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REVIEW: TP-LINK TL-WDR3600 DUAL BAND ROUTER

Super speedy, but a little buggy

Like many, I’ve not bothered to source my own router since switching to Virgin’s fibre broadband service, even though the Netgear “SuperHub” that’s provided by Virgin is possibly one of the worst equipped routers ever made.  Seriously, that thing is terrible, I live in a one bedroom flat and I still can’t get a WiFi signal in my bedroom even though the router is sat less than 10 metres away in the next room.

I finally broke down and decided to put the SuperHub in modem mode and add my own, third party, router into the mix.  After a bit of research, I settled on the TL-WDR3600 from TP-Link.

TL-WDR3600-UN-V1-02

The TL-WDR3600 is a standalone router and WiFi access point for use with high speed home Internet services like Virgin and BT’s fibre optic broadband services.  In order to use it you’ll need to keep the router provided by your ISP and set it to “modem mode” and then connect it to the WAN port of the WDR3600.  In other words, this router does not contain a built in ADSL modem.  If you’re looking for a router that does include a built in modem then you should take a look at the TD-W8980, which is more or less the same as this mode but includes an ADSL modem.

Design

The WDR3600 certainly looks the part.  It’s larger than you might expect for a wireless-N router, but the overall look of the product is clean cut and sophisticated.  The entire casing is made from high-gloss plastic, with sharp lines on all edges giving it quite a modern look.  Etched into the casing at the front are the status LEDs which show power, WAN connectivity, LAN activity and WiFI activity for both 2.4 and 5GHz bands.

Protruding from the back you’ll find the two detachable WiFi antennae.  These are tapered at the front, rather than being the same thickness all the way along.  Whether or not this is in order to gain a better signal is beyond me, but it certainly helps with the routers overall looks.

TL-WDR3600-UN-V1-05

To the rear of the router you’ll find the mounting points for the antennae, a 1Gbps WAN port (for connecting to your modem), 4 x 1Gbps LAN ports (for connecting your devices), 2 x USB2 ports (for connecting printers and storage devices), as well as a power button, a WiFi on/off button and a WPS button for seamless connection of WiFi devices.

Overall the design is good, and other than being a little larger than you might expect, this router should sit in most living spaces quite happily without drawing too much attention or looking too ugly.  Placement of the LAN and WAN ports is good; I’m fed up with stylish routers being ruined by forcing users to connect their devices to the side of the box.

Specifications

The WR3600 is a pretty well specc’d piece of kit.  You get a single gigabit WAN port for connecting to your providers modem, which is 10 times faster than the typical 10/100 WAN ports.  While most customers currently have services less than 100Mbps, is nice to know that this router will still be useful once domestic services go past this barrier.  You also get four gigabit LAN ports, so should never run in to problems when transferring large files between devices.

As mentioned previously, this router also runs two separate WiFi networks at the same time, one in the traditional 2.4GHz band, and the other in the 5GHz band.  Each WiFi network is capable of speeds up to 300Mbps, so the total WiFi throughput is measured at 600Mbps, though no one device will push past 300Mbps.  Having both networks running at the same time means that you can split your devices between the two and therefore (theoretically) make the most of the available throughput.  While not as quick as the latest 802.11ac wireless standard, you still get pretty decent transfer speeds, in fact it’s good enough to stream full HD video content to mobile devices with no trouble at all.

Full specifications from TP-Link’s website;

