Wireless AC + ADSL2 modem
Even though the standard hasn’t been ratified yet, the home router market is awash with models boasting 802.11ac wireless capability. This classification of router is technically capable of total WiFi throughput of over 1Gbps, although on closer inspection you’ll find that it’s split between two different wireless networks at 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
Still, those kinds of speeds are impressive in these days of HD movie streaming and home servers, and make a huge difference over older Wireless-N technology which can only go up to a theoretical maximum of 600Mbps.
The Archer D7 from TP-Link operates at the higher end of the Wireless-AC market, with a maximum theoretical throughput of 1750Mbps – nearly 2Gbps. It also has a built in ADSL2 modem, allowing it to be used as the sole networking device on pretty much any UK ISP that uses ADSL2 technology, which is all of them apart from superfast services from BT and Virgin.
It’s kind of an oddity that a device with the latest in WiFi technology would also include an older standard of modem such as ADSL2, but when you think about it there are plenty of people out there who can’t afford, or don’t have access to, superfast broadband. Why should they be stuck with slower WiFi speeds just because the big players haven’t got around to deploying fibre broadband in their areas?
Out of the box
The Archer D7 is certainly a good looking device. It’s sleek and compact to the point where I would have no problem leaving it out in the open in a living room without feeling that it’s too out of place. It does have external aerials for the WiFi, which some people might not appreciate, but to be honest I prefer that over internal aerials that don’t allow me to move them to suit the environment.
The status LEDs for WiFi, ADSL, power and activity are white and very understated, which is excellent for anyone who’s forced to position the router in their living room or bedroom. In low light they’re visible, but not intrusive, which is a perfect balance that I wish more manufacturers would pick up on.
To the rear of the unit you’ll find the RJ11 port for the ADSL connection, as well as four gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting client devices such as PC’s or games consoles. It’s worth noting that the first LAN port can also be used as a WAN port for connecting to a fibre broadband modem, so if you do eventually manage to upgrade to fibre services you won’t necessarily have to change your router.
You’ll also find two USB 2.0 ports, for connecting printers or external storage drives to, as well as buttons for WPS and turning the WiFi off completely.
TP-Link don’t provide any sort of application for setting up the Archer D7, but they do provide a quick start guide that explains how to connect the router up and then how to access the web-based admin pages.
Anyone that’s configured a router in the last 10 years will recognise these steps and will be happily sitting at the configuration page in about 5 minutes. If you’re not sure, the provided instructions are straightforward and do an excellent job of getting you where you need to be.
If you’re with a major ISP then the chances are that it’ll be in the drop-down list provided in the setup wizard, which is excellent for now but I can imagine it getting out of date pretty quickly. Thankfully you can ask the router to try and configure itself automatically either via the ADSL connection or by checking to see what’s connected to the first LAN port.
In my case, my obscure 4G LTE modem was picked up with no problems and the Archer D7 configured itself flawlessly. Quite frankly, if the D7 can configure itself with this connection, which other routers from the likes of D-Link have failed to do, then I’ve no concerns that it would work equally well for almost any UK based ISP.
Living with it
The Archer D7 has a variety of features that are there to make your life easier. Things like port forwarding and static routing are easy to adjust so that you can access various devices and services while away from home.
Bandwidth limiting and parental controls are also well featured, the latter allowing you to restrict access to devices by MAC address depending on the day and time. This is of great benefit if you just can’t get your kids off their games consoles or smartphones.
As with most modern routers, you can also use the two USB ports for connecting a non-wireless printer or mass storage devices such as a thumb drive or hard disk. The printer function worked well with my aging HP LaserJet 4200, but I’d imagine it may be a bit hit and miss depending on which printer you have.
Connecting up a drive for shared mass storage is much easier, connect up any FAT32 or NTFS partitioned USB drive and you’ll be able to setup straightforward file sharing between devices connected to the router, providing they have a user name and password.
Media sharing also works well, with photos, music and video stored on a USB drive being shared to DLNA devices such as games consoles and Smart TVs. Now, if you’re serious about media streaming you probably won’t be relying on your router to handle this for you, but it’s a good option to have in your pocket for casual viewing or when visitors bring their own USB sticks with them.
I only have one other wireless-AC router at my disposal for comparison, and only one wireless-AC USB adapter at my disposal for testing. My testing environment is a large 4 bedroom apartment covering about 18m x 33m on a single floor, with steel-reinforced concrete construction.
Typically I have a problem getting good wireless coverage and this router is no exception. Coverage is slightly worse than that of my D-Link DIR-868l, which is surprising given that the Archer D7 has movable aerials compared to the built in offerings on the D-Link. On the 5GHz band the signal dropped off quite quickly to the point where it’s only really available in rooms adjacent to the router. 2.4GHz performance is slightly better, with only the furthest rooms from the router struggling to get a connection.
However, for the average 3 bed semi with brick and plasterboard construction there shouldn’t be too many issues with coverage on either band. Certainly the 2.4GHz band should stretch well into loft spaces and gardens with no issues.
When it comes to throughput, it’s important to remember that the speed quoted by the manufacturer is nothing but a theoretical maximum, with real world speeds often coming in much lower depending on the environment. Still, in this instance, I got some pretty disappointing speeds on both bands when adjacent to the router. 2.4GHz yielded transfer speeds of around 12MB per second, with 5GHz speeds coming in at around 80MB per second.
Sit in another room and performance understandably drops further. On the other side of a 14″ thick concrete wall I saw speeds drop to about 3.8MB per second on 2.4GHz and around 40MB per second on 5GHz.
Would I buy the Archer D7 for my own use? Probably not. But I would be torn about the decision.
Personally I really like the design of the D7, it’s sleek and cool but retains movable aerials so that you can get the best of your wireless signal. It also has something that’s missing from a lot of home IT equipment – low output status lights. In my previous home I was forced to house the WiFi router in the master bedroom and ended up taping over the status lights as they kept me up at night. There’s no such issue with the D7 which is a massive thumbs up in mmy book.
Unfortunately, those movable aerials don’t seem to make much of a difference when it comes to wireless coverage and speed. As stated, I only have one other AC router and network adapter at my disposal to conduct tests, but it does seem to offer slower speeds and less coverage than the D-Link unit that I reviewed recently.
Should you buy the Archer D7? Possibly, but it depends on your circumstances. If you’re looking for a Wireless AC router to pair with your ADSL Internet connection then it’s probably one of the better solutions out there. The fact that you can also use the first LAN port with other Internet services is a plus as it means you won’t have to swap out your router when it comes time to update. That being said, it just doesn’t have the performance and coverage of other routers out there, so if speed is your primary concern you may wish to look at other alternatives.
If you’re set on a TP-Link router but don’t need the built in ADSL modem then you could also consider the Archer C7, which also offers Wireless-AC speeds but is designed to be used with an existing broadband modem.