gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

MikroTik L009UiGS-2HaxD-IN

After decrying the state of consumer broadband routers on Mastodon, I was turned onto MikroTik. This Latvian purveyor of networking products has some twenty years of design and manufacturing experience. Out of this has erupted a steady stream of gear for a range of purposes, but what interests me the most is their low cost “prosumer” range and more general consumer products.

The kind of ‘Tik – as a seasoned MikroTik user would say – that lends itself well to a solid home network or homelab setup would primarily be for professional networking in emerging markets, hospitality and places where networks are required but aren’t always the core focus of the business. I believe the L009 is one such product. But MikroTik also expressly engage and work with their prosumer audience, producing things like the tiny, tiny RB5009 – a heavy duty, eight port, “home lab” router – which I found to be a very, very enticing contender to the L009.

But I settled on the L009, despite its maligned lack of 5GHz WiFi, slower CPU, smaller RAM and mysteriously 32-bit-OS-on-a-64-bit-CPU. Why? I thought of the L009 as a wired router with bonus 2.4GHz WiFi, and not as a WiFi router missing features.

What’s so widely missed by the in-crowd – who draw comparisons between the L009 and MikroTik’s hAP ax2, a cheaper, faster home router/access point in a different configuration – is that the L009 is a great way to get more than four downstream ports in a small form-factor and with very few compromises compared to your existing home broadband router. In my case I was replacing a TP-Link Archer AX10, a router that can now be had for just £50 and which- on paper- should have a 3 core, 1.5GHz CPU and 256MB ram- no slouch. The AX10, however, was woefully inadequate for the 15+ ambient, IoT devices alone that needed to connect to it, much less my computers and Raspberry Pi devices on top of that. This led to slow, unstable and dropped connections that played havoc with the Nest heating controller, made turning on/off smart lights hit and miss at best, and was absolute nightmare fuel whenever I wanted a reliable wireless connection to a phone or laptop. The AX10 is still not bad, though, so what if I could take some of that base load away?

Enter the L009, which (in the verbosely titled L009UiGS-2HaxD-IN version at least) comes with bonus 2.4GHz wireless. “Ugh” I hear you exclaim, “2.4GHz is so contested”, “2.4GHz is so slow”, “2.4GHz is so prone to interference!” You’re not wrong, of course, but for a vast range of IoT style devices, 2.4GHz is also absolutely essential. With cheaper turnkey wireless chips (ESP32 I am looking at you!) supporting *only* 2.4GHz then any half way smart (and, believe me, I try to keep my home as dumb as possible) home is going to have at least some need for 2.4GHz whether you like it or not.

In my case I not only needed the L009’s 2.4GHz WiFi, but it was a game changer. Between WiFi and the L009 taking on duties as a switch, it liberated the TP-Link AX10 to serve as purely a laptop/phone access point and turned my home network instantly from insufferable nightmare to tolerably snappy.

I’m also finally able to reliably test Pico W-based (that’s the Raspberry Pi Pico Wireless microcontroller for those unfamiliar with it) projects without losing my mind struggling to get any kind of connection working.

Did I mention it also comes in a vibrant red enclosure? I’d be lying if this didn’t influence me at least somewhat to pick this over the MicroTik hAP ax2.

With the TP-Link flung into a more central location in the house and relegated to its (very tricky to find but functional) Access Point mode, I will hopefully never have to log into it and deal with annoying cloud login nag screens again. As much as that irks me, I’ve been running the TP-Link RE505X Range Extender as an access point for nearly three years now, and I just configured it and forgot about it mostly. (Except when I moved it into the house so I could get a non terrible signal upstairs.) I have made a mental note to replace both TP-Link devices with MikroTik equivalents, in fact I am very tempted to get *another* L009 for the office but might be better positioned with a hAP ax2 alongside the existing dumb switch that serves my office ethernet.

Since the L009 is a Professional device for Professional people it does not pull any punches with the administration UX. Based upon MiroTik’s own OS, RouterOS, the firmware is sprawling and complicated. You are expected to have some basic networking knowledge, and even then might be quickly overwhelmed by the dizzying array of options. Need to find the IP address of a device? You’ll open the “IP” section of the left-hand menu of RouterOS’s “WebFig” web-based admin UI, click “DHCP Server”, and then click “Leases.” You’ll get more information than you’ll know what to do with for your troubles, but since MiroTik devices aren’t driven by a single, straight-forward purpose (consumer WiFi router designers can mostly assume what a typical user might want quick access to) then no particular feature, no matter how essential you might think it is, is given preferential, in-your face treatment.

MikroTik ship a Windows-only application called WinBox which you’re expected to run in WINE on Linux or macOS. No really, they tell you to do this in their own documentation – to their credit WinBox works very well in WINE. The Windows style UI is a jarring and anachronistic juxtaposition to macOS, but it provides a self-contained, Window-managed style environment where you can open windows relating to various router features. For example I can keep “DCHP Server” open in a window with the “Leases” tab selected, and access other router features in other windows without losing almost one-click access to the list of leases. If you close WinBox it’ll remember your open windows and their positions, so suddenly that lack of preferential treatment for features becomes a feature- you’ll form your own efficient workflows around the tools you use most. Keeping WinBox open and using it in lieu of the WebFix web-based UI is, I suspect, the canonical MikroTik experience… for those not proficient and comfortable with their idiosyncratic command-line interface, at least.

Yep you can pop a terminal in WinBox but your attempts to run Bash-style commands will be met with a stonewall of “bad command name”- RouterOS is an eccentric departure from the likes of OpenWRT. It offers its own proprietary scriptable shell environment, and you will either love it or hate it. Once the very menu-driven concept of this environment clicks you might find it quite effective, for example showing dhcp leases is as simple as typing `/ip/dhcp-server/lease` followed by `print`. These commands will tab-complete and system commands are contextual. Once you’re in the `/ip/dhcp-server/lease` directory/menu you can “add”, “edit”, “delete” and so on. It’s not bad, but dropping to a terminal and being met with something so completely alien is quite jarring.

I mostly stuck with WinBox, odd as it is on macOS, and made some modest configuration changes to suit my purposes. The L009 mostly worked out of the box, but I configured address pools and DHCP to my preferences and labelled my ports (you can stick notes in all sorts of useful places in the admin UI) so I could see at a glance where a device is connected. At a month into owning the L009 I have, for the most part, not had to even think about the router. And that’s a good sign. I’ve got my eye on the MikroTik hAP ax2 as a replacement for both TP-Link devices, but they’re running pretty happily at the moment – if it ain’t broke!

Would I recommend L009? Yes, it’s small, cute, and stylish and would be ideal as a secondary router in your home office- since it’ll provide serviceable WiFi for embedded devices, Pi’s and so on along with an abundance of Ethernet ports for the things you need better throughput to. I’m actually a little sad that I shut it away in a utility cupboard rather than mounting it on my office wall.

Friday, April 26th, 2024, Blog.