A no muss, no fuss router.
Editor’s note: IGN is ramping tech and hardware reviews back up, one product category at a time. We’re kicking off with deep dives into some of the best-of-the best headsets, routers, GPUs, Mice, Monitors, and keyboards from the last few years.
TP-Link isn’t as well known as its bigger rivals but the company has earned a solid reputation over the years by creating high quality routers that offer a clean and simple interface. Its routers and branding aren’t flashy, nor is there any gaming attitude or hyperbole, which is refreshing. This particular model is the Archer 3200 (See it on Amazon), which is the company’s high-end tri-band AC router, and sits below its Wave 2 Archer 5400 model, which is $100 more expensive but theoretically offers more bandwidth. The Archer 3200 isn’t a “gaming router” per se, but as one of the popular brands I wanted to take a look at one if its high-end offerings.
Design and Features
I’m not sure which router came out first, but the Archer 3200 certainly bears more than a passing resemblance to the Netgear Nighthawk, though with a bit less girth and attitude. It offers three separate networks; two 1,300Mb/s connections on the 5GHz band and one 600Mb/s connection on the 2.4GHz band, totaling 3,200Mb/s. TP-Link is essentially offering baseline performance on both bands, so there’s no special client-side requirements to achieve these bandwidth settings as long as you have an AC wireless adapter. You can also enable up to three guest networks as well. For the the less tech savvy there’s even a feature called Smart Connect which puts all three networks under one SSID and connects each device to the appropriate network, which I is useful for households with mixed device, or for people that might get confused about which network to use.
Despite being a tri-band router the Archer 3200 is surprisingly small, measuring just eight inches square and 1.5″ tall. It’s all-black and has six antennae that fold out and up on hinges, making them easier to use than ones that screw on in my experience.
Out back the offerings are incredibly traditional, and it has everything most people would need including four Gigabit LAN ports, one USB 2.0 port for printer sharing and one USB 3.0 port for file sharing. Buttons on the front let you easily turn off the LEDs, disable Wi-Fi, or use WPS to connect a client.
As far as gaming features go there aren’t any, though it does offer rudimentary Quality of Service via bandwidth control, but that just lets you limit upstream and downstream bandwidth, so we doubt anyone would use this feature. If you want to add a specific rule and priority for something you have to manually enter the port range, but most people won’t want to hassle with that.
As someone who has used a wide variety of routers from every manufacturer I know from experience most of their admin interfaces haven’t been updated since the 80211.G days, but that’s not the case with TP-Link. as its admin software (both browser and mobile) actually looks modern and minimalist, making it easier to use and understand. Though the options might seem a bit bare to anyone who has opened up a browser admin window for a router from Asus, Netgear and the like, there are plenty of options in the Advanced section if you know what you’re doing,
Generally speaking each menu and sub-window is uncluttered and really easy to figure out. It’s a welcome change from the often-confusing layout I’ve seen many times from other vendors.
It’s mobile app for Android and iOS, which is named Tether, follows the same design philosophy, and is simple and easy to use. I personally rarely had a need to use the mobile app but I suppose it could be useful for changing wifi settings remotely or kicking people off your network.
To test how the Archer 3200 performs, I set up a server/client scenario with Netperf and two Windows 10 PCs, then measured the speed of the TCP connection between them. I measured at both 15 feet with line of sight, and at 30 feet with two walls between the computers. I ran the TCP test at least three times to make sure my results were consistent, and if they weren’t, I re-tested until they were, trying at different times of the day until I was satisfied. Though everyone’s environment is different, and you wouldn’t be able to exactly replicate my results, they are a good way to get a ballpark estimate of how the router performs. I also performed a “real world” 2GB file transfer test at 30 feet as well.
5GHZ Band at 15 feet
5GHZ Band at 30 Feet
The numbers don’t lie, so as you can see the Archer 3200 was the slowest router in my testing, by a decent margins too at both distances. I also tried testing both 5GHz bands to see if one might be faster than the other (hey, networking can get weird sometimes!) but they both offered the same speeds, which is as it should be. Overall the results aren’t terrible, and in the real world when I was using the router at either distance my wireless connection was always fast, so take these results with a grain of salt. On the positive side I never suffered a dropped connection or any other weirdness. The connection was always stable and fast.
2.4GHz Band at 15 Feet
2.4GHz Band at 30 Feet
On the “legacy” 2.4GHz band the Archer 3200 somewhat redeemed itself by coming in second place at 15 feet and third place at 30 feet, so you can be sure people using older devices in your household won’t be getting the shaft with this router.
2GB File Transfer at 30 Feet
To measure its file transfer speed I performed a basic 2GB file copy using a hard drive connected to the router’s USB 3.0 port, and in this test the Archer 3200 turned in a very respectable time of just about 60 seconds. This essentially makes it the second faster router of the ones I’ve tested, and is a little surprising given the router’s humble 1GHz processor. Still, I’ve found over the year’s a router’s specs are rarely a good indicator of file transfer performance, and this testing backs that up once again. There are simply too many variables affecting wireless performance to gauge how a router will perform by glancing at its spec sheet.
The TP-Link AC3200 has an MSRP of $200, but can generally be found for sale at a modest discount. It currently sells for $170-$180, which is almost the cheapest it has ever been sold: