The TP-Link Archer C7 is an AC1750 class router with gigabit ports and dual band Wi-Fi that supports up to 450mbps on wireless-N and 1300mbps on wireless-AC. Here's my take on it:
The box and connectors:
As far as consumer routers go, this is a pretty standard router that offers a couple of nice extras that generally are not found on most routers.
On the back panel, the Archer C7 has four gigabit Ethernet ports, and the accompanying WAN port is also gigabit making it suitable for use with the newer class of modems.
It also houses a pair of USB 2.0 ports for attaching NAS devices and/or setting up a print server directly off the router without a host computer.
The router also supports IPv4 and IPv6 protocols making it a bit future proof (I use this term loosely - as we all know, standards have a way of changing overnight).
The unit also uses a standard AC adapter/wall wart combination for power. The connectors for the 5gHz connectors are also located on the rear of the box, as is the WPS reset button.
Last but not least, this router has a dedicated wireless on/off switch in the back AND a power on/off button - seeing as most routers do not have these - this is very cool.
These two switches allow the user to disable wireless, and/or perform a cold reboot of the router independently - without having to unplug it from the AC jack (to say nothing of this reducing greatly the risk of the box getting fried by constantly plugging and unplugging this jack). Kudos to TP-Link for this.
On the front panel it's a pretty typical modern display for a router (with the cutesy icon shaped LED indicators of course).
From left to right, you get: a power on indicator, a sun shaped icon displaying the overall status of the router, two separate on/off/active indicators for each wireless band, four indicators for the Ethernet ports, internet activity/active light, and a WPS indicator light.
It would have been cool had the Ethernet lights had different colors to indicate 10/100/1000Base-T connections, but this is probably just me wishing to see more information at-a-glance.
The router has a very shiny black finish - which looks fantastic, but you better keep a microfiber cloth handy if you expect it to always look that way - the surface is a big-time fingerprint and dust magnet.
You could almost say that one of the Archer C7's sub functions is to tell you how polluted the air in your house is.
Setting up this router is fairly easy to do when it comes to instant gratification.
Generally the quick setup (which can be done either through the web interface or included mini-CD) allows one to quickly set up all the rudimentary stuff to get up and running quickly.
This will only address the most basic settings, such as setting up the wireless network's SSID's, channels, and security keys. This method of setup is probably the best method for novices.
Tweaking this router to your personal tastes and preferences takes a good bit more patience - they are only available from the web interface - and the interface itself, while fairly well laid out is a bit cumbersome to say the least, and requires a lot of clicks to get to certain aspects of the router's configuration parameters.
Changes made that require reboots also take a bit longer than the average router. The bottom line is, while this router can be fully configured, it's just not a very fast process - put aside a good block of time to do the modifications you want to do to the router.
The first thing I personally would recommend doing before you start diving into the heavier tweaking is to upgrade the firmware.
This device will not retain any settings that were modified once the firmware is upgraded, so it can result in a lot of lost time and effort if you don't do this beforehand.
Also it is very important to upgrade to the latest version of the firmware as several critical issues in the original firmware have been fixed.
I am happy to report that once configured to my liking, the Archer C7 has been rock solid - it retains its settings and hasn't required a single reboot and/or dropped connections anywhere. This makes the time ones puts into customizing very well worth the effort.
Security settings are pretty standard for a consumer router. You get the hardware NAT firewall along with the SPI firewall.
You also get DoS protection with assignable flood filters. There is VPN tunnel management and also ALG filters for the NAT firewall.
Local and remote management of the router is also fully programmable to make accessibility to the web based interface as tight or as loose as you want.
Other setup features involve the USB ports, as you can set them up for an FTP server, shared storage, print server and also a media server for the entire network.
There are also a slew of other features, such as port triggering, setting up a DMZ or virtual server, and so forth.
I kind of made wireless the focal point of this review because the simple fact is, that's about 90% of the reason anyone gets a wireless router of any kind. Let's take a look:
The TP-Link Archer C7 comes with a pretty comprehensive wireless feature set. You get dual transmitters on 2.4gHz and 5gHz, which can be run simultaneously or in one band only.
There is also a hardware master wireless on/off switch on the back of the router, which saves one the trouble of having to login to the router to disable the wireless system.
Each band is completely programmable and independent of the other, and both bands also offer a guest network - effectively giving the ability to offer four wireless networks (all with unique SSID's) in a single box.
Both bands also offer WDS bridging for expanding coverage, and I suspect there is also a way to manually bridge as well. Each band has three antennas - the 5gHz antennas are external and detachable, and the 2.4gHz antennas are fixed internal.
Both bands also offer WPS connectivity, wireless MAC filtering, WEP (up to 152bit keys) WPA/WPA2 PSK Personal and WPA/WPA2 Enterprise (both WPA/2 modes offer TKIP and AES encryption).
You also get three power setting levels (low, medium and high), the ability to adjust the beacon interval, RTS threshold, fragmentation threshold and the DTIM interval.
You also get the ability to enable and disable WMM and short GI. Lastly there is also the option for enabling/disabling AP isolation. Guest networks are fully controllable in accessibility, wireless security and bandwidth limiting.
The Archer C7 is compatible with wireless A, B, G, N and AC. 2.4 gHz offers wireless B, G and N while 5gHz offers A, N and AC. The flexibility of assigning bands left a little to be desired as the router does NOT offer single modes (IE - Wireless-N only, etc).
Rather, each band offers two sets of mixed modes. 2.4gHz offers B/G and B/G/N mixed modes while 5gHz offers A/N and A/N/AC mixed modes. This is probably my biggest gripe about the Archer C7.
I would have liked to have had the options of being able to run single modes in both transmitters, at the very least have the options of wireless N only and wireless AC only.
Now while the slower wireless G adapter in my older Toshiba laptop did not seem to effect the connection speeds/transfer rates of my N devices on the 2.4gHz band, the simple fact is the potential for devices with slower modes to have an adverse effect on overall performance of the devices with the faster modes is a real possibility.
I should say this is at best a small turnoff in the face of an otherwise solid set of wireless features, but what makes this a bit more of a head scratcher is the fact that according to the manuals, single modes seemed to have been available in the version 1 models of the Archer C7, but were done away with in the V2 and V3 models.
So why did they decide to get rid of the single modes in the later versions of the Archer C7? TP-Link: PLEASE bring the single modes back.
Channel width setting options also were a little on the lean side. The 2.4gHz transmitter's options were standard with B/G mode fixed to 20mHz (as it should be) and the options of Auto, 20 and 40mHz on B/G/N mode.
The 5gHz transmitter curiously offers NO options for channel width at all. The only choices present in the 5gHz transmitter are either choosing a channel manually or setting it to auto.
I am presuming that the channel width is auto in the firmware (or could it possibly be fixed to a certain width?) - I personally would have preferred being able to either set it to Auto or a fixed width of my preference.
Perhaps this can be addressed in the next firmware update.