on October 3, 2016
I found this router through a third party website review (the Wire Cutter), that aptly called this, "the Best Wi-Fi Router (for Most People)." I would probably amend that title and say, "the Best Wi-Fi Router (for Virtually Everyone)." Do not let the low price fool you into thinking it's an entry level or low-end model. It only costs around $100 but, from my observations against four other routers that cost considerably more, it performs well beyond its price point.
I have purchased a number of routers over the years as the technology and performance improves, and the number of devices my family has increased. Over the past few years, I had migrated to the more expensive ($300+) routers in the hopes of greater performance. Right before this, I had an Asus RT-AC5300, a beast of a router that exceeded $400 when I bought it. But what I found was that as the price point goes up, the performance does not, and the reliability goes down. These expensive routers tend to be buggy and drop connections; they simply have too many features and are way too complex, all to provide functionalities that no one uses, or that none of your connected devices support anyway. The ASUS got so bad it was rebooting itself every few hours. The days of the rock-solid Linksys WRT54G seemed long gone... So I returned the ASUS RT-AC5300, gave my WRT1900ACS to a friend, and bought an Archer C7 (v2).
After two weeks of testing it, I have four words: it just works -- period. The signal is strong and punches through the lathe-and-plaster walls of my nearly 100 year old house. Its signal is considerably stronger than the WRT1900ACS that I had (which cost almost three times what this one did), and rivaled the signal strength of the $400 ASUS. It doesn't drop connections, doesn't reboot itself, and delivers a strong and steady stream of data to all devices, wired and wireless.
Only one word of warning; you need to make sure the Archer C7 that you purchase is NOT a first version. Everyone on the web has reported that TP-LINK badly botched the V1, especially for Macintosh/Apple devices (which is most of my house); most of those should be out of circulation or in landfills by now. The one I bought from Amazon was a V2, and it works perfectly with all of my Apple and non-Apple devices.
on October 10, 2013
I usually wait a couple of weeks for my reviews of tech products, but I am so thrilled with this purchase after 24 hours that I can't wait.
This is replacing my D-Link DIR-825 that I have had for more than 4 years. I have been happy with the D-Link but it has been dragging when it comes to actual routing. Seemed to be dropping connections (even if just momentarily) and browsing shared files between computers and devices on the network just seemed to be getting more and more buggy with each passing week. So I figured I might as well future proof. At some point I plan on using the 5ghz AC band to wirelessly bridge the router upstairs with the server downstairs. Right now I have a Cat 5e cable running through some duct work. I had used 5Ghz N for home media serving before with good success but the bandwidth limitation just made it less than 100% smooth. Reviews seem to give a real world benefit of 2x to 3x better performance from AC so as soon as prices come down on AC equipment I will probably do that.
Anyway, I am only using the 2.4Ghz N band right now and I am stunned. My plan was to keep the old D-Link as an access point connected via 100 feet of CAT 6 so that I could have good wireless in the backyard. After setting up the Archer C7, the D-link is in its box and in storage. The range is simply awesome. I haven't found a weak spot, yet. Simple networking across cable or wireless is definitely snappier. With any PC using a wired connection, accessing shared files is like I am accessing a local drive. My D-Link did a fine job with transfer speeds, maxing out all but my 2TB Seagate 7200 drives and the Archer C7 is no different. I don't have any SSDs, so I don't really have the capability of maxing the gigabit connection but the speeds are running 70-80 MB/s (which is the top read/write rate for the drive I am using for file transfer). I will temporarily move my USB 3.0 external that usually transfers about 120MB/sec to my tower PC and copy some files over to my server. That should give me a pretty good test.
Setup was done in about 30 minutes and that includes setting up my DHCP reservations and setting the Date/Time. I just popped the mini-cd in my tower and followed the steps. I even had my D-Link router set up as an access point and working nicely with the Archer C7 (hand offs were nice and smooth) but I disconnected it shortly thereafter because the final position of the router plus the greater range made it moot.
Can't wait to try out the 5Ghz AC band.
UPDATE: 1 WEEK LATER
I can safely say that my enthusiasm for this router has not waned. Networking between computers is much smoother than before and the little blips and hiccups that I used to experience are gone. Often, with my old router, it would take several seconds (and what often felt like a minute or so) before certain devices would show up in my network for remote access. Sometimes a reboot of the devices or the router was necessary. Now, everything is instant. I click <Network> in the Windows Explorer and the attached devices are all there in less than 2 seconds if not instantly. Accessing my server is no longer a click and wait game. I just don't think the D-Link had the horsepower to act as a true Gigabit router. I chose this router because of the reviews that showed it had some of the highest total throughput for any consumer grade router and it seems to be living up to it.
Range on the 2.4Ghz band is greatly improved. I don't know if it is twice as far as my D-Link but it is awfully close.
Wired and wireless transfer speeds seem to be unchanged, just limited by the speed of the hardware at the each end (HDD speed for wired and wireless adapter speed).
The interface is smooth and easy to learn for those of us with a basic knowledge of networking. My only complaint is that it doesn't allow you to assign an arbitrary name to permanently reserved IP addresses. That is one feature I will miss from my D-Link.
Shipped with the July 29 firmware. I had noticed that reviews from several websites mentioned issues with the 2.4Ghz band. Several had mentioned contacting TP-Link about it and that they had planned a fix with a firmware upgrade. Looks like that was the truth because I have been nothing but impressed with the 2.4Ghz and no problems with transfer of large files over the wireless connection among a variety of devices from cell phones to laptops to tablets.
I briefly connected the old D-Link as an AP, but the range of the TP-Link is so good that I disconnected it. I guess if I wanted to run a couple hundred feet of Cat6 then there might be some benefit, but my home is too small to really need that unless I dig a trench and bury some Cat6 out to the detached garage.
UPDATE #2: About a month in
Tired of looking at that grey Cat5e cable that runs along the wall, through the heating vent and along the duct going to the basement where the server and my tower PC and my DirecTV ethernet connection are located. I noticed the price drop on the Archer C7 so I bought a 2nd one that I will be using as a bridge in 5Ghz 802.11ac mode to join the two levels of my home. My cable modem will be upstairs with the original Archer C7 router. All the wireless devices in the house will connect through this one along with being hardwired to my WDTV Live Hub that I use to stream my Blu Ray rips and other media from the server. The server is downstairs and is a WHS 2011 homebrew based on an AMD FX 6100 with 4 x 2TB Seagate ST2000DM001 HDDs for storage and a 2TB WD Green that's used for parity via FlexRAID. Most testing transfers on the gigabit wired connection are between 80MB/s & 100MB/s. Can't wait to see how HD media streams between the 2 routers to the WDTV Live since I just couldn't quite get it to work really well with 802.11n.
UPDATE #3: Added Archer C7 #2 as a wireless bridge
I have cut the cord.
The Setup: My Homeserver, PC Tower and DTV are cabled into Archer C7 #2 (downstairs) that has been set up as a wireless bridge on the 5Ghz AC band. Archer C7 #1 (upstairs) is still the main router with all DHCP and routing being handled there. My modem and WDTV Live are cabled directly in to Archer C7 #1 and all wireless devices connect there as well. I put it into dual band mode and turned off 2.4Ghz on #2. Distance between the 2 is about 15-18 feet in a straight line, through a wall, a floor and some metal ducting for the AC/Furnace.
Baseline & Results: Had the 2 C7s connected via a Cat5e cable that runs along the climate ducting. When I tested it out with the free 'LAN Test' from CNet, transferring 500MB test files would come in around 700mbps (about 84MB/s). Plenty fast for home use. Reconnected the cables so that the Homeserver was wired directly to #1 and the PC Tower was connected to #2 (The Wireless Bridge). Running the tests from the Server side (WHS 2011) came back about 200mbps; a little south of what I had hoped. I ran it that way through the weekend. Watched a couple of HD movies with no problems so I was starting to soften and think about keeping the setup anyway.
Well, my daughter got sick so I came home early from work today and while she was napping I took special note of the location of #2 directly below the metal ducting. Decided to make a lateral move of about 3 feet so that the ducting wasn't direct line of sight to #1 and re ran the test, again from the server side. BANG!:
Test 1 - 364mbps Write/345mpbs Read (300MB transfer)
Test 2 - 275mbps/426mbps (300MB transfer)
Test 3 - 358mbps/415mbps (500MB transfer)
Test 4 - 346mbps/448mbps (500MB transfer)
Transferred a 4GB .iso file from the PC Tower to the server and got the same consistent results of about 46-48MB/s as reported by Windows 7. Transferred in less than 2 minutes.
I am convinced. I will be pulling the Cat5e off the floor and off the ducting. I can't help but think that I'm a little crazy since it is taking me $270 to replace a $10 cable at half the speed, but looks count and I'm tired of looking at that Cat5 cable along the edge of my floor.
on December 30, 2014
The TP-Link Archer C7 is an AC1750 class router with gigabit ports and dual band Wi-Fi that supports up to 450mbps on wireless-N and 1300mbps on wireless-AC. Here's my take on it:
The box and connectors:
As far as consumer routers go, this is a pretty standard router that offers a couple of nice extras that generally are not found on most routers. On the back panel, the Archer C7 has four gigabit Ethernet ports, and the accompanying WAN port is also gigabit making it suitable for use with the newer class of modems. It also houses a pair of USB 2.0 ports for attaching NAS devices and/or setting up a print server directly off the router without a host computer. The router also supports IPv4 and IPv6 protocols making it a bit future proof (I use this term loosely - as we all know, standards have a way of changing overnight). The unit also uses a standard AC adapter/wall wart combination for power. The connectors for the 5gHz connectors are also located on the rear of the box, as is the WPS reset button.
Last but not least, this router has a dedicated wireless on/off switch in the back AND a power on/off button - seeing as most routers do not have these - this is very cool. These two switches allow the user to disable wireless, and/or perform a cold reboot of the router independently - without having to unplug it from the AC jack (to say nothing of this reducing greatly the risk of the box getting fried by constantly plugging and unplugging this jack). Kudos to TP-Link for this.
On the front panel it's a pretty typical modern display for a router (with the cutesy icon shaped LED indicators of course). From left to right, you get: a power on indicator, a sun shaped icon displaying the overall status of the router, two separate on/off/active indicators for each wireless band, four indicators for the Ethernet ports, internet activity/active light, and a WPS indicator light. It would have been cool had the Ethernet lights had different colors to indicate 10/100/1000Base-T connections, but this is probably just me wishing to see more information at-a-glance.
The router has a very shiny black finish - which looks fantastic, but you better keep a microfiber cloth handy if you expect it to always look that way - the surface is a big-time fingerprint and dust magnet. You could almost say that one of the Archer C7's sub functions is to tell you how polluted the air in your house is.
Setting up this router is fairly easy to do when it comes to instant gratification. Generally the quick setup (which can be done either through the web interface or included mini-CD) allows one to quickly set up all the rudimentary stuff to get up and running quickly. This will only address the most basic settings, such as setting up the wireless network's SSID's, channels, and security keys. This method of setup is probably the best method for novices.
Tweaking this router to your personal tastes and preferences takes a good bit more patience - they are only available from the web interface - and the interface itself, while fairly well laid out is a bit cumbersome to say the least, and requires a lot of clicks to get to certain aspects of the router's configuration parameters. Changes made that require reboots also take a bit longer than the average router. The bottom line is, while this router can be fully configured, it's just not a very fast process - put aside a good block of time to do the modifications you want to do to the router.
The first thing I personally would recommend doing before you start diving into the heavier tweaking is to upgrade the firmware. This device will not retain any settings that were modified once the firmware is upgraded, so it can result in a lot of lost time and effort if you don't do this beforehand. Also it is very important to upgrade to the latest version of the firmware as several critical issues in the original firmware have been fixed.
I am happy to report that once configured to my liking, the Archer C7 has been rock solid - it retains its settings and hasn't required a single reboot and/or dropped connections anywhere. This makes the time ones puts into customizing very well worth the effort.
Security settings are pretty standard for a consumer router. You get the hardware NAT firewall along with the SPI firewall. You also get DoS protection with assignable flood filters. There is VPN tunnel management and also ALG filters for the NAT firewall. Local and remote management of the router is also fully programmable to make accessibility to the web based interface as tight or as loose as you want.
Other setup features involve the USB ports, as you can set them up for an FTP server, shared storage, print server and also a media server for the entire network. There are also a slew of other features, such as port triggering, setting up a DMZ or virtual server, and so forth.
I kind of made wireless the focal point of this review because the simple fact is, that's about 90% of the reason anyone gets a wireless router of any kind. Let's take a look:
The TP-Link Archer C7 comes with a pretty comprehensive wireless feature set. You get dual transmitters on 2.4gHz and 5gHz, which can be run simultaneously or in one band only. There is also a hardware master wireless on/off switch on the back of the router, which saves one the trouble of having to login to the router to disable the wireless system. Each band is completely programmable and independent of the other, and both bands also offer a guest network - effectively giving the ability to offer four wireless networks (all with unique SSID's) in a single box. Both bands also offer WDS bridging for expanding coverage, and I suspect there is also a way to manually bridge as well. Each band has three antennas - the 5gHz antennas are external and detachable, and the 2.4gHz antennas are fixed internal.
Both bands also offer WPS connectivity, wireless MAC filtering, WEP (up to 152bit keys) WPA/WPA2 PSK Personal and WPA/WPA2 Enterprise (both WPA/2 modes offer TKIP and AES encryption). You also get three power setting levels (low, medium and high), the ability to adjust the beacon interval, RTS threshold, fragmentation threshold and the DTIM interval. You also get the ability to enable and disable WMM and short GI. Lastly there is also the option for enabling/disabling AP isolation. Guest networks are fully controllable in accessibility, wireless security and bandwidth limiting.
The Archer C7 is compatible with wireless A, B, G, N and AC. 2.4 gHz offers wireless B, G and N while 5gHz offers A, N and AC. The flexibility of assigning bands left a little to be desired as the router does NOT offer single modes (IE - Wireless-N only, etc). Rather, each band offers two sets of mixed modes. 2.4gHz offers B/G and B/G/N mixed modes while 5gHz offers A/N and A/N/AC mixed modes. This is probably my biggest gripe about the Archer C7.
I would have liked to have had the options of being able to run single modes in both transmitters, at the very least have the options of wireless N only and wireless AC only. Now while the slower wireless G adapter in my older Toshiba laptop did not seem to effect the connection speeds/transfer rates of my N devices on the 2.4gHz band, the simple fact is the potential for devices with slower modes to have an adverse effect on overall performance of the devices with the faster modes is a real possibility.
I should say this is at best a small turnoff in the face of an otherwise solid set of wireless features, but what makes this a bit more of a head scratcher is the fact that according to the manuals, single modes seemed to have been available in the version 1 models of the Archer C7, but were done away with in the V2 and V3 models. So why did they decide to get rid of the single modes in the later versions of the Archer C7? TP-Link: PLEASE bring the single modes back.
Channel width setting options also were a little on the lean side. The 2.4gHz transmitter's options were standard with B/G mode fixed to 20mHz (as it should be) and the options of Auto, 20 and 40mHz on B/G/N mode. The 5gHz transmitter curiously offers NO options for channel width at all. The only choices present in the 5gHz transmitter are either choosing a channel manually or setting it to auto. I am presuming that the channel width is auto in the firmware (or could it possibly be fixed to a certain width?) - I personally would have preferred being able to either set it to Auto or a fixed width of my preference. Perhaps this can be addressed in the next firmware update.
Wireless Performance Testing
My house is not a large house, but also does not have an open floor plan. Wireless signal strength has always been a problem on the far side of my house because I have lots of walls to deal with, and I have to hook up a main router on the other side of the house. My testing conditions therefore are as such that the truth definitely will come out about the abilities of any wireless transmitter I use. For the long distance testing my router was located in the front right corner of my house and the clients were located in the left rear corner of the house - the maximum possible distance between clients and router inside my house. For close testing my clients were located in the next room over from the router with a bathroom directly between the two rooms.
