Solid throughput in testing. Supports MU-MIMO data streaming. Fastlanes 5GHz technology. Sleek design.
Mobile app lacks many features of web app. Limited parental controls. No QoS settings. Buggy installation in testing.
- Bottom Line
With the Portal Smart Gigabit WiFi Router, you get fast throughput, MU-MIMO streaming, and a couple of extra 5GHz channels, but configurability is limited and the mobile app needs some work.
The Portal Smart Gigabit WiFi Router ($378 for the 2-pack we tested) by Ignition Design Labs is yet another Wi-Fi system that uses mesh technology to provide whole-house wireless coverage with seamless roaming. As with other mesh systems such as Eero, Luma, and the Amped Wireless Ally Plus Whole Home Smart Wi-Fi System, it offers a sleek, low-profile aesthetic, but its proprietary 5GHz technology, which helps with network congestion, is what sets it apart from the competition. Although it delivered solid performance in our throughput testing, it doesn't offer the configurability or a top-notch companion app like you get with the Linksys Velop. But if you live somewhere, like a big apartment building, with many competing wireless networks, it's worth considering.
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Design and Features
Ignition Design Labs sent us a two-piece Portal system that provides up to 6,000 square feet of wireless coverage. If you live in a smaller dwelling you can buy a single Portal, which covers up to 3,000 square feet, for $199.99. The router is housed inside a glossy white enclosure with the Portal logo stamped into the top. The O in Portal is actually an LED indicator that glows red when the router has lost its internet connection, blue when it is connected to the internet, green when it is connected and the Fastlanes and Smartlanes features are operational, and blinks blue or green when the firmware is being updated.
The low-profile design is similar to that of the Eero and Amped Wireless Ally routers, but at 2.1 by 9.5 by 7.2 inches (HWD) it is significantly larger. Around back are four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a WAN port, two USB 2.0 ports, and a reset button. Under the hood are 2.4GHz (3×3) and 5GHz (4×4) 802.11ac Wi-Fi radios, a Bluetooth radio (for connecting to your mobile device), and nine high-power antennas.
The Portal supports the latest 802.11ac technologies, including beamforming, which sends Wi-Fi signals directly to clients rather than over a wide spectrum, and MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output) data streaming, which transmits data to compatible clients simultaneously rather than sequentially, allowing for faster all-around throughput speeds. The Portal is an AC2400 router capable of speeds of up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band. It uses mesh networking technology to communicate with its satellite node.
Portal's Fastlanes technology allows the router to access frequencies within the 5GHz spectrum that are normally reserved for weather radar systems. For users who live in crowded areas where there's lots of network traffic (think apartment buildings), Fastlanes offers a range of 5GHz channels that other routers can't access, which means less congestion and better throughput at peak times. Portal's Smartlanes is a type of band-steering technology that automatically chooses the least crowded radio band and channel to avoid network congestion.
The mobile app lets you perform certain tasks from your mobile device, but its functionality is limited. It opens to a Home screen which displays an interactive network map with icons for Internet, each connected Portal router, connected guests, and connected devices. Tapping the Portal icons takes you to a screen where you can access basic settings to rename the SSID, enable the web interface, separate the radio bands, and enable beamforming. If you own a device that cannot connect to a Fastlanes channel (there's a list of devices on the Portal website), use one of the three compatibility modes to find a channel combination that will work with your devices.
Other settings allow you to upgrade the firmware and restart the network, but that's about it. There are none of the granular parental controls that you get with the Amped Ally and Linksys Velop which allow you to pause internet access, block websites, and filter content, nor are there any device-prioritization options. The Portal web console offers basic parental controls such as access scheduling and internet blocking but it lacks content filtering and website blacklists. However, it does allow you to create port forwarding and firewall rules, configure static routing, and configure VPN client settings. It also provides IP address and MAC address details for LAN, WAN, both radio bands, and all connected devices.
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Installation and Performance
Installation was a bit tricky. The instruction card says to power off your modem, connect the Portal to a LAN port, and then power on the modem and the Portal. What it doesn't tell you is that you have to power up the Portal first, then the modem. I waited about 10 minutes for the red LED indicator to turn green or blue, indicating an internet connection, but it never happened. A quick search on the Portal website support page advised me to turn the Portal on first. Once I did this, the Portal was connected within 90 seconds.
Next, I downloaded the app, tapped Set Up, and waited about 10 seconds for the app to recognize the Portal. I tapped Customize, entered a network name and password, and was finished with the initial router setup. Or so I thought. Within 10 seconds the LED began blinking blue and the app displayed a message saying Something's wrong. Portal is offline. A minute later the LED turned red and I had lost my internet connection. Unfortunately there is no Portal support number to call, nor is there a live chat feature on the website, so I filled out the online request for support and waited 45 minutes for an email to arrive. While I was waiting I decided to unplug the router and modem, wait 30 seconds, and power them both on again. I was rewarded with a green light indicating that everything was OK. It's worth noting that the email response did not offer a phone number to call; instead I was asked to respond to several questions via email. For users who rely on Portal to deliver their email, this can be a frustrating exercise that requires a secondary internet source to send and receive support emails.
