Top positive review
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Super-fast, great range, lots of features
on October 24, 2012
+ Fastest dual-band router I have used by far
+ Lots of configuration options in admin panel
+ DLNA server, FTP server, USB printer server and USB storage server
- Physically large
- Admin user interface can be confusing
For the last two-plus years I have been using the Netgear WNDR3700V1 dual-band router. At the time I bought it, it was considered one of the fastest dual-band routers available, and it had lots of features. It does work very well, but Netgear has revised it twice and the subsequent V2 and V3 releases have diminished functionality and performance. While I have used many brands of routers in the past, TP-Link was new to me so I was curious to see how the TL-WDR4300 compared.
The router itself is a large box. It's attractive and has a nice design, but it is much wider than competing routers. It is also very lightweight. Perhaps the width is so that the three dual-band antennae can be physically separated more - I don't know. There are keyhole slots on the bottom in case you want to wall-mount it, but as with most all routers, the wiring all goes to the back where the antennae are, so this might be awkward if your wiring comes from below.
TP-Link provides a setup "wizard" on a mini-CD (you can also download it from their web site), but I just connected to it directly and configured it through the admin panel. I was delighted to see that the wireless networks came up pre-configured with WPA security and an 8-digit password - many routers are simply "open" when first configured. This encourages users to maintain security. You can set the wireless to WEP or even open if you want, but that's generally ill-advised.
Unlike a certain other brand of router I have tried two examples of (cough - D-Link - cough), the TP-Link had no trouble negotiating with the Ethernet feed of my FiOS optical network box (the equivalent of a cable modem). Some of the configuration features it had that I liked were:
- Dynamic DNS support (though the selection of providers was limited)
- Separate and easy to understand configuration of 2.4 and 5GHz bands
- Ability to reserve IP addresses to specific devices
Some of the things I didn't like:
- Only a single display of DHCP clients connected, rather than separating wired from wireless
- IP reservation page did not let you select from known connections - you have to type the MAC address
- No "guest mode" - this is a feature the Netgear WNDR3700 has that adds a second network which can be configured to give Internet access only and not access to your local network. This is great for houseguests and the like [Edit - TP-Link added Guest Mode in a later firmware update]
The admin user interface is straightforward, though it uses submenus and some of the pages seemed to duplicate others. For example, there were two different pages where one could enter DNS server addresses, and changes to one did not carry over to the other. While each page had pretty good instructions right in the dialog, some of the options were a bit confusing as to how to set them. But what really got me were the pages where I did not notice at first that a frame of the dialog had a scrollbar, and I had to scroll to the right to see additional links, even though there was lots of space for them to show otherwise. A full manual is on the CD as well as on the web site.
Once set up I tested performance at a distance of about 25 feet through two walls. First I ran tests using the Netgear and then the TP-Link with the same remote server. The TP-Link delivered speeds 30-50% better than the Netgear on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The Netgear is very good about coverage in my house - it has eight (I think) internal patch antennae where the TP-Link has three, rather tall stick antennae. I found coverage to be at least as good as the Netgear, even about 50-60 feet away and through multiple walls. I could only go by "bars" of signal strength but it seemed to me that the TP-Link's signal was stronger on both bands. Many dual-band routers are particularly weak on the 5GHz band.
As the three antennae suggest, this router supports the "3X" mode of some Wireless N adapters for a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 450Mbps on the 5GHz band and 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Add those together and you get the "750" emblazoned on the router. The spec sheet I got indicates tested speeds of 241Mbps and 135Mbps respectively, still not shabby. The Ethernet ports are all Gigabit, and the test indicates LAN-WAN speeds as much as 935Mbps. That's fast.
The TL-WDR4300 has two USB 2.0 ports on back. These can connect to USB storage or to a USB printer. For storage the router will make the storage available as a network share, or you can enable an FTP server that can, if you wish, be accessed from the Internet. (The default is off.) Unfortunately, only standard FTP is supported, not SFTP over SSH, so your login information (you can set a username/password pair) is sent unencrypted. My advice is to NOT use this feature over the Internet.
I did not test the print server, as my printer is already network-enabled. For Windows there is a utility you install that, if I understand correctly, pretends to be a USB port and relays information to and from your USB printer. Scanners are also supported.
I did test the DLNA media server. You can specify up to six folders on the USB storage to serve and it will relay audio, video and photos to DLNA clients on your local network. I fired up Goodplayer on my iPad and played a movie from a USB hard disk - it worked beautifully. The promotional material claims that it can serve media over the Internet, but I think this is incorrect - there's no setting to enable/disable it and no instructions for how you would access the media from outside your local network. I will verify this with TP-Link support and update this review when I learn more. (Edit: TP-Link confirmed that media serving is local network only.)
TP-Link's documentation takes the unusual step of saying that one can install and run the freeware DD-WRT router software on some of its routers. I checked at the DD-WRT web site and while the WDR4300 is not yet officially supported, there is a beta version that at least partially works, and development for the WDR4300 is proceeding. According to the spec sheet TP-Link included, the WDR4300 has an Atheros chipset that runs at 560MHz, 128MB of RAM and 8MB of flash - these are rather high values for routers in this price range and suggests great performance and resistance to locking up after being on a long time (a problem I have seen with other routers.)
Lastly, as I do for most products I test, I looked at power consumption. For a device you'll leave on all the time, this can matter. I was pleased to see that the WDR4300 maxed out at 4 watts with wireless on, where the older Netgear router was averaging 6-7 watts. Excellent.
Not only does the TP-Link router seem well-designed, but their web site is easy to navigate as well, unlike those of some more well-known brands.
[Edited February 6, 2014 to note that Guest Mode was added after my initial review.]