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TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7) 802.11ac Router Review

September 28th, 2014 14 comments

With several new Android devices coming with the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi, I decided I should buy a new router with AC1200 class or greater and Gigabit Ethernet support, and with a budget of $100. Xiaomi Mi Wi-Fi Mini router almost matched my requirements, but unfortunately only comes with Fast Ethernet ports. TP-Link Archer C7 selling for $96 Amazon US exactly matched my budget, and outmatched my requirements being an AC1750 router with 5x Gigabit Ethernet ports, and two USB ports. Since Amazon won’t ship to my location and shipping would have gone over budget, I expected to find it locally for a slightly higher price, but it ended up selling for over $200 here, allegedly because of a lifetime guarantee. Finally, I ended up buying TP-Link TL-WDR7500, the Chinese version of Archer C7 with 6 Wi-Fi antennas instead of 3, for $94.32 including shipping on Aliexpress.

I’ll take some pictures of the device, explain options to change the Chinese web interface into English, compare the Wi-Fi range to my existing router (TP-Link), and perform some transfer test using 802.11n and 802.11ac with Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta, and HPH NT-V6 Android media player both supported 802.11ac thanks to AP6335 wireless module.

Unboxing Photos

When I received the package I was surprised how big the parcel was, and it felt massive compared to the size of mini PC packages.

TP-Link_TL-WDR7500_Router_Package

The complete package is in Chinese, so this router is definitely designed for the Chinese market only. Based on the text on the package, it’s indeed an AC1700 router with a throughput up to 1.3Gbps @ 5 GHz, and 450 Mbps @ 2.4 Ghz.

Chinese_TP-Link_Archer_C7_Package_Content
The router itself is quite big, and the 6 antennas (3 for 2.4Ghz, 3 for 5Ghz) explain why you’d need such as large package. As expected all documents are in Chinese.

TL-DWR7500 Router and Accessories.

TL-DWR7500 Router and Accessories.

The router comes with a 2m-meter blue Ethernet cable, a 12V/1A power supply, a user’s manual in Chinese, a warranty card, and another small paper listing where traces of lead, mercury, cadmium… may be found.

TP-Link TL-WDR7500 Router (Click to Enlarge)

TP-Link TL-WDR7500 Router (Click to Enlarge)

TP-Link TP-WDR7500 router looks pretty neat once it’s installed. You’ll get a bunch of LEDS on the front panel (left to right): Power, System/Status, 2.4 GHz connection, 5GHz connection, 4x LEDs for LAN ports, 1x LED for WAN port, and WPS. On the back panel, we’ll find a power jack, a power button, two USB 2.0 ports with LED for mass storage (FTP, Samba…), a WAN port, four LAN ports, and a WPS/Reset button.

Bottom of Enclosure (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of Enclosure (Click to Enlarge)

On the case’s bottom you’ll get a sticker with loin details, S/N, and MAC address. You’ll also notice two holes for wall-mounting the router.

TP-Link TL-WDR7500 / Archer C7 Review

Setting up the router

So I’ve installed my new router close to my old one to perform range and performance testing.

TP-LINK TL-WR940N_Archer_C7TP-Link TL-WR940N is wall-mounted, beer can optimized, and comes with 3 external antennas for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi (no 5Ghz support). This is actually equivalent to TL-WDR7500 router with 3 external antennas for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, and three more with 5GHz.

Once everything is connected, you’ll need to access the router with Wi-Fi or Ethernet using the router IP address (192.168.1.1), and login credentials (admin/admin). Provide the computer/device you use to connect to the router support dual band Wi-Fi, you should see two new ESSID: TP-LINK_5GHz_F9EB0E and TP-LINK_2.4GHz_F9EB0E for respectively 5 and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi.

TP-Link_Archer_C7_ChineseFor most people, using the Chinese interface may be a problem. But luckily there are several options:

  • Use TP-Link Archer C7 simulator side-by-side the Chinese router.
  • Use Greasemonkey add-ons in Firefox with TPlink-WDR7500-UITranslate script
  • Download and flash Archer C7 firmware. There are several version of Archer C7 and TL-WDR7500, so you’d have to make sure you install the right, or you may brick your router.
  • Install OpenWRT. Depending on the model you bought, only 2.4 GHz may be supported, and the latest version of the PCB may not be supported yet. According to the router interface. mine is “WDR7500 v2″, the earlier model. I haven’t open it, so I can’t confirm. You can find picture of the PCB on OpenWRT. The wireless SoC used should either be Qualcomm QCA9880-AR1A (v1) or QCA9880-BR4A (v2).

