What’s in the Box?
The Archer C5400 ships in the traditional green TP-LINK packaging seen across the company’s networking range. As you expect, the outer carton shouts loudly about headline speeds and other associated features.
Inside, you’ll find the router neatly packaged with a power cable, Ethernet cable and – yikes – an external power brick. Not the end of the world, but potentially a headache for those that like to keep their networking equipment tidy. You’ll also find a short booklet with technical support details and a quick start guide. The latter is friendly, visual and well designed – TP-LINK’s packaging has come a long way since the first models we reviewed several years ago.
The router itself is surprisingly heavy for a router and while it’s reasonably large (WDH: 9.1 X 9.1 X 1.7 in. (230 X 230 X 43mm)) it retains a low profile – there’s a lot of kit packed in there (or some rocks). The sound of eight antennas wrapped around a router sounds like an aesthetic car crash waiting to happen. However, TP-LINK’s designers have actually worked miracles to shape the Archer C5400’s appearance. A chamfered base hides much of the routers lower bulk, while the fixed rectangular antennas are symmetrically aligned in a 360 degree array. And, as a Brit, I’ll tell you that the top of the device features a Union Jack, but you shouldn’t believe me. But the recessed channels do allow the antennas to fold flat.
The front of the C5400 features the usual array of small LED indicators, which are tough to understand (courtesy of tiny labels) unless you’re standing close to the device. You’ll also find physical buttons to the right that toggle wireless operation, initiate a WPS connection and disable the LED indicators should you wish the C5400 to cease blinking. The front positioning of these buttons is convenient and welcome and they don’t spoil the overall look of the router.
Around the back, you’ll find a well labelled array of ports. It’s the standard line-up for a modern router, including a recessed reset button, USB 2.0 port, a blue Internet (WAN) port, four bright yellow Gigabit LAN ports, USB 3.0 port, a physical power button and power input. The colour coding of the WAN and LAN ports is a neat design touch to help novices get up and running without cabling confusion. Bravo.
Getting Up and Running
TP-LINK has one of the clearest router management console designs around and their Quick Setup wizard should have you online in a couple of shakes. Simply select your timezone, Internet Connection Type, Wireless Settings (SSIDs and passwords for the three bands) and the router will run a test to ensure all is well. You can, of course, opt to dig straight into the configuration manually should you wish.
While the design is fresh and modern, navigation remains familiar and friendly with the router’s array of tweakables sorted into distinct Basic and Advanced menus. The visual opening to the Basic console presents a network map, clearly showing connection status for your Internet and Wi-Fi services. At a glance, you can see the number of wired and wireless clients connected as well as the status of any USB peripherals.
You navigate through Basic Settings via the left sidebar, with large buttons permitting access to Internet setup, Wireless Settings, USB Connections – which includes a neatly integrated 3G/4G modem feature alongside the usual hard disk and print server, Parental Controls and Guest Networks. The latter option supports three individual SSIDs, one each for the 2.4 GHz and twin 5 GHz bands. TP-LINK also includes handy controls that can block guests accessing your network devices as well as other guest-owned devices. They’re blocked by default, but access can be granted with a simple tick in the box. There are routers out there that offer a greater number of guest networks, but how many do you really need?
Parental Control settings are reasonably good – better than you commonly find on many routers. In the Basic menu, you only have the option to configure block/permit Internet access at the device level for specific times of the day, which is something. However, pop across to the Advanced menu and you’ll find whitelist/blacklist options for content keywords. It’s a little strange of TP-LINK to spilt Parental Control features across the two menus like this though.I’d also like to see filters included for specific applications and services, as well as targeted URLs.
The Advanced menu is more extensive, as you’d expect, but retains a similar level of clarity as the Basic menu – that’s a tough challenge given the wealth of configuration options available. I particularly liked the integrated help option, which pops up a modal overlay on top of the console with a short description of each feature. Handy for network novices or those needing a quick brush-up on their jargon.
More advanced home network admins will enjoy the granularity on offer here. It’s the usual array of goodies, but dig around and you’ll find a couple of innovations too – a performance panel shows the router’s current CPU Load and Memory Usage, for example. Advanced QoS controls allow bandwidth management at the device, application and port level too, with an online database keeping the list of pre-configured applications fresh.
What I really like about the Archer C5400 is that while it’s clear a device targeted at early adopters and experts, the management console is attractive, clear and friendly throughout. Clearly, a lot of effort has gone into creating the simplest user experience possible, and it’s a real asset. You’ll find very similar features on competitor routers (both AC3200 and AC5400 tri-band models) – indeed, having recently reviewed a TRENDnet AC3200 model, the similarity is spooky – but the TP-LINK interface design positively differentiates. Throughout my testing of the router, menu performance was responsive and snappy to load.
Add bonuses such as an onboard OpenVPN Server, FTP Server and, of course, Broadcom’s Smart Connect channel balancing feature and you have a comprehensive package of features, beautifully presented.