TP-Link Archer C7 AC1750 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router review

If you're looking for an 802.11AC router but aren't terribly concerned with blazing speed, the Archer C7 is not a bad choice, thanks to a reasonable price and very good wireless range.

TP-Link’s Archer C7 AC1750 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router is a no-frills router. The device has a street price of about $100. It probably could sell for about $40 less, except for the fact it does feature the next-generation wireless standard, 802.11AC. If you’re looking for an AC router that offers some of the best 11ac performance around, this router isn’t it. If, however, you’re looking for an AC router but aren’t terribly concerned with blazing speed, the C7 is not a bad choice. It offers good throughput and surprisingly good wireless coverage. The unit lacks quite a few of the extra goodies other vendors are including in some of their 11ac routers, but at half the price of those other routers.

Archer Specs and Design
The C7 is a fairly large router measuring 9.6 by 6.4 by 1.3 inches. Its housing is shiny, black, and plastic. I’ve grown accustomed to the sleek designs of some of the premium 11ac routers new to the market, and in comparison, the C7 looks a bit cheap.

The device has three detachable 5dBi antennas. They are among the sturdiest antennas of any router I’ve tested. Often, router antennas flop over and tilt, even when firmly attached. The C7′s antennas stay upright because they are quite thick.

The unit has the typical LEDs you find on most routers on the front panel. The rear panel has two USB 2.0 ports, which support printers and external drives. On the back are four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a Gigabit WAN port. Also at the rear are the power switch, a toggle button to turn on and off the wireless radios, the antenna connections, and a WPS/reset button.

Besides the external antennas, the C7 also has three internal antennas. This hardware configuration probably contributed to the good wireless range I found in testing this device. This dual-band router supports up to a theoretical 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1,300 Mbps on 5GHz. There are now 11ac routers on the market that support up to 1,700 Mbps at 5GHz. As I mentioned earlier, these premium routers are also nearly double the price of the C7.

Setup and Feature Set
The router ships with a resource mini disc and a quick-connection guide. The guide instructs users how to physically connect the cables and the modem to the router. Next, it gives a set of instructions that puzzled me; the guide directs a user to insert the disc into a Linux, Mac, or Windows computer and then run the Easy Setup Assistant.

The instructions then state that if you don’t have a disc drive, to see an appendix at the end of the guide. The appendix tells you to wirelessly connect to the pre-configured SSID and go into the Web-based management software to go to a wizard setup.

These instructions seem so backwards. It is far less of a hassle to just connect to the already set-up wireless network (the passphrase is on a sticker at the bottom of the router) and go right into the browser setup, rather than dealing with a disc and software. If for some reason you can’t get to a Web browser, the appendix suggestions should be the alternative option.

In any case, the Web setup is so easy it’s the option to go with. The interface guides you through everything you need to do to get the router up and running, so the Web-based method shouldn’t be a problem for most.

The C7′s interface is utilitarian and entirely text-based, bucking the current trend of graphics-heavy 802.11ac router interfaces. The fact that the user interface is so devoid of images indicates to me that TP-Link is gearing the device to the power user set who don’t need the user-friendliness images deliver.

Additionally, it offers are some advanced features you don’t see in more mainstream consumer routers. One of these features includes configuring IGMP proxy for managing IP multicasting. Another less-common feature is WDS bridging (although I see this feature in more consumer routers than I do IGMP proxy). The C7 also supports WPA2 Enterprise—commonly lacking in consumer routers.

There is a limitation in the wireless settings that I do not like. With most 11ac dual-band routers, you can set the 2.4 and 5GHz bands to operate only at 802.11n. You can’t with the C7. Wireless configuration options are limited to 802.11b/g Mixed mode and 11b/g/n mode at 2.4GHz and 11a/n Mixed and 11a/n/ac modes at 5GHz. If I know all of my wireless devices can support 802.11n, I want the option to set each band in 11n-only mode to leverage the speed gains in my network.

NAS Capability
C7′s NAS functionality is basic. Connected USB drives can be designated as file, FTP, or media servers. The interface also allows you to enable a printer server with a USB printer connected to the router. I set up the media server service in my testing. You can start and stop the service, define an interval of time to scan for media, and add shared folders—all within the interface. C7′s NAS and print services are sufficient but not quite as rich as what Netgear offers with its ReadyShare and ReadyPrint services in routers such as the Nighthawk.

Wireless Performance
The C7 is a router that delivers OK performance–certainly not top the among 11ac routers I’ve tested. It just doesn’t have the hardware specs to equal the top-tier latest routers such as the Linksys EA6900 or the Netgear Nighthawk. However, performance is decent for most tasks the average home user would do on a network: stream a movie from Netflix, check e-mail, VPN to the office, and so on.

A router that has comparable throughput to the C7 is Amped Wireless’ High Power 700 mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi Router. Both devices have similar specs, although the C7 registered slightly slower throughput. For instance, when testing from a wireless client at a distance of 15 feet from each router, Ixia’s IxChariot performance testing software showed the C7 averaging 100 Mbps and the Amped Wireless device averaging 129 with both routers set at the 5GHz band in 802.11n Mixed mode.

At 2.4GHz in 11n Mixed mode, the C7 averaged 100 Mbps—a bit short of the Amped Wireless router’s 122 Mbps. However, the C7 did a tad better in 11ac Mixed mode, averaging 87 Mbps, versus the Amped Wireless’ 78 Mbps.

You can click on the links for the Archer C7′s full test results plotted against those of every other 11ac router we’ve tested:

Click here for C7′s 5GHz throughput comparisons

Click here for C7′s 2.4GHz throughput comparisons

I was more impressed with the C7′s wireless coverage. When testing in the 2.4GHz band, the C7′s throughput slowed by 10 percent as I moved from 5 to 30 feet away. At 5GHz, the throughput dropped only about 8 percent. This is very good; even with very high performing routers I often see drops of 15 percent and more.

Not Mind-Blowing, Not a Clunker
When I was overseas a couple of years ago in Eastern Europe, I noticed that TP-Link had a large presence over there in the network device space. The Archer C7 reminds me of the post-Soviet architecture I saw in that part of the world: Very austere in design and frills, but sufficient in function. The TP-Link Archer C7 AC1750 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router a perfectly fine three-out-of-five-star router: it’s not a choice for those looking for the top 11ac router, but it’s affordable and certainly not a poorly designed piece of hardware. Our most current Editors’ Choice for 11ac routers is the Linksys EA6900 AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Wireless Router.

Specifications
Networking Options 802.11ac draft

Verdict
If you're looking for an 802.11AC router but aren't terribly concerned with blazing speed, the Archer C7 is not a bad choice, thanks to a reasonable price and very good wireless range.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc