TP-Link Deco M5 Review

The TP-Link Deco M5 was the first WiFi system introduced by the Shenzhen-based business in an attempt to compete with the already-established group of systems, which included the Linksys Velop, the Google WiFi, and the Netgear Orbi, among others. Every major manufacturer wanted to have its product on the show since WiFi systems were and continue to be the trendiest thing in the networking industry (right next to the new 802.11ax standard).

Some of the early options came from Eero, Ubiquiti, Luma, and Open Mesh, but, as was expected, the more popular networking manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and released their own versions of how a WiFi system should look and behave, resulting in a radical increase in options, a slew of interesting features and new technologies being implemented, as well as a significant decrease in pricing.

Given that it arrived late to the party, the Deco M5 now also faced stiff competition from the likes of Google WiFi (which is also a dual-band WiFi system), and it needed to bring something new to the table and improve the WiFi system formula in order to actually become relevant rather than simply offering a lower price tag in order to be taken seriously.

The Google WiFi managed to keep the dual-band configuration, but reduced the price and implemented a very simple and minimalist setup and interface (while also being one of the best on a critical requirement: network stability); the Linksys Velop added a second 5GHz radio band so it could better handle clients and backhaul traffic; the Netgear Orbi also has an additional 5GHz radio band that is dedicated to backhaul traffic, but rejected the mesh approach in favor of a main unit plus satellites.

Design

While the most high-end routers have become increasingly large and flashy with each iteration, WiFi systems have always been discrete and inconspicuous (even back to the early days of Eero and OpenMesh), and the TP-Link Deco M5 has continued in this tradition with its design (along with its younger siblings, the tri-band M9 Plus and the Deco P7 which has implemented powerline support). The Deco M5 router may be purchased as a single unit or as a set of multiple devices (the norm is a three-unit bundle), and each M5 router is similar to the others in terms of functionality (this is the case with every wireless mesh system).

Check Out: Best Wifi Router | Best WiFi Extender | Best Wifi Mesh Network Systems

When you look at the exterior of a single TP-Link Deco M5, you will see that it has taken on an odd shape: it has a seashell fractal pattern on the top with the plastic spiraling downwards and a little LED light in the center. This gadget, like the Google WiFi, is a mystery until you notice the wire sticking out of the back of the M5. If not for the cable, you’d believe it was a bizarre piece of modern art. Sure, the Deco M5 isn’t as visually appealing as Google WiFi, but I like that it’s less invasive than both the Linksys Velop and the Netgear Orbi, being 4.7 x 1.3 inches and weighing 8 ounces instead of the bigger Linksys Velop and Netgear Orbi (slightly larger than Google WiFi, but less tall).

Performance

It is built on the same platform as the Linksys Velop, Google WiFi, and Netgear Orbi routers, albeit it does not make use of all of the wave 2 features. The Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 processor (clocked at 638 MHz), 256 MB of RAM (Nanya NT5CC128M16IP-DI), 32MB of NOR flash memory, and a Qualcomm Atheros QCA8072 switch chipset are all included in the package. Aside from that, the Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chipset is used in the 2.4GHz radio band, and the Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chipset is used in the 5GHz radio band, paired with the Qorvo RFMD RFPA5542 Power Amplifier.

The TP-Link Deco M5 claims to DECORATE your house (or workplace) with WiFi, leaving no corner unattended (like with other WiFi systems, the goal is to eliminate dead zones, which are areas where a single router is unable to communicate with a single router). In order to do this, TP-Link followed in the footsteps of the Velop, Eero (first and second generation), and Google WiFi in using mesh technology. Some of you may already be aware of the fact that mesh technology is not a new concept, and that these domestic-type systems are not the first to make use of this technology. Actually, due of its exorbitantly expensive price, it was more appropriate for corporate use in the first place.

Even though Eero and Open Mesh were among the first to introduce home-suited mesh systems into the public, it was only a matter of time before every other major networking vendor followed following and released their own solutions as the Internet of Things (IoT) continued to gain popularity. This device takes advantage of the unique possibilities offered by a mesh network, and much like with the other humorous (but absolutely clever) phrases used by TP-Link, such as “paint the home with WiFi,” the Deco M5 makes use of what is known as the ART function (Application-Related Technology) (Adaptive Routing Technology). For a better grasp of what ART may accomplish, let us first examine how a mesh network is constructed and operates.

TP-Link also makes use of the aforementioned ART feature, which has the role of connecting your devices to the most advantageous M5 node (node-steering) and also assists in finding the clearest path for your clients (for this to happen, the Deco M5 only has a single SSID and, similarly to every other WiFi system, you cannot choose which clients connect to which band or channel, this entire process is completely automatic). TP-Link also uses the aforementioned ART feature

Certainly, the mesh technique looks to be extremely fascinating and promising, but it is still afflicted by the same difficulties that beset the router + extender combination, which it hasn’t quite managed to resolve yet.