HARDWARE FEATURES
INTERFACE4 10/100/1000Mbps LAN Ports
1 10/100/1000Mbps WAN Port
2 USB 2.0 Ports
BUTTONWPS/Reset Button
Wireless On/Off Switch
Power On/Off Button
EXTERNAL POWER SUPPLY12VDC / 1.5A
DIMENSIONS (W X D X H)9.6×6.4×1.3 in.(243×160.6×32.5mm)
ANTENNA2 external detachable dual band antennas (RP-SMA)
WIRELESS FEATURES
WIRELESS STANDARDSIEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
FREQUENCY2.4GHz & 5GHz
SIGNAL RATE5GHz: Up to 300Mbps
2.4GHz: Up to 300Mbps
EIRP<20dBm
RECEPTION SENSITIVITY270M_2.4G: -70dBm
195M_2.4G: -71dBm
130M_2.4G: -74dBm
54M_2.4G: -79dBm
6M_2.4G: -94dBm
270M_5G: -67dBm
195M_5G: -70dBm
130M_5G: -73dBm
54M_5G: -79dBm
6M_5G: -92dBm
WIRELESS FUNCTIONSEnable/Disable Wireless Radio, WDS Bridge, WMM, Wireless Statistics
WIRELESS SECURITY64/128-bit WEP,WPA / WPA2,WPA-PSK/ WPA2-PSK encryption
GUEST NETWORK2.4GHz guest network × 1
5GHz guest network × 1
SOFTWARE FEATURES
WAN TYPEDynamic IP/Static IP/PPPoE/
PPTP (Dual Access)/L2TP (Dual Access)/BigPond
DHCPServer, Client, DHCP Client List,
Address Reservation
QUALITY OF SERVICEWMM, Bandwidth Control
PORT FORWARDINGVirtual Server, Port Triggering, UPnP, DMZ
DYNAMIC DNSDynDns, Comexe, NO-IP
VPN PASS-THROUGHPPTP, L2TP, IPSec
ACCESS CONTROLParental Control, Local Management Control, Host List, Access Schedule, Rule Management
FIREWALL SECURITYDoS, SPI Firewall
IP Address Filter/MAC Address Filter/Domain Filter
IP and MAC Address Binding
USB SHARINGSupport Samba(Storage)/FTP Server/Media Server/Printer Server
MANAGEMENTAccess Control
Local Management
Remote Management
OTHERS
CERTIFICATIONCE, FCC, IC, RoHS
PACKAGE CONTENTSTL-WDR3600
2 detachable dual band antennas
Power supply unit
Resource CD
Quick Installation Guide
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTSMicrosoft® Windows® 98SE, NT, 2000, XP, Vista™ or Windows 7, MAC® OS, NetWare®, UNIX® or Linux.
ENVIRONMENTOperating Temperature: 0℃~40℃ (32℉~104℉)
Storage Temperature: -40℃~70℃ (-40℉~158℉)
Operating Humidity: 10%~90% non-condensing
Storage Humidity: 5%~90% non-condensing

Living with it

Overall I’ve found the TL-WDR3600 to be a massive improvement over my Virgin SuperHub.  Data transfer between wired devices has been just as good as with my original router (the Virgin SuperHub at least has gigabit ports).  Wireless performance is tons better with the 3600 than with the Virgin router, not only in terms of transfer speeds but also in terms of range.  With the Virgin SuperHub I would be lucky to get a signal in my bedroom, but with the 3600 I can pick up both networks from the end of our communal garden, some 25m away from the building.  What’s more, I’ve been able to stream multiple HD videos to various devices using WiFi without any buffering, which simply wasn’t possible with the Virgin router.

It’s not without its shortcoming though; the status LEDs on the WDR3600 can’t be dimmed or turned off, and are dazzling bright in unlit rooms.  This may cause a real problem for anyone who sleeps in the same room as their router, but will also be an annoyance if you were to site it in a living space.  Not many routers do offer dimmable LEDs, but it really does feel like an omission in this case.

The web interface can also be a little tricky to work your way around.  It’s not that anything in particular is missing, it just feels a little clunky in places and I personally found it a little hard to setup things like port forwarding and have it work properly.  In fact, some services that worked well with the Virgin SuperHub just wouldn’t work when the same port forwarding rules were setup on this router.  The good news is that the 3600 is compatible with the DD-WRT open source firmware, which offers heaps more functionality, though users should be aware that installing DD-WRT would invalidate their warranty with TP-Link.  Once I’d setup the same rules with the custom firmware, my systems worked like a dream, so it seems like it’s an issue with TP-Links firmware and not with the router hardware itself.

TL-WDR3600
dd-wrt

If you choose to stick with the stock firmware, then there’s also an official mobile app for iOS and Android which will help you configure and administer the router without having to log onto it using a web browser.

Conclusions

The TL-WDR3600 is a far more capable router than the Virgin SuperHub.  Whether or not it’s more capable than BT’s offering I can’t comment on, but it has impressed me.  To my mind it looks tons better than my previous router, and offers far more features and better connectivity to boot.  If you are brave (or stupid) enough to swap out the firmware for DD-WRT then it becomes an even more capable router, able to handle roles such as a VPN server, file server and more.

That being said, the review score has to be based on the product as it was shipped from the factory, and in this case that means including the 3600′s one weak point; the firmware.  True, most users won’t need to access the web interface after their initial setup.  But for more advanced users who often find themselves opening or closing a port it can become a bit or a chore.

Other than that, this is an excellent mid-range router which should fulfil the needs of most families, providing they don’t live in a mansion or have walls that are made of solid granite.  WiFi coverage is tons better than the Virgin SuperHub, but it’s still not as good as some other (more expensive) routers out there.  What’s more, it’s only certified to the ageing “wireless N” standard, and with more and more devices now sporting the emerging “AC” standard, you may wish to save up your pennies and choose a more expensive router.

TL-WDR3600 Scorre

Author

Matt

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