The Good: Wallet-friendly; clear, well-detailed USB sharing options; excellent contextual help in software; above-average 2.4 GHz speeds; USB ports support printers; easy setup; advanced features.
The Bad: Poor parental controls; has non-removable stand; some sloppy syntax errors in help online documentation.
Summary: TP-LINK’s Archer C9 AC1900 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router is a reliable 802.11ac router. It’s affordable, has some advanced settings and is easy to set up but it’s average, all-around performance won’t blow you away.
The TP-LINK Archer C9 AC1900 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router($145) is a budget-friendly 802.11ac router that offers better speeds and range than most 802.11n dual-band routers, but is not quite as powerful as other premium, higher-priced 802.11ac routers we’ve tested. If there is one word to sum up the Archer C9 it would be “reliable.”
The Archer C9 supports up to 600 Mbps at the 2.4GHz band and data rates of up to 1300 Mbps at 5GHz. It’s got a 1GHz dual-core processor, a USB 2.0 and a USB 3.0 port for printer and file sharing. The housing is made of shiny, white plastic with blue LEDs that indicate power, WAN, LAN and USB activity. The USB 3.0 port is on the right side of the router along with a Wi-Fi on/off button. The rest of the connection ports are on the back including a power toggle button and push Reset/WPS button.
The router measures 8.7 by 3.4 by 6.6 (HWD). That’s not very large as some other routers we’ve looked at including the D-Link AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Router (DIR-890L) or the Netgear Nighthawk X6 AC3200 Tri-Band WiFi Router (R8000). However, the Archer C9 ships with three detachable antennas. When they are connected, the router is tall—about 12 inches operating upright. The antennas swivel so you can adjust them to transmit the best signal.
It ships with a stand which is not removable. It’s meant to operate vertically, but you can set the router horizontally, although it will sit at a slant. What’s annoying about the fixed stand is that it’s tricky to get Ethernet cables in the ports, especially if you have thick fingers!
Setting up the Archer C9
Setup is simple. The router ships with a Quick Installation Guide which shows how to properly connect the router. It also has a pre-configured SSID and password. Just connect a computer to the wireless network, and open a browser to the IP address of the router (provided in the documentation). Log in with the provided admin account credentials and you are in the management interface.
The management interface opens to a network map which shows you everything connected to the router: wireless and wired clients, anything connected via USB, printers (connected via wired or USB), and also a summarized view of wireless settings: SSIDs, channels and MAC addresses of each radio.
The Archer C9 has all the settings you’d expect in a dual-band router including guest networking (it supports one guest network per radio band), port forwarding, virtual servers, UPnP, SPI firewall, DDNS, IPv6 and VPN passthrough.
This is not an ideal router if you are looking for robust parental controls. It has parental controls but they are not as refined as ones we’ve seen from Linksys or Netgear, both of which use cloud-service based parental controls. The Archer C9’s parental controls are quite laborious to set up and didn’t work well in testing. One machine on the network has to be designated as the “parent” computer, any other computers that are to be set with parental control are set as “child” machines.
Parental Controls, QoS and USB
I set up two computers connected to the router in this manner. I then added which sites I wanted the “child” machine to access. The problem was once I designated a “child”machine, that computer was completely unable to access any websites, even ones I specified as allowed.
Another means of access control includes restricting Internet access based on a schedule, a feature which worked far better than Parental Controls.
A stronger feature is USB settings. The interface for controlling connected storage devices is among the best I’ve seen in a router. The interface shows you how to access a connected USB drive via Windows or FTP. Settings options include sharing all folders on the drive or selected folders. You can also require authentication to access any of the folder shares.
Copying a 1.48 GB video file to a USB flash drive connected to the router was a somewhat slow experience at 7.7 MBps. Copying a file from the drive to laptop was speedier at 22.4 MBps.
The USB ports also support printers. This requires enabling print server in the interface, connecting a printer and installing the TP-Link Printer Controller Utility from TP-Link’s site
There are two methods of enabling QoS (Quality of Service—which helps optimize bandwidth) in the interface. One is with NAT Boost. It is designed to boost bandwidth according to the help within the interface. NAT Boost is enabled by default. We ran a test to see of our Internet speeds was enhanced with NAT Boost on versus off. With NAT Boost off, then the feature Bandwidth Control can be used to optimize data traffic. So which worked better? We tested both features with an Internet speed test and the time to load a Netflix movie:
NAT Boost enabled:
Upload speed = 6.90 Mbps
Download speed = 57.91 Mbps
Netflix movie time to load = 6.5 seconds
NAT Boost disabled:
Upload speed = 5.71 Mbps
Download speed = 58.72 Mbps
Netflix movie time to load = 5.7 seconds
Bandwidth Control QoS enabled:
Upload speed = 5.54 Mbps
Download speed = 62.45 Mbps
Netflix movie time to load = 4 seconds
Testing was conducted over a cable modem connection which has service of 10 Mbps up and 100 Mbps down. As you can see, there isn’t a significant difference among the numbers in all three tests. QoS is more advantageous as more devices connect to a router’s network. In this testing, we only had two laptops connected. NAT Boost enabled gave a sight bump to upload speed. Bandwidth Control negligibly improved download speed and the time to load a Netflix movie.
The Archer C9 also provides users access to more advanced settings such as wireless MAC filtering and tweaks to wireless configurations including Beacon Interval and Transmit Power. Contextual help within the interface gives useful descriptions of each setting although there are several typos and grammar mistakes within the text.