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Wireless Reviews

802.11ac Dual Radio Access Point
At a glance
ProductUbiquiti 802.11ac Dual Radio Access Point (UAP-AC-LITE)   [Website]
SummaryInexpensive AC1200 class access point
Pros• Many features including airtime fairness and band steering
• Inexpensive
Cons• Poor 2.4 GHz performance
802.11ac PRO Access Point
At a glance
ProductUbiquiti 802.11ac PRO Access Point (UAP-AC-PRO)   [Website]
SummaryInexpensive Qualcomm-based AC1750 class access point
Pros• Many features including airtime fairness and band steering
• Inexpensive
Cons• Poor 2.4 GHz performance

Introduction

Updated 3/21/17: Explained Wi-Fi test oddities

If you hang around the wireless part of SNBForums for long, you'll find folks describing their unfettered joy after replacing their crummy consumer Wi-Fi routers with Ubiquiti's cheap AC access points. Lee Hutchinson at Ars was so tickled he wrote this love letter, which I'm sure has sold a lot of UAP-AC-Lite and PROs for Ubiquiti.

We last looked at Ubiquiti APs back in 2013 in the form of their first 802.11ac access point, the UAP-AC and their "long range" N300 AP, aptly named the UAP-LR. Ubiquiti wasn't happy with how the UAP-AC tested, so I even retested it with "better" firmware that improved 5 GHz performance somewhat. But the upshot was that the original UAP-AC's wireless performance wasn't as good as the AC1750 class D-Link router it was compared to.

These two inexpensive APs come up so often in SNBForum discussions, particularly when folks ask if they're a better choice than consumer mesh systems and whether they'll improve performance vs. consumer routers. So I figured it was about time I got off my butt and tested them.

I'm currently persona non grata with Ubiquiti due to the not-so-glowing showing its—actually its Ubiquiti Networks subsidiary's—Amplifi mesh system made in our Mesh Mashup. So I bought the UAP-AC-Lite and AC-PRO used for this review from Amazon.

The Lite is smaller than I expected for a "pro" level access point at a little over 6" in diameter. The PRO is more like I expected for a "smoke detector" style AP at a bit under 8". As "ceiling mount" APs, antenna patterns are aimed more at the front side vs. back. So if you're expecting APs on one floor to provide good coverage to another, be sure the top side of the AP is facing the other floor you want to cover.

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite and PRO APs size comparison

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite and PRO APs size comparison

Aside from being a 2x2 AC1200 class AP, the Lite has a few other differences from its 3x3 AC1750 PRO sibling to enable its $50 lower price. It has only one Gigabit Ethernet port and uses non-standard 24v power over Ethernet. The PoE injector comes with the AP and enables single cable connection. But the lack of standard 802.3af/at support means you can't use a standard PoE switch to power it.

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite callouts

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite callouts

The PRO has two switched Gigabit Ethernet ports; only the Main port supports either "passive 48V" or standard 802.3af/at PoE. The USB port is used to connect a mic/speaker accessory that effectively turns the PRO into an EDU model.

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO callouts

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO callouts

Both models have a single LED that illuminates a ring around the Ubiquiti logo to indicate status. The LED can be turned off.

Inside

Turns out it's not that hard to make an AC1200 access point for under $100 (actually under $80). The main compromise is to use an AP SoC to supply 2.4 GHz and serve as the main CPU. Both the Lite and PRO use a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563 3x3 802.11bgn wireless SoC. Only two RF chains are used for the Lite and three are used for the PRO. According to WikiDevi, the QCA9563 has a 32 bit MIPS 74Kc core and is clocked at 750 MHz and has been used mostly in consumer 802.11n routers.

I shot my own photos since the FCC ID photos were not clear enough for component identification. I'm glad I did because the FCC photos show heatsinks on the two radio SoCs and there are none on either sample I opened up. This also let me identify the RF front ends as coming from Anadigics; first time I've seen devices from this company.

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite board

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite board

The PRO board shown below uses the same antennas and has three RF chains.

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO board

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO board

For comparison, here's Ubiquiti's first pass at an AC access point, the UAP-AC. You can see why it sells for almost $300 vs. the PRO's $130.

Ubiquiti UAP-AC board

Ubiquiti UAP-AC board

The table shows the key components for the Lite, PRO and original AC. Bottom line is that neither the Lite nor PRO bear any resemblance to the original AC and differ mainly in the number of RF chains.

UAP-AC-Lite UAP-AC-PRO UAP-AC
CPU QCA9563 3x3 802.11bgn wireless SoC QCA9563 3x3 802.11bgn wireless SoC Broadcom BCM4706
Switch Atheros AR8033 (Ethernet PHY only) QCA8334 Broadcom BCM53125
RAM 128 MB 128 MB 256 MB Hynix H5PS1G63JFR (x2)
Flash 16 MB 16 MB 16 MB Winbond 25Q128FVFG
2.4 GHz Radio - In QCA9563
- Anadigics AWL9293 2.4 GHz front end (x2)
- In QCA9563
- Anadigics AWL9293 2.4 GHz front end (x3)
- BCM4331KMLG
- SiGe 2605L (x3) 2.4 GHz Hi Power WLAN power amp
5 GHz radio - Ubiquiti U-AME-G1-BR4A
(Custom labeled Atheros AR9888?)
- Anadigics AWL9581 5 GHz front end (x2)
- QCA9880 3x3 a/b/b/n radio SoC
- Anadigics AWL9581 5 GHz front end (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE5003L 5 GHz, 23dBm Power Amp w/ Power Detector (x3)
Table 1: Access Point component summary and comparison

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