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Review: TP-Link Archer C5400X

Appearance

This is quite possibly the most ridiculous looking router I’ve ever seen. I work in the enterprise IT field, so my perception of what a router should look like is often askew with what consumers might think is normal.

Even taking into account the current trend of taking high end equipment and making it look like it was designed by an 8 year old (take a look at my Ryzen 3900x build) this thing is outrageously aggressive for a device which is supposed to sit in the heart of the home.

The main part of the unit is a large (the largest I’ve seen in a home router) square block, with an illumintated power/status indicator LED in the centre. The top is a mesh grill which it seems is needed to keep the innards running cool.

To the front are three buttons for WPS, WiFi on/off and status LED on/off. I’d question why the latter is required given the outrageous looks of this thing to begin with. The LED is quite subtle and it seems moot to have the option to turn it off.

To the right hand side or two USB 3.0 ports for connecting thumb drives for shared network storage or older printers to share them across your network. The inclusion is welcome but I can’t help but think that the sort of people interested in a device like this would have alternate arrangements for network storage, but it’s a nice touch none the less.

To the rear of the unit you’ll find the gigabit WAN port for connecting to your internet connection along with eight gigabit ethernet ports for LAN devices. It’s not often you see a home router with more than four ports, and I’m a big fan of the additional ones on this unit. Not least because ports 2 and 3 can be used in link aggregation mode with compatible devices such as some NAS models, allowing for transfer speeds of up to 2 gbps to them.

Finishing off the rear of the device is a latching power switch and the power connector. The switch is large enough to be easily located by touch without moving the router and gives a definitive click ipon being pressed. It’s not something often mentioned in reviews but this implementation is handy enough to be worth a mention.

The eight aerials are push on variants and non-moveable, and come with a striking red accent to them. By using non-moveable aerials there’s a risk that you’re limiting coverage in the vertical plane, important in town houses where accomodation is split across more than two floors.

From all angles this thing is designed to be a sci-fi fans wet dream. Upon first glance my wife thought it was a Star Wars related toy, and it’s easy to see why. The design is decidedly 80’s sci-fi, with huge tower-like aerials protruding from the chassis from all sides.

It’s not just that it has an overly aggressive finish and eight WiFi aerials, it’s that it’s been done so needlessly that the end result is something that will surely polarise a lot of people. Personally I’m not too offended by it, given that even in my mid-thirties I still subscribe to the form over function methodoloy for a lot of the time, but I can honestly see a number of people being turned off by the design and opting for something else instead. I call these people “proper grown-ups”.

It’s worth noting that in terms of specs it’s only marginally different to the non-X variant, the C5400, the main differences being that this version has eight gigabit ethernet ports instead of four, and has two 5GHz WiFi radios instead of one (both have 2.4GHz as well). As the C5400 is a lot more subtle in appearance it may be a better option if you can give up the extra connectivity on offer here.

All that said, the construction quality is excellent and whether you like the design or not it has been executed to a very high standard. Materials feel high quality and the design is awash with changes in texture that must have been difficult for TP-Link to get right.

Specifications

Inside the C5400X are some pretty impressive specifications. You get a 1.8GHz quad core ARM processor (64-bit) and 1GB of RAM. Just let that sync in. A home router which has 1GB of RAM. To put that in perspective my first IBM compatible PC in 1994 had 4MB of RAM, and cheap and cheerful laptop I’m writing this review on only has 2GB.

Processor1.8GHz quad-core CPU and three co-processors
Standards and Protocols802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 802.3ab
Interface8 10/100/1000Mbps LAN Ports
1 10/100/1000Mbps WAN Port
2 USB 3.0 Ports
Button1x Power
1x Wi-Fi On/Off
1x WPS
1x Reset
1x LED On/Off
LED Panel1x LED with multiple state
Weight3.3lb(with antennas)
2.65lb(without antennas)

1.5kg(with antennas)
1.2kg(without antennas)
Dimensions ( W x D x H )11.3 X 11.3X 7.2 in.(with antennas)
9.5X9.5X2.2 in.(without antennas)

288X288X184mm(with antennas)
240.6X240.6X55.4mm(without antennas)
Antenna8 external and detachable antennas
ChipsetMU-MIMO
Beamforming
Airtime Fairness
RangeBoost
NitroQAM
WIRELESS FEATURES
Frequency1000Mbps @ 2.4GHz
2167Mbps @ 5GHz
2167Mbps @ 5GHz

Setup

Installation and setup of the C5400X is as straightforward as any other router. It supports all of the WAN options you would expect and comes ready out-of-the-box to perform an initial setup. In my experience the WAN connection wizard was able to setup my connection to my ISP easily via DHCP once I provided the pppoe details (though I needed a quick call to my ISP to whitelist the connection as their system had registered the change in MAC address and blocked the connection).

