In the past year, I noticed that my wifi had gotten too slow to smoothly ssh from one computer to another. Screen sharing was also very rocky. I began to suspect that either my Macs or my Apple router were seriously under-performing.
Ping times are a great performance indicator for the apps that I use as a software developer: screen sharing, ssh, and file browsing in the Finder. So I bought a couple of new routers, and spent the weekend testing every device in every combination:
From my Google Spreadsheet – feel free to comment on it or here.
I set my threshold for excellent performance at 10 ms because that just seems reasonable. And I set my acceptable performance threshold at 30 ms because I can ping from servers in California from my apartment in Portland in that time. So, I thought, I sure as hell ought to be able to send a packet across the room in less time than that.
I picked up the two routers at Costco: The Linksys was $70, and the Netgear was $140. The test environment is a 700 sq. foot 1 bedroom apartment. The computers are in a semi-circle around the router location, all at roughly the same distance. The iMac is the oldest. The Macbook Pro 13 is hooked up to an external monitor and its lid is closed. I think it’s logical that those two scored the worst You can see that the network neighborhood is pretty much a worst case scenario.
I see some surprising results:
- The Mac computers are an order of magnitude (or two!) slower responding to pings. Interestingly, they have no problems when originating a ping. I haven’t found much online, but this is strong evidence of a problem somewhere in their network stack. These results correspond to my subjective experience connecting to these machines.
- The Linksys significantly outperformed the Netgear at half the price.
- It really pays to periodically check your performance and upgrade if necessary. In my case, my newer computers support faster wifi speeds than my old router could support.
- The newer router doesn’t solve the Mac device problem, but it significantly reduces it. These data don’t show it, but there are now fewer dropped packets, and the variance is ping times is much lower as well.
- The cheapest, “slowest” computer is the fastest. That’s the Chromebook 14 q010nr, which I bought three years ago for around $250. It’s a fantastic machine in many ways.