Please note that the speeds listed here are the connection speeds and not the actual throughput rate. But in regard to transfer rate, one can generally get a quick ballpark estimate of the actual maximum possible data transfer rate by taking the wireless connection speed and dividing that number by 2. I focused more on the actual signal strength, because in reality the connection speed AND actual data transfer rate is 100% dependant on the signal strength of the wireless connection. Simply put, the weaker the signal, the slower the data transfer rates are going to be.
The devices I used in this test were a Google Nexus-7 2013 android tablet, LG LS970 android phone, a Toshiba Satellite 5825 laptop with the original built in wireless 2.4gHz B/G adapter and a newer Dell laptop with an i5 processor and 300N built in dual band wireless adapter. Finally, with the aforementioned Toshiba laptop, I tested TP-Link's T4U AC1200 dual band USB adapter which sports connection specs up to 300mbps on wireless-N and 867mbps on wireless-AC.
2.4gHz - mixed B/G/N @ 11 feet through 2 walls:
Client Mode Average Speed Signal Strength
Nexus 7 2013 N 72mbps -40dBm
LG LS970 N 65mbps -51dBm
Dell laptop N 144mbps excellent
Toshiba Laptop G 54mbps excellent
Toshiba w/T4U N 144mbps excellent
2.4gHz - mixed B/G/N @ 40 feet through 4 walls:
Client Mode Average Speed Signal Strength
Nexus 7 2013 N 26-65mbps (usually 52mbps) -57dBm
LG LS970 N 12-24mbps (usually 24mbps) -65dBm
Dell laptop N 40-144mbps (usually 72mbps) good
Toshiba Laptop G 48-54mbps (usually 54mbps) good
Toshiba w/T4U N 58-130mbps (usually 86mbps) very good
5gHz mixed mode A/N/AC @ 11 feet through 2 walls:
Client Mode Average Speed Signal Strength
Nexus 7 2013 N 150mbps -41dBm
LG LS970 N 150mbps -51dBm
Dell laptop N 300mbps excellent
Toshiba w/T4U N 300mbps excellent
Toshiba w/T4U AC 867mbps excellent
5gHz mixed mode A/N/AC @ 40 feet through 4 walls:
Client Mode Average Speed Signal Strength
Nexus 7 2013 N 40-90mbps (usually 60mbps) -69dBm
LG LS970 N 12mbps -72dBm
Dell laptop N 60-180mbps (usually 120mbps) fair
Toshiba w/T4U N 120-180mbps (usually 150mbps) good to very good
Toshiba w/T4U AC 260-325mbps (usually 325mbps) good to very good
It is clearly obvious that 2.4gHz is a stellar performer on this router - and offered signals around 10-15dBm stronger than my old Linksys WRT150N. Signal strength and connection speeds were very respectable on the far side of the house. On 5gHz, the transmit range is very similar to that of the WRT150N's range on 2.4gHz - that is to say - the 5 gHz range on the Archer C7 is ok, but you possibly will need a repeater or adapter with a strong transmitter to get reliable full coverage and/or good performance in either a large house or a house that does not have an open floor plan. In my case the performance of 5gHz was significantly degraded on the far side of the house, but it did stay connected without a repeater. The
lone exception to this was TP-Link's own T4U adapter, which clearly has the strongest transmitter of all the test devices in 5gHz - as it maintained a good to very good 5gHz connection on the far side of the house.
Also clearly obvious (and what a lot of people seem to either forget or not realize) is the fact that the useable range is just as dependant on the transmitters of the clients connecting to the router as the router itself - not all device's radios are created equal, and the performance chart I compiled reflects this. I also have seen a lot of people complain about the performance on certain devices not passing certain speeds, but one needs to take into account that the maximum speed is limited to the transmitter with the slowest rate. The only real way to test a wireless-N signal at the advertised 450mbps (and wireless-AC at 1300mbps) rate on the Archer C7 is to connect it with an adapter that can run at those speeds. I didn't have a 450N/1300AC device to test it with; however I can report that the T4U adapter on the Toshiba laptop ran at its maximum possible connection speeds of 300N/867AC when close enough to the router. On a side note, the performance I got from my Toshiba laptop's built-in wireless-G adapter on 2.4gHz was virtually the maximum 54mbps throughout my entire house.
