Wi-Fi is now ubiquitous, but performance never quite lives up to expectations. Poor throughput, interference from neighbours and dead spots around the home, all mean that wired connections are still the best choice, when practical. TP-Link’s new TL-WR2543ND router claims to address some of these problems, by implementing the next step in the evolution of the 802.11n wireless standard – offering link speeds of up to 450Mbps.
How it works
In the 802.11n standard, independent data streams of 150Mbps are used to improve overall throughput and reliability. Each data stream requires a separate transmit or receive antenna, where the performance of a connection is determined by the device, with the lowest number of antennas. The TL-WR2543ND is a three antenna, with a three data stream (3×3) design, which can link to a suitable client device (that is, another 3×3 adapter) at speeds of up to 450Mbps. 3×3 routers are gradually becoming more commonplace (for example, the Belkin Play N750 DB we reviewed), but most of these only allow 450Mbps speeds on the 5GHz radio band.
The TL-WR2543ND is able to deliver 450Mbps on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but as it’s a single-radio design, it can’t run on both frequencies simultaneously. And of course, you will need a 3×3 adapter in the client, for optimum performance. These the likes of the Intel’s Ultimate Wi-Fi Link 5300AGN and Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 adapters (used in many Centrino laptops) are the commonest 3×3 adapters. Be careful in which ones you chose, as some implementations only use two antennas. One of the main advantages of using three antennas is that it improves range in difficult conditions.
Easy configuration and setup
The router itself has a plain but functional design, with external antennas at the rear. At the front are small green status lights for the four Gigabit LAN ports, Gigabit WAN port (there’s no ADSL version available), USB2 port and Wi-Fi activity. A setup wizard on the CD makes light work of automatically connecting to your ISP. In our case this failed, then offered to clone the PC’s MAC address, which was exactly what our cable broadband setup required.
Advanced configuration is straightforward via the web admin interface and there are enough options to keep most users happy; including MAC-based parental controls, bandwidth control, dynamic DNS and the ability to configure it as a WDS bridge. The USB port can be used for storage devices (accessed via Samba or FTP), and there’s a UPnP/DLNA streaming media server. Installing a utility on each client PC allows printer sharing, although the list of compatible models is still very short. The goodies you don’t get are guest wireless access or 3G USB dongle support.
We had mixed results in our performance testing, highlighting the fact that headline link speeds mean very little when it comes to real throughput. Using our Intel Ultimate Wi-Fi Link 5300AGN adapter and Passmark’s Performance Test, we easily achieved 450Mbps link speeds on both bands. At 2.4GHz, throughput at 1m distance was fairly unimpressive at 41Mbps, but it had excellent range, with 23Mbps at 25m.
Similarly, at 5GHz, near-field performance was an unexciting 51Mbps, but at 25m it reliably managed 22Mbps. This is better than any other 5GHz router we’ve seen to date. For comparison, we also ran the tests with a 2×2 Fritz WLAN adapter, and at 2.4GHz, we managed 55Mbps near-field but a mediocre 14Mbps at 25m. At 5GHz, we saw up to 62Mbps at 1m, but couldn’t connect at 25m.
This highlights the point that for the best range you need 3×3 devices at each end of the link. TP-Link seems to have opted for usable performance at long range, over raw throughput at closer range. This will suit those looking for usable whole-house coverage, but perhaps not those with 100Mbps broadband services.
Contact: 01344 566393
- Outstanding range at 5GHz.
- Single radio; limited printer compatibility.
An easy to use and keenly-priced router with excellent long-range performance, although you’ll need a suitable Wi-Fi adapter to get the maximum benefit. Absolute throughput at close range isn’t exceptional, and those wanting concurrent 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks will need to look elsewhere.