TP-Link AC1900 Archer C9 Review

Rating:

Many aspects of computing technology have become more consumer-friendly and easier to understand over the last couple decades. But networking, whether it be WiFi or Ethernet, can still be confusing, even to those with plenty of experience. If you’re in the market for a new router, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by terms like 802.11ac, 2.4 and 5GHz, multiple streams, beam forming, etc. If you’re not clear on what all the terms mean, you could buy more router than you really need—especially when most broadband Internet speeds are much slower than the bandwidth available from modern high-end routers.

In general, a more powerful router in many cases won’t make your Internet any faster, especially if your current router was purchased in the last few years. High-end routers are best suited to serious gamers, those who have several people accessing the Internet at the same time, or those who frequently stream locally stored HD video files between devices on the same network.

TP-Link doesn’t have the same recognition in North America as, say, Linksys, Netgear, or Belkin. But the Chinese company is the global leader in the wireless networking market, according to research firm IDC. The TP-Link Archer C9 AC1900 is a high-end router with plenty of attractive features for power users, and a reasonably price compared to other high-end options.

But unless you have several people and/or WiFi connected devices, or you’re often streaming HD content from one device to another within your home, you won’t really make use of everything this device has to offer and can save some money by opting for a more mid-range router like Asus’ RT-AC56U.

And while basic setup was simple and the router worked well as a standard router, TP-Link’s documentation and configuration menus aren’t as clear or polished as with other routers I’ve tested. This could lead to complications if you have to tweak settings—especially if you’re a networking novice.

Specifically, while the option to use a router as a repeater or range extender on an existing WiFi network is common and easy to execute with most modern routers, that option isn’t available in the Archer 9’s basic setup. I was able to dig into the jargon-heavy advanced settings that should have made this feature possible, but I was never able to get the Archer C9 to work this way in my existing WiFi network.

So while the TP-Link Archer C9 is a good choice for networking experts looking for a reasonably priced high-end router, those who want the simplest setup process (and any later tweaking) should probably look instead to options like Apple’s AirPort Extreme, or a similar device from D-Link or Asus. Those companies generally, in my experience, have clearer and more thorough instructions and setting menus.

Archer C9 Front

High-End Features

The Archer C9 operates both on the traditional 2.4GHz band, as well as the 5GHz band. If you live in an urban area or your home is loaded with electronics (or both), the 2.4GHz band can be crowded with interference from other devices, which can degrade performance.

The 5GHz band is generally much less cluttered with competing signals, so you’ll get less interference. 5GHz is also the band that the new 802.11ac standard (which supplants the previous-generation 802.11n) operates on. So you you’ll generally see faster transfers on 5GHz, but that is dependent on your Internet speeds, unless you’re transferring locally stored files on your network.

The newer 5GHz band, though, generally has somewhat shorter range. So it’s not ideal in every situation. Plus, you’ll need a relatively recent device that supports 802.11ac in order to access the 5GHz band. The Archer C9 helpfully delivers the best of both wireless worlds. During setup, it’s simple to create both a 2.4GHz connection for your older devices, as well as a 5GHz connection for newer devices that are close enough to maintain a steady signal.

Unlike the Asus RT-AC56U, the Archer C9 also has removable, positional antennas to maximize coverage. Removable antennas also allow you to buy bigger antennas or signal boosters to increase your WiFi range. In my small apartment I had no problem maintaining a connection on either band. But three rooms away from the router, the 5GHz signal was reduced to about 50 percent of full strength.

This is similar to what I saw with the Asus router. But signal strength can be deceptive. With the TP-Link Archer C9, despite having a weaker signal, I was still able to receive the full speed of my cable Internet connection (roughly 30Mbps up and 6Mbps down) from several rooms away using my Samsung Note 4 smartphone. In fact, despite a weak signal that intermittently cut out, I was even able to maintain nearly a full-speed Internet connection in the house across the street from the router.

The router’s ability to deliver a speedy signal, even from a fairly long distance is likely at least partly due to a feature calledbeamforming, which automatically directs the router’s WiFi signals toward your device. While the feature certainly seems to work, it’s not limited to TP-Link’s devices. Most recent high-end AC-equipped routers have some form of this feature. And the WiFi device that you’re using to connect to the router will have to support 802.11ac wireless and beamforming to take advantage of this feature as well.

Design and Ports

Archer C9 Profile

The TP-Link Archer C9’s glossy white frame isn’t technically much larger than many other routers. But the permanently attached silver-plastic stand means the router is meant to stand upright, rather than lying flat. So it needs about 9x21cm of desk or shelf space. And the trio of antennas make the router stand about 30cm tall. This is definitely not a compact router, but it’s still smaller than router’s like Netgear’s Nighthawk C6 or D-link’s Ultra Performance Series.

Archer C9 Top

The Archer C9 isn’t lacking in the port department, but it doesn’t stand out much for a high-end router, either. The back houses a standard Ethernet Internet jack and four Gigabit Ethernet ports. Also on the back is a WPS button that also resets the router if held down for a few seconds. Next to the AC adapter jack is a rocker switch to turn the power off. This is nicer than having to unplug the router to troubleshoot when something goes wrong. But in the two weeks or so that I tested the router, I never had to do so.

Archer C9 Rear

There’s an older 2.0 USB port on the back, and a faster USB 3.0 port on the right side. If you have something fast, like an external RAID array with multiple drives, or a portable solid-state drive that you want plugged directly into the network, you’ll want to plug that into the faster 3.0 port. The 2.0 port will suffice just fine for a bus-powered USB hard drive or a printer. Also on the right edge is a button for switching off the WiFi. It would be nice if the WPS button were here as well, as reaching around to the back of the router is generally more difficult.