Of course, I’m referring to latency and the amount of traffic on the backhaul network. As the number of nodes (Deco M5 routers) in the system grows, you will notice a decrease in the quality of the connections and the throughput. Any multi-hop system will experience this, and the major approach for keeping things under control is to avoid utilizing too many nodes (three seems to be the sweet spot) and to handle backhaul traffic effectively, which is something that is common in multi-hop systems.

In terms of wireless backhaul, I can’t really say that the TP-Link Deco M5 has done anything more than Eero or Google WiFi (not much can be done with a dual-band router because no manufacturer would keep only one radio and most prefer for devices to be able to travel between at least two bands), but it does support Ethernet backhaul, which is the same as the aforementioned two wireless mesh systems (Eero and Google WiFi). I understand that having a mixed network would essentially undermine the idea of having a WiFi system, but at the very least, you would be able to manage things appropriately.

Specifications

WIRELESS
StandardsWi-Fi 5
IEEE 802.11ac/n/a 5 GHz
IEEE 802.11n/b/g 2.4 GHz
WiFi SpeedsAC1300
5 GHz: 867 Mbps (802.11ac)
2.4 GHz: 400 Mbps (802.11n)
WiFi Range3-5 Bedroom Houses (3-pack)TP-Link Mesh Technology
Optional Ethernet backhaul work together to link Deco units to provide seamless coverage

4× Antennas (Internal)
Multiple antennas form a signal-boosting array to cover more directions and large areas

Beamforming
Concentrates wireless signal strength towards clients to expand WiFi range
WiFi CapacityMediumDual-Band
Distribute devices to different bands for optimal performance

MU-MIMO
Simultaneously communicates with multiple MU-MIMO clients
Working ModesRouter Mode
Access Point Mode
HARDWARE
ProcessorQualcomm 717 MHz Quad-core CPU
Ethernet Ports2× Gigabit Ports

*Per Deco Unit
Supports WAN/LAN auto-sensing
ButtonsReset Button
Power12 V ⎓ 1.2 A
SECURITY
WiFi EncryptionWPA-Personal
WPA2-Personal
Network SecuritySPI Firewall
Access Control

HomeCare™ AntivirusMalicious Site Checker
Port Intrusion Prevention
Infected Device Isolation
Notification and Log
Guest Network1× 5 GHz Guest Network
1× 2.4 GHz Guest Network
SOFTWARE
ProtocolsIPv4
IPv6
Service KitsHomeCare™
Learn More>
Parental ControlsHomeCare™ Parental ControlsCustom Profiles
Content Filtering
URL FIltering
Time Limit
Time Schedule (Bed Time)
Log Insight
Usage Monitor
Monthly Reports
WAN TypesDynamic IP
Static IP
PPPoE
PPTP
L2TP
Quality of ServiceHomeCare™ QoSQoS by Device
QoS by Application
Cloud ServiceOTA Firmware Upgrade
TP-Link ID
DDNS
NAT ForwardingPort Forwarding
UPnP
IPTVIGMP Proxy
IGMP Snooping
Bridge
Tag VLAN
DHCPAddress Reservation
DHCP Client List
Server
DDNSTP-Link
ManagementDeco App
PHYSICAL
Dimensions (W×D×H)4.7 × 4.7 × 1.5 in
(120 × 120 × 38 mm)
Package ContentsDeco M5 (3-pack)
3 Deco M5 Units
1 RJ45 Ethernet Cable
3 Power Adapters
1 Quick Installation Guide

Deco M5 (2-pack)
2 Deco M5 Units
1 RJ45 Ethernet Cable
2 Power Adapters
1 Quick Installation Guide

Deco M5 (1-pack)
1 Deco M5 Unit
1 RJ45 Ethernet Cable
1 Power Adapter
1 Quick Installation Guide
OTHERS
System RequirementsAndroid 4.4 or later
iOS 9.0 or later
CertificationsCE, FCC, IC, NCC, BSMI, IDA, RCM, JPA, JRF, VCCI, KC, RoHS
EnvironmentOperating Temperature: 0℃~40℃ (32℉ ~104℉)
Storage Temperature: -40℃~70℃ (-40℉ ~158℉)
Operating Humidity: 10%~90% non-condensing
Storage Humidity: 5%~90% non-condensing
TEST DATA
WiFi Transmission PowerCE:
<20 dBm (2.4 GHz)
<23 dBm (5 GHz)
FCC:
<30 dBm

Conclusion

It’s an interesting WiFi system that takes advantage of mesh technology, supports MU-MIMO data streaming, has really good wireless performance (even though it’s only dual-band), and has an incredibly simple installation process – over the last two years, TP-Link has improved the wireless performance, especially for single-node installations, and the user interface feels more stable and contains more features. Certain aspects of the system, such as the lack of a web-based interface and the lack of more advanced settings, were disappointing.

I also had mixed feelings about the Trend Micro Antivirus, which is a good concept but will not be included indefinitely, and those who do not purchase the three-unit package will be unable to take advantage of it. Having said that, it is still a decent mesh system, and given its low price, it is absolutely worth considering if you need to provide WiFi coverage for a large house or office space.

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