Since I use Firefox as my main browser, I just installed the script as it’s fast and easy, and it automatically translates the left menu, and the most important settings.

TP-Link_TL-WDR7500_English

However, anything below DHCP server has not been translated. So it’s enough for basic settings, but for more access settings you’ll probably want to find a better option. The script limits itself so some IP ranges, and when I changed the default subnet to 192.168.2.x, I had to edit the script within Firefox to add 192.168.2.0. It’s very easy to do.

TP-Link TL-WDR7500 Signal Strength and Range

I haven’t kept the default ESSID in the router. My older TP-Link router is CNX-TRANLATION (2.4 Ghz), and I’ve configure TL-WDR7500 with CNX-SOFTWARE (2.4 GHz), and CNX-SOFTWARE_5G (5Ghz). In this part of the review, I just walked about with my phone (ThL W200) checking the signal strength in various locations with Wifi analyzer.

My Office

My Office – 1 wall about 6 meters from routers

Wife

Wife’s Office – 2 walls, about 18 meters from routers

Garden

Garden – 1 wall about 14 meters from routers

Street

Street – 1 wall about 50 meters from router

It’s quite clear both router have about the same range, and signal strength at various locations. The only small difference is that on the street, CNX-TRANSLATION (TL-WR940N) had a tendency to come and go, whereas CNX-SOFTWARE (TL-WDR7500) signal appeared to be more stable.

I was unable to test 5GHz 802.11n/ac range, since I don’t own any mobile devices supporting it.

TP-Link TL-WDR7500 Throughput Testing

Finding out a router range is interesting, but the reason to buy a 802.11ac is not really about improved range, but rather faster throughput. So I’ll put two Android TV boxes to test, transferring a 278 MB from SAMBA to their internal eMMC and vice-versa using 802.11n (2.4 GHz) with both TL-WR940N and TL-WDR7500 routers, and 802.11ac with the new router. I used ES File Explorer for this purpose, repeating the tests three times, and averaged the results.

The first device under test was Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta Android mini PC with Rockchip RK3288 processor and an AP6335 module with an external antenna.

Tronsmart_Orion_R28_Meta_Wi-Fi

Throughput in MB/s

OK, so that’s quite disappointing as 802.11ac is much slower than 802.11n… The 5GHz connection was initially set with a speed of 433Mbps (as reported in Android Settings), but it fell to 117 Mbps after a while. Orion R28 Meta has an external Wi-Fi antenna, but for some reasons the signal is not “Excellent” but only “Fair”, almost like if there’s a bad contact with the external antenna.

Let’s move to HPH NT-V6, another media player based on Rockchip RK3288 processor with AP6335 module, to see if performance is any better.

HPH_NT-V6_Wi-Fi

Throughput in MB/s

Performance in underwhelming again. The 802.11ac is connected at 292 Mbps, and the results are a bit better than Orion R28, but it’s not the real picture as I discarded one of the transfer which dropped to around 10 KB/s over a 17 Mbps connection. You may wonder why there’s no result with 802.11n using TL-WDR7500. The reason is simple: two of the three transfer were very slow and even stalled at times, so I canceled them. The transfer that went through took 3 minutes 50 seconds with an average of 1.20 MB/s… The connection was more stable with my older router @ 1.92 MB/s, a very average score among Android mini PCs, as the best device

The best device I’ve tested can reach 3.84 MB/s on average with 802.11n, so it’s clear disappointing that I haven’t been able to go faster with any of the devices I’ve tested over 802.11ac. Having said that it’s very difficult to draw a conclusion regards the performance of either TL-WDR7500 router, and the two Android TV boxes because I don’t have a reference platform that’s known to work properly that could help pinpoint the bottleneck in these tests. But at least I’ve learned that 802.11ac does not always beats 802.11n.

USB Mass Storage and Gigabit Ethernet

To complete my review, I connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to one of the USB 2.0 port on the back of the router to test both USB transfer speed, and Gigabit Ethernet. Normally I get about 30 MB/s transfer rate if my drive is connected to USB 2.0, but I only got 7.3 MB/s over a SAMBA connection, and quickly realized the LED on my Gigabit Ethernet switch (D-Link DGS-1005A) indicated a Fast Ethernet connection with the router… The Cat5e cable between the router and the switch is is 15 meter long, so I thought maybe it could be an issue. I brought my router closer to try several cables and I could get a Gigabit connection with some, but not all. Again, I can’t be sure 100% of the reason for this issue, but based on experience I’d tend to think the problem is related to with Gigabit switch, which has been picky with other devices too.

Gigabit Ethernet has been introduced in 1999, so I was naively thinking after 15 years it should just work with no problem, but actual testing showed it was not the case…

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$27 TP-LINK TL-MR10U is an Hackable OpenWRT Wi-Fi Router with a Power Bank

September 29th, 2013 3 comments

TP-Link WR703N is a cheap 802.11 b/g/n router (you can now get it for about $20) that can easily be hacked to run openWRT and for example, act as an home automation gateway, printer server and more.  But if you need a battery powered router for your application, TP-Link TL-MR10U,  based on similar hardware as TL-703WR, should be a better match as it comes with a 2600 mAh battery, and costs just about $27 on DealExtreme.

Here are the specifications of the devTPLink_TL-MR10Uice:

  • CPU – Atheros AR9331 CPU @ 400Mhz
  • System Memory – 32MB RAM
  • Storage – 4 MB Flash
  • Connectivity:
    • 10/100 Mbit Ethernet port
    • 802.11 b/g/n 150Mbps
    • 3G support via external USB dongle
  • USB – USB 2.0 port + micro-USB port for power
  • Misc – Serial port access
  • Dimensions – 91mm x 43mm x 25.85mm(L x W x H)

The device comes with a microUSB cable and a user’s manual in English and Chinese.

TP-Link_TL_MR10U_PCB

TL-MR10U Internals (Click to Enlarge)

Instructions to install openWRT, perform hardware mods (including upgrading to 64MB RAM), and more are available on OpenWRT MR10U page. You can also visit TP-Link TL-MR10U page for further details about the product in Chinese.

If you need more battery capacity, another model called TL-MR12U comes with twice as much battery capacity (5200 mAh), but at $42 it does not seem as attractive price-wise.

Arnd who shared this product in G+ mini PC community, also mentioned that it could be used as a SqueezeBox slave when combined with a USB speaker, and after installing squeezeslave-alsa_1.2-r365AA_ar71xx.ipk.

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Categories: Hardware, Linux Tags: Linux, hack, mips, openwrt, router, tplink, wifi

TP-Link TPmini “Android-on-TV” Box Features 2MP Webcam

April 29th, 2013 No comments

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve started to see more and more Android media player with a camera that can be apposed on top of your TV such as the Archos TV Connect. Let’s call them “Android-on-TV” boxes / media players. Several Chinese manufacturers are also selling this type of device, but none of them have brand recognition in the West. TP-Link, however, is relatively well known for its cheap routers, and the company has introduced the TPmini powered by a dual core processor with 1GB RAM, 4GB flash, and a 2.0MP camera.

TP-LInk_TPminiHere are the specs of the device:

  • SoC – Dual core ARM Cortex-A9 processor @ 1.6 GHz + Quad core ARM Mali 400 GPU (They did not say, but it looks like Rockchip RK3066 to me)
  • System Memory – 1GB RAM
  • Storage – 4GB NAND Flash + microSD slot (Up to 32GB)
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.3
  • Connectivity:
    • 10/100M Ethernet
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Camera – 2.0 MPixel
  • Power Supply – 12V/1A

The device runs Android 4.1, supports DLNA, and the company provides a remote apps to control the box from an Android smartphone or tablet.

Liliputing reports TP-Link TPmini will soon be available in China for about $56.

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TP-Link WR703N – $23 Hackable openWRT Wi-Fi 802.11N Router

July 19th, 2012 17 comments

TP-Link WR703N is a tiny 802.11N 150 Mbps Wi-Fi router smaller than a credit card (5.7 x 5.7 cm) and 1.8 cm thick based on Atheros AR7240 processor with 4 MB flash and 32 MB RAM. It costs just above $20 US and can be hacked with openWRT. It features one USB host connector that allows you to connect USB devices (USB flash drive, printer…) to it.

Low cost openWRT router

TP-Link TL-WR703N

TL-WR703N Specifications:

  • Atheros AR7240 CPU @ 400Mhz (MIPS24k core)
  • Atheros AR9331 Chipset (integrated wireless)
  • 10/100 Mbit Ethernet port
  • 802.11 b/g/n 150Mbps
  • 3G support via external USB dongle
  • 4 MB flash memory
  • 32 MB RAM
  • USB 2.0 port
  • micro-USB port for power
  • Dimension – 5.7 x 5.7 x 1.8 cm

All you need is a USB to TLL board to access the serial console, open the box to access the serial pins (TP_IN and TP_OUT) and follow the instructions on openWRT website to convert it into a Linux router.