Setup

TPLink Quick Setup

No router setup is simple if you don’t have at least a basic grasp of wired and wireless networking. But I had no issues setting up the TP-Link Archer A9 as a standalone router. Following the instructions in the paper Quick Install Guide, I plugged in the router’s power cable, plugged the included Ethernet cable into the blue Ethernet port on the router, connected the other end of the cable into my PC, then plugged the cable modem in to a power outlet.

Then, on my desktop, I fired up the router’s Web interface by launching a browser and typing 192.168.0.1 into the address bar. Note: You can access the router’s settings on a tablet or smartphone, but it’s generally best to use a desktop or laptop that’s connected via an Ethernet cable for the initial setup.

The tabbed, browser-based TP-Link router interface is fairly intuitive as far as the Quick Setup and Basic tabs go. The former had me breeze through a few simple settings and I was up and running. The latter shows a graphical tree of connected devices, including printers, USB devices, and wired and wireless clients.

Setup

I was able to set up a 2.4GHz wireless network from the main page, choose my security settings and a password. From there, I copied and pasted those same settings to the second 5GHz network. Asus’s routers let you do this with one simple click, which saves a few seconds.

If basic settings are all you need with your router, then what’s here is fine. But the Advanced tab is loaded with features that aren’t as clearly explained and laid out as with other routers I’ve used (specifically Asus’ RT-AC56U). As noted up top, there’s no clear option for setting the router as a extender or repeater within an existing WiFi network.

Many other routers have menus that walk you through this process, but I couldn’t find one here. Instead, I had to dig into the advanced settings and make sure my SSID and security settings matched my main router, switch the TP-Link router to a different channel, and tweak IP addresses to make sure my devices should work together without interfering with each other. Even after doing all that and spending a couple hours troubleshooting, I was never able to get the Archer C9 to connect to my Asus router and transmit its WiFi signal.

Also, some of the English in the menus could use some work. Expect to run into a few things like this, which I saw during basic setup: “We are detecting. Please waiting for a moment.”

TP-Link also has a mobile app, called Tether, which you can use to configure or tweak the router. But I didn’t use it at first, because when I initially downloaded and ran it, the Archer C9 wasn’t listed as one of the compatible devices. After setup, I ran it and logged in anyway. The app works and is laid out fairly well, but focuses on very basic features and monitoring.

Testing
Once everything was up and running, I did some quick speed tests. One room away from the router, in a room with a large TV, two computers, and several tablets, smartphones, and laptops, Internet speeds on the 2.4GHz band were nearly 30Mbps down and 6Mbps up (using my Samsung Note 4 smartphone). On the newer 5GHz band, my speed was essentially the same—unsurprising given the top speed of my WiFi is about the same.

Even four rooms away from the router, speeds on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands remained nearly the same, occasionally dipping a megabit or two here or there. It wasn’t until I went down a flight of stairs in my apartment building and moved six rooms (horizontally) from the TP-Link router that I saw speed dips in the 2.4GHz band. This far away, speeds on that band were sporadic, sometimes getting close to 10MBps and sometimes testing much lower. The 5GHz band, despite showing a much weaker signal than the 2.4GHz band, surprisingly still delivered Internet speeds less than 1Mbps slower than what I get directly when connected via Ethernet to my main router.

It’s clear that the TP-Link Archer C9’s external antennas and beamforming tech deliver very good range and speed—provided you’re connecting via a device that can take advantage of AC wireless and beamforming. I also got much better range and a more reliable signal with this router than when I tested the Asus RT-AC56U, which again isn’t such a surprise given that router costs less and is a mid-range model. The other key advantage of the Archer C9 is that its trio of antennas are removable, so you can add larger, higher-gain antennas if you want even more range and a better signal.

Conclusion

Users who want a router with long range, with dual-band operation for the best performance from both older and brand-new devices, should consider the TP-Link Archer C9, especially if you may consider adding more powerful antennas down the road. But if you live in a small apartment, or even a mid-size house, and are primarily interested in a router that maximizes Internet speeds, you can get a similar experience with a lower-end router—unless you happen to be one of the few people to have extremely fast fiber-based Internet.

I also had no problems whatsoever with the router dropping connections or needing to be rebooted. But I did only test it for a couple of weeks, so I can’t speak for its reliability long-term.

The only real issue I have with the Archer C9 is in its documentation and menus. They’re fine for basic setup, especially if you’ve set up a few WiFi routers before and are more or less comfortable with networking tech. But if you’re looking for a router that does a good job of walking you through the more advanced settings, and if in particular you might want to use your new router as a range extender or repeater, then there are better options out there. Most well-known router brands that I’ve dealt with recently do a better job of explaining features, either in documentation or within the router menus themselves.

This product is perfect for:
Experienced users who need a router with good range and lots of bandwidth for moving massive files or streaming HD video content between devices in their home.

Key things to be aware of:
Documentation and setup menus aren’t as clear or robust as you’ll find with some other companies. So network novices may want to look for alternatives.

Star Rating: 3.5/5
TP-Link’s high-end router delivers plenty of features and good performance for a high-end router. But sub-par documentation mean unless you’re a true expert, you may not be able to take full advantage of everything this router has to offer.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
TP-Link AC1900 Archer C9
Author Rating
4
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Matt Safford

Matt Safford spends his days testing gadgets and writing about technology. He has written for Popular Science, Smithsonian, Consumer Reports, and Wired.

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