The setup process also asks you to configure the DHCP settings and specify how you want the WiFi setup. As mentioned the C5400X supports three seperate WiFi networks; one at 2.4GHz for older devices (or more range) and two seperate 5GHz networks. You might question the purpose of the latter but it does allow for multiple devices to connect and stream data at once without causing a slow down. As an example I connect all “smart” devices like my TV, consoles and IoT devices to one network and leave the other for the actual PCs in the house. That way when I need to transfer a large amount of data from my laptop to my home server I don’t face a slow-down caused by my other devices polling the router.

Web Interface

The first thing that will strike you about the web interface for the C5400X is just how bland it is when compared to the physical look of the thing. In truth it’s the same interface that we’re used to seeing with other TP-Link products, with a teal and white colourscheme.

This seems slightly odd to me. If you are going to spend a large amount of the budget for the device on its appearance, why wouldn’t you spend a little more of the R&D budget re-skinning the software to match the aggressive look of the device? Nothing in the functionality of the interface needs to change, just the look of the thing is slightly…. odd.

That said it’s a very well thought out interface and allows easy access to all the features on offer. One nice touch is that the UI has Basic and Advanced modes which change the options on offer. Those who just want a nice simple way to change basic things like the WiFi SSID or passcode can easily find these options via the basic menu. By comparison the Advanced menu allows you to change other settings like the connectivity mode, the type of encryption and the channel width.

It’s a great way to manage the issue of having so many options available, and saying that there are a lot of options available. It’s difficult to think of anything that TP-Link could have included in a domestic router above what they already had.

You’ll find a VPN server built in, QoS tools to prioritise specific devices or types of traffic, built in antivirus from Trend Micro, access control rules for blocking certain devices, parental controls, smart tools including Alexa integration and IFTTT, virtual servers, port triggering and DMZ tools, the list goes on.

Frankly whatever you want to do with the C5400x will probably be doable without too much leg work. I can’t think of any other features I would want including.

Performance / Living with it

I don’t review enough routers to offer any data-based performance charts for them, and ultimately I bought this router to use at home, not just to review, so I can’t offer you any meaningful data on the performance compared to the alternatives.

What I can honestly say is that this router outperforms my previous two devices (Netgear Nighthawk R7500 and R8000) significantly both in overall range and throughput across the board.

Our home is an apartment across two floors and is of steel-reinforced concrete construction. WiFi just doesn’t penetrate this type of material well, particularly in the 5GHz range. With my previous Nighthawk R8000 I could just about pick up the 2.4GHz signal reliably in the master bedroom only (nada on 5GHz). By comparison the C5400x offers full 2.4 and 5GHz coverage in the master bedroom, with 2.4GHz penetrating into most of the rest of the upstairs rooms. There are still a couple of deadspots in a couple of the upstairs areas, but these are where the signal has to penetrate diagonally through at least three concrete walls.

This is, by far, the best WiFi coverage I have received from a single router device, period. Most of my neighbours in identical properties have resorted to using mesh systems or repeaters to gain similar levels of coverage, which bring with them additional complexities and more things to go wrong.

In terms of reliability the C5400x doesn’t disappoint. I’ve been running this router for over a year now and I’ve only had to power cycle it three or four times in all that time. It has been rock solid in performance, the only issue came when an automated firmware update randomly wiped some settings and I had to setup my WiFi networks again.

It’s not overselling it to say that by comparison to other routers I’ve used or reviewed from Netgear, D-Link and TP-Link this is the most stable networking device I have ever used. It really is phenomenal how stable it is.

Conclusion

As you can probably tell by now, I’m a huge fan of the C5400X. It’s probably the best domestic networking device I’ve ever used, which it should be considering the price of around £340. At that price it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer excellent performance in a (albeit subjective) well designed and built product.

The looks definitely aren’t for everyone, and the web interface just looks bizarre given the design cues, but that aside it’s an incredibly feature rich device and in that sense well worth the money.

If you’re looking for a premium home router with enough features to keep it valid for years to come then the C5400X should definitely make your shortlist.

Author

Matt

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