In both the case of 2.4gHz and 5gHz, I only experienced dropped connections when the signal strength was extremely weak (below -85dB), which is really as it should be. Otherwise all my devices stayed connected without any interruptions.
The power output settings left me a bit befuddled. I was expecting to see very noticeable differences between the power settings at greater distances, but the actual differences were so minimal that it left me to wonder if this feature is really effectively enabled in the Archer C7. Whether I had the setting to low, medium or high, there was very little difference between the actual signal strength - even at beyond 50 feet through several walls, and in some cases there was no difference at all. It would seem the only real world usefulness this feature MIGHT have is to run at router at a lower power setting when you have devices in close proximity to the router as to avoid the overshoot effect, where too strong of a signal becomes just as problematic with connectivity as a very weak signal would.
This router has been very solid in performance, the gigabit ports are what I would expect to see performance wise with either CAT 5e or CAT 6 cables attached. It hasn't lost connection with my modem or randomly rebooted itself, or created any kind of bottlenecks. I stream video from a Roku player through 2.4gHz wireless N and it has performed very well when it comes to buffering and picture quality - there have been no buffering interruptions of any kind. All of my other wireless devices stay connected flawlessly and the router itself plays nice with all my older routers (that are being used as switches in my network) and all of my wired computers. The Magic jack I'm running sounds crystal clear and never gets any skippy audio during phone calls. In all I have 18 devices patched into the network (about a 60/40 split between wired and wireless) and everything works perfectly without the router even breaking a sweat (it runs very cool).
Price. For the average street price of around $75-$95 it is very hard to go wrong with this - you get a lot of functionality and reliability.
Good Wi-Fi transmitters and antennas, particularly on 2.4gHz.
Gigabit ports and very stable gigabit connections.
Simple to get going quickly out of the box and lots of options for tweaking your network to run the way you want it to.
Good security features.
Detachable 5gHz antennas
Runs very cool.
Very cumbersome interface, and slow restart times, making this a bit of a pain to set up.
Only runs in mixed wireless modes - no options for running one mode only (eg - Wireless-N only).
No options for channel width in 5gHz.
Power level settings seem to have little or no effect on the actual power output.
The glassy smooth casing is a total dust magnet.
The TP-Link Archer C7 replaced a Linksys WRT150N that had given me 7 years of solid service as a main router, and I only replaced it because it was getting a bit long in the tooth and I wanted to go to a gigabit network. The wireless considerations generally have always been an afterthought in my own home network simply because I prefer wired networks for several reasons - most notably for the easy connectivity, faster performance overall and less security concerns. However with the age of smart phones, tablets, video streaming boxes and other devices, wireless capabilities have become more of a concern lately, and it won't be long before we start seeing AC as a common feature in these types of devices, which my old router doesn't support. As my new main router, the Archer C7 hasn't disappointed me.
I generally buy networking equipment using what I call the power curve theory. That is to say - get the most features and reliability for a reasonable price, and if possible, buck the concept of cutting edge. The Archer C7 certainly fits this description - you get a lot of router for a very pedestrian price - so much so that stepping up to its own more expensive siblings (Archer C8 and C9) or more feature laden models from other brands is really unnecessary for most people.
The bottom line is - while not quite on the cutting edge of technology, one gets a very capable router with a few inevitable shortcomings and curiosities (mostly in the wireless feature set). The good news is the Archer C7's overall performance far overshadows the aforementioned shortcomings. It's generally pretty easy to get set up out of the box within a short period of time for instant gratification, and has a much deeper (and more cumbersome) set of parameters in the admin menu - one can do a lot with this router just as long as you have the patience for it. Once it is set up the way you want it however, this device runs rock solid and is very reliable - I have had mine in for six weeks and have not had to do a single reset, and it passed the first power outage with flying colors as the settings did not get corrupted or forgotten.