To add the second node, I tapped the Add a Portal icon, connected the node to the main Portal router using the included LAN cable, plugged in the node, and waited around two minutes for it to be added to the network. I unplugged the node and relocated to another room around 40 feet from the main router. Once I plugged it in, it showed up in the app within seconds.
The Portal system delivered fast throughput in our tests. The main router's score of 83.2Mbps on our 2.4GHz close proximity (same room) test was a bit faster than the Almond 3 router (80.6Mbps) and was nearly identical to the Amplifi HD Home Wi-Fi System's router (85.9Mbps), but the Amped Wireless Ally router (95.7Mbps) was faster than all of them. The Portal's satellite node scored 65.4Mbps on this test, besting the Almond 3 nodes (35Mbps and 42.3Mbps) but not the Amplifi nodes (76.1Mbps and 75.3Mbps). The Amped Wireless Ally node led with a score of 88.8Mbps. On the 2.4GHz 30-foot test, the main Portal router scored 75.8Mps compared to the Amplifi router's 76Mbps and the Almond 3 router's score of 47.1Mbps. Once again, the Amped Ally led with a score of 86.5Mbps. The Portal node's score of 45.6Mbps topped the Almond 3 nodes (31.7Mbps and 40.1Mbps) but couldn't keep pace with the Amplifi nodes (75.5Mbps and 67.9Mbps) or the Amped Wireless Ally node (87Mbps).
5GHz performance was impressive. The router's score of 490Mbps on the close proximity test was slightly higher than the Eero (469Mbps) and the Netgear Orbi (460Mbps) but trailed the Amped Ally (508Mbps) and the Linksys Velop (556Mbps). At 30 feet, the Portal router's score of 232Mbps was nearly identical to the Eero router (233Mbps), the Linksys Velop (236Mbps), and the Amped Ally (234Mbps). It was a bit faster than the Netgear Orbi (223Mbps) and significantly faster than the Luma (76.1Mbps). The Portal node scored 233Mbps on the close proximity test. That's much faster than the Eero (139Mbps and 93.8Mbps) and Luma (106 and 101Mbps) nodes but not as fast as the Linksys Velop nodes (328Mbps and 257Mbps) or the Amped Ally node (326Mbps). The Netgear Orbi led the pack with a score of 480Mbps. At a distance of 30 feet the Portal node scored 177Mbps, once again beating the Eero nodes (151Mbps and 84.6Mbps) and the Luma nodes (77.2Mbps and 75Mbps) but not the Linksys Velop (238Mbps and 286Mbps), Netgear Orbi (220Mbps), and the Amped Ally (226Mbps) nodes.
To test the Portal's MU-MIMO performance, I used three identical Acer Aspire E15 laptops equipped with Qualcomm Atheros QCA9377 wireless 802.11ac network adapters as my clients. The main router averaged 134Mbps on the close proximity test and 103Mbps on the 30 foot test. That's good throughput but not as good as what we saw with the Amped Ally (197.3Mbps and 107Mbps, respectively) and the Linksys Velop (264Mbps and 116.2Mbps). The Netgear Orbi router averaged 128Mbps at close proximity and 124Mbps at 30 feet. The Portal node's throughput speed of 115Mbps at close proximity was faster than the Linksys Velop (60.1Mbps and 70.1Mbps) and the Amped Ally (90.3Mbps) but not the Netgear Orbi node (127.6Mbps). At 30 feet, the Portal nodes' score of 65.2Mbps was a bit faster than the Linksys Velop nodes (50.8Mbps and 57.8Mbps) and much faster than the Amped Ally node (29.7Mbps) but it couldn't catch the Netgear Orbi node (124Mbps). To put these scores in perspective, our Editors' Choice for midrange routers, the D-Link AC3150 Ultra Wi-Fi Router (DIR-885L/R), scored 237Mbps (close proximity) and 165Mbps (30 feet) on our MU-MIMO throughput tests.
If you live in an area where heavy network traffic is impeding your home Wi-Fi performance, the Portal Smart Gigabit WiFi Router can help. Its Fastlanes technology gives you access to channels in the 5GHz spectrum that other routers can't touch, which means less interference from neighboring networks. As a mesh Wi-Fi system, it delivered solid performance and good range on our throughput tests, but its lacks the robust parental control and QoS features that you get with competing Wi-Fi systems. Moreover, you'll have to login to the web console to access certain settings as the mobile app offers limited functionality. You'll pay more for a three-piece Linksys Velop system, which also gives you 6,000 square feet of coverage, but the Velop is much easier to install and offers a well-designed mobile app with robust parental controls and device prioritization settings. More importantly, it offers better all-around throughput performance, so it remains our Editors' Choice for home Wi-Fi systems.
By John R. Delaney Contributing Editor
As a Contributing Editor for PCMag, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, TVs, PCs, networking and smart home gear, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for almost 20 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine's Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Labs technical staff, as well as evaluating and maintaining the integrity of the Labs testing machines and procedures. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, John spent six years in retail operations for… More »
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