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Wireless Reviews

Introduction

N600 Wireless Dual Band Router
At a glance
ProductTP-LINK TL-WDR3500 N600 Wireless Dual Band Router   [Website]
SummaryBargain-priced simultaneous dual-band N600 router based on Atheros chipset with USB drive & printer sharing.
Pros• Low price for an N600 router
• Up and downlink bandwidth limiting
• Upgradeable antennas
• WDS support
Cons• Slow SMB drive sharing
• Poor 5 GHz performance
• No Guest WLAN

Typical Price: $41  Compare Prices  Check Amazon

When I saw the announcement for TP-LINK's TL-WDR3500 sub $50 simultaneous dual-band (N600) router with USB drive and printer sharing, I wondered how good it could be. So let's dive in and see.

The 3500 is housed in a glossy black plastic case designed to sit flat on a table or desk. Or you can wall/ceiling mount it using screw slots on the bottom.

Two horizontal bands on the top cover provide a bit of visual interest and conceal air vents that provide someplace for the air passively drawn into the holes on the bottom cover to escape. The two dual-band antennas are upgradeable because they attach via RP-SMA connectors.

TP-LINK TL-WDR3500 front panel callouts

 

TP-LINK TL-WDR3500 front panel callouts

There are plenty of flashy lights on the front panel as called out in the diagram above. The rear panel ports and switches are shown below. Most notable here are the USB 2.0 port—unusual for this price point—wireless on/off and power on/off switches. The switches are nice, but curious additions. Given the razor-thin margins that this router must be produced with, I'm surprised they were included.

TP-LINK TL-WDR3500 rear panel callouts

TP-LINK TL-WDR3500 rear panel callouts

Note the 10/100 vs. Gigabit WAN and LAN ports. These are a key factor in achieving the lower price.

Inside

The interior photo from the FCC ID site clearly shows that the 3500 is an Atheros-based router. The view is what you see when you first take off the top cover, i.e. no heatsinks or RF shields were removed for the photo.

TP-LINK TL-WDR3500 board

TP-LINK TL-WDR3500 board

The 3500's key components are summarized in Table 1. The basic design is very similar to the 2012 AirPort Express that Apple released earlier this year. I pulled its key component information from the component analysis into the table so that you can compare.

  TP-Link TL-WDR3500 Apple AirPort Express 2012 (MC414LL/A)
CPU Atheros AR9344 2x2 802.11abgn SoC Atheros AR9344 2x2 802.11abgn SoC
Switch In AR9344 In AR9344
RAM 128 MB 64 MB
Flash 8 MB None visible
2.4 GHz Radio In AR9344 In AR9344
5 GHz radio - Atheros AR9582
- SiGE 5005L 5 GHz power amp (x2)
Atheros AR9582
Table 1: Component summary

I don't see the highly-integrated AR9344 that often. In fact, I think this is only my second sighting. I didn't notice any power amplifiers used in the Apple design. But as you'll see shortly, the 3500's 5 GHz power amplifiers didn't seem to help its performance.

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