisco support have been useless, pointing fingers at each other even after I’ve provided both with mountains of data. Cisco even initially said that my router was defective after being in service for over five years, so I ended up buying my second one, which now sits here as a paperweight/backup since my original was fine. Even with ‘pre-routers’ on two of the lines, I still need to reboot every 8hrs. But when it works, it’s like a tank. There was even a period of two years it worked 24×7 in temps of over 100deg in the summer and <40deg in the winter. This same router is still working today, almost being on a full decade.

      Speed will probably also be an issue with the Cisco line. I have 75/15 with my combined bandwidth and can only max out the upload of 15, not the download. In fact, recent changes in the last two months at Knology make it almost impossible for me to get more than 5Mb download speeds reliably. I still have no idea what changed this–I used to get 20 easy. It would be interesting to test a peplink product in my environment.

      I have a gateway-to-gateway vpn setup with the rv042 which is 20 miles away. As long as you’re on default settings, this works reliably well. I can see the network there as if it was local here. Very nice. I’ve even printed to the network printer there versus faxing that location.

  9. Great review and test. Wish there was more of this done.

    Would anyone know if the Peplink 20/30 would work with a satellite connection and DSL? Our DSL here is so slow that the 1.5Mbps rated is actually a joke. I wonder if the DSL would eliminate the satellite latency and the satellite would allow faster web updates.

  10. I think I tried to comment on this before but lost the comment somehow. Not due to bad connectivity though 🙂

    Following your recommendation here I got a Balance 20 on a recent trip to San Diego 😉

    I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time now, as a way to make the best out of the poor infrastructure where I live. The Peplink takes two unstable yet potentially speedy connections (ADSL and cable) are provides one solid line which maxes out very close to their combined bandwidths. Should also be noted that setup is very easy and not much different then setting up a standard home router.

    The Balance 20 is Peplink’s lowest end model and it’s currently around $100 less then the next model up, the Balance 30 (and over $1,000 less then the next model after that). As far as I can tell, though I haven’t looked too closely at this, the only difference is that the 30 has 3 wired WAN ports and the 20 has only 2. Both have one spot for a USB WAN modem.

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