You can do all sort of things with this board such as an home automation system, a printer server (there may be limits to the document size due to the lack of memory), a sensors gateway and more. It is powered via USB and only consumes 0.5W on average.

The router is available for $23 including shipping on Dealextreme, Aliexpress and eBay, and comes with a power supply and a micro USB to USB cable. You can get further information on the device on TP-Link website (in Chinese).

Via DangerousPrototypes

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Categories: Hardware, Linux Tags: Linux, hack, mips, openwrt, router, tplink, wifi

Can You Really Boost your Wifi Router Signal with a Beer Can?

September 15th, 2011 9 comments

I’ve recently come across an interesting and amusing story entitled “Boost Your WiFi Signal Using Only a Beer Can”  on discovery channel website. I’ve said to myself that I’ve got to try with my WiFi router.

The interesting part is that my WiFi router (TP-LINK TL-WR940N) has 3 antennas, so I had to diligently drink three beer cans (LEO brand,  the best local beer in Thailand). Once this was done, I had all that I needed, besides a pair of scissors, a utility knife and some double faced tape.

TP-LINK TL-WR940N - LEO Beer

The Wifi Router and the Beer Cans

The next step was to clean the beer cans, let them dry and cut the bottom and top of the beer cans as described on discover channel blog post. There is no dotted red line on LEO beer cans, but there are yellow horizontal lines that make this can perfect for the job. After less than 5 minutes of hard work, I had my first “beer can antenna” as shown below (and strongly considered drinking another one as a reward for my work).

LEO Beer cut for Wifi Router

Beer Can "Wifi Antenna"

So I could try it on the router and realized it would not be practical to use 3 beer cans on this router, and that only two would do. Sorry, my bad. But I think I’ll get over it.

I then cut my second beer can WiFi antenna and installed then on my router by fixing them with double faced tape.

TPLink TL-WR940N with LEO Beer

Wifi Router with 2 Beer Can Antennas

As you can see, this looks absolutely gorgeous, but the router is wall-mounted in the living room and unfortunately not everybody appreciates arts in the house, so it may not stay that way very long.

So this was done, but my “work” was not complete as I wanted to measure the Wi-Fi signal strength improvement or if there was actually any improvement at all.

I chose 5 strategic locations in and around the house to measure signals:

  • Location 1 aka the “sala”  (Sala (ศาลา) means Pavilion in Thai).
  • Location 2 aka the bedroom.
  • Location 3 aka the wife’s office.
  • Location 4 aka the neighbor’s house.
  • Location 5  aka my “playroom”.

I did some measurement with iwconfig in Ubuntu before adding the beer can to the router with the command:

iwconfig | grep “Signal level”

Here are the initial measurements:

  • Location 1: -50 dBm (Quality: 60/70)
  • Location 2: -41 dBm (Quality: 69/70)
  • Location 3: -58 dBm (Quality: 52/70)
  • Location 4: -83 dBm (Quality: 25/70)
  • Location 5: -32 dBm (Quality: 70/70)

I did some measurements with the beer as shown above, but there was some improvements in some locations but results were not that great, probably because the signal of the middle antenna was blocked by the beer cans, so I adjusted the middle antenna to be horizontal and made the beer cans vertical so that it looks that way:

TL-WR940N Router with Beer Can Antenna

Wifi Router with Beer Can Antennas (Vertical Position).

The beer cans make the signal directional so the signal would be likely to gain strength where the can are pointed to and lose in the other direction. I pointed the left can (on the picture) towards my wife office (location 3) and the right can towards my neighbor’s house (location 4) since I’m such a lovely bloke. Location 5 is between the router and location 3.

Here are the measurements with the beer-can improved-wifi-router:

  • Location 1: -50 dBm (Quality: 60/70) – Difference: 0 dBm.
  • Location 2: -50dBm (Quality: 60/70) – Difference: -9 dBm.
  • Location 3: -53 dBm (Quality: 57/70) – Difference: +5 dBm.
  • Location 4: -77 dBm (Quality: 30/70) – Difference: +6 dBm.
  • Location 5: -30 dBm (Quality: 70/70) – Difference: +2 dBm.

So WiFI signal strenght can be improved with a beer can. But this should only be used, if you have specific areas (or directions) where the signal should be made stronger as other place will lose signal strength.

 

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Categories: Testing Tags: beer, tplink, wifi