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TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router Reviewed

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Introduction

AC1750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router
At a glance
ProductTP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router   [Website]
SummaryFirst QCA based AC1750 Class router, with Gigabit ports.
Pros• Top-ranked 5 GHz range
• Gigabit wire-speed routing
• Up and downlink bandwidth limiting
• Guest network bandwidth controls
Cons• 2.4 GHz performance a bit short on range and peak throughput
• Can have low throughput with Broadcom AC clients

Typical Price: $96  Compare Prices  Check Amazon

I bemoaned NETGEAR's use of 10/100 ports on its R6100; the first Qualcomm Atheros (QCA) based draft 11ac router to hit the SmallNetBuilder test chamber. So when I saw both TP-LINK and D-Link had fully Gigabit-equipped QCA-based routers close to launch, I got in line for my samples.

I'll preface this review by saying we discovered wireless performance problems with both TP-LINK's Archer C7 and D-Link's DGL-5500 that we reported back to them. And both companies have new firmware in the works to straighten things out. But since both products are on the shelves waiting for you to open your wallet, both are fair game for review.

TP-LINK's Archer C7 might be mistaken for its N750 class TL-WDR4300 sibling, which is the top of the company's N router line. The black high-gloss plastic exterior starts to collect fingerprints immediately after you peel off its protective film, giving it a well-worn look almost immediately.

Antenna-upgraders will be happy to see that the three 5 dBi external dipole antennas are attached via RP-SMA connectors for easy upgrading. But their joy may be reduced when they discover that the external antennas are 5 GHz only. The three 2.4 GHz antennas are ensconced discretely inside the router. You can peruse the callout diagrams below to get the 411 on the lights and ports.

TP-LINK Archer C7 front and rear panel callouts

TP-LINK Archer C7 front and rear panel callouts

As noted earlier, all Ethernet ports are Gigabit. The two USB ports are 2.0 only, however. TP-LINK has thoughtfully included a wireless on/off switch for folks who like the extra security that comes from shutting wireless completely off when you don't need it.

Inside

I was able to easily pop the C7's hood to take the photo below, which clearly shows its QCA based design. No heatsinks were removed to take this photo. Unlike most Broadcom-based AC router designs, this one apparently doesn't need them. The three bent-metal 2.4 GHz antennas are clearly visible in the photo.

TP-LINK Archer C7 board

TP-LINK Archer C7 board

The C7's key components are summarized in Table 1. Component-wise, the C7 sticks very close to QCA's QCA9005AP 802.11ac reference design. Note that the Archer C7 is the only QCA based AC1750 class router available to date. D-Link's DGL-5500 is only AC1300 class, substituting a QCA9882 2x2 802.11ac radio on the 5 GHz side.

  TP-Link Archer C7
CPU QCA9558 dual-band, 3-stream 802.11n SoC
Switch Atheros AR8327
RAM 128 MB Winbond W9751G6JB DDR2 (x2)
Flash 8 MB Winbond W25Q64FV
2.4 GHz Radio In QCA9558
- Unidentified 2.4 GHz power amp (x3)
5 GHz radio - QCA9880 3x3 802.11ac radio
- SiGE 5005L 5 GHz power amp (x3)
Table 1: Component summary

Another key difference between the two is that the D-Link includes QCA's StreamBoost intelligent QoS that is based on technology acquired in Qualcomm's Bigfoot Networks purchase. The C7 does not include StreamBoost, opting instead for simple bandwidth-based, but bi-directional QoS.




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Linksys EA6500 Wireless Retest

User reviews

Average user rating from: 2 user(s)

NOTE! Please post product reviews from actual experience only.
Questions, review comments and opinions about products not based on actual use will not be published.

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Overall: 
 
3.5 Features :
 
4.0 Performance :
 
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3.5
 
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Firmware issues - avoid until fixed

Overall rating: 
 
2.7
Features:
 
4.0
Performance:
 
2.0
Reliability:
 
2.0
Reviewed by Mike B
January 16, 2014
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I really wanted to like this router, but unfortunately I ended up returning it.

I bought this router so I could move everything in my house to the 5Ghz network and get off the congested 2.4Ghz band. I have a lot of Apple devices in my house. 4 iPads, 3 iPhones, a couple of MacBooks and my work laptop. None of them would connect on the 5Ghz network to this router.

The Good: 2.4Ghz performance was really good in my environment. No issues with it at all. Wired connections were fast.

The Bad: There's a pretty well documented issue with this router and Broadcom wireless chipsets. They just do not connect on the 5Ghz network with WPA2-AES turned on. Unfortunately almost everything Apple makes uses a Broadcom chip and my Dell Latitude notebook with an Intel 6200AGN card would not connect as well. I contacted TP-Link and got a beta firmware which did not fix the issue. I spent, in my opinion way too much time messing with drivers and flashing firmware to justify not buying something else. At that point I boxed it up and sent it back.

I really hope TP-Link sorts out the issues. It's a nice looking router with good hardware at a really good price. I even explored 3rd party firmware for it, but due to the QCA9880v1 chip, it's unlikely to ever have well supported 3rd party firmware. There is an Open-WRT build, but the AC part of the wireless doesn't work as the driver for this particular chip is not included in the ath9k or ath10k linux driver.

I just can't recommend someone go out and spend 100 dollars of their hard earned money on this right now. If AC is not important to you, get a highly rated N900 router. If AC is important spend a little more for a better experience. Personally with as many Apple devices I have I'm just going to get an Airport Extreme and call it a day.

 

A little better than the review..... and a little worse. At $119 it's great anyway

Overall rating: 
 
4.3
Features:
 
4.0
Performance:
 
4.0
Reliability:
 
5.0
Reviewed by Brett Smith
November 12, 2013
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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 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. Wired transfers on the gigabit network seem to be limited only by the HDDs not on the server since I was able to achieve upwards of 140MB/s between these Seagates when they were in separate boxes (they'll easily clear 160MB/s continuous with bursts over 200MB/s on their own). 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). After doing the survey to identify the 5Ghz network, the bridge was reporting -43dbi. 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.

 
 

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