TP-Link Deco X90 mesh router review: Top-tier speeds at a mid-tier value

The Deco X90 was able to slightly outperform our top mesh router pick, the Deco W7200, but it costs hundreds more.

Updated Feb. 11, 2022 1:15 p.m. PT

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Written by  Ry Crist
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Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
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8.2

TP-Link Deco X90 Wi-Fi 6 mesh router

Like

  • Fast, consistent download speeds
  • Multi-gig Ethernet WAN port supports incoming internet speeds up to 2.5Gbps
  • Easy setup with auto-pairing satellites

Don't like

  • No in-app option for opting out of data collection
  • Only two Ethernet jacks per device
  • Inconsistent upload speeds to older devices

TP-Link already sells our favorite mesh router, the Deco W7200, but the Shenzen-based manufacturer is set to release scores of new products this year. That mix includes the Deco X90, which matches the Deco W7200's two-piece, tri-band build but amps up the top speeds from AX3600 to AX6600. The cost: $450 for the two-piece system, which is just about twice as much as the Deco W7200 sells for.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

That's a significant price jump for the promise of superior performance, and I wanted to see if the X90 could deliver. A few hundred speed tests or so later, and the data shows it does -- but only slightly, at least on the sorts of home networks most of us are living with (where the speeds are described in terms of megabits rather than gigabits per second).

That makes this system a splurge, but not a terrible one if you're just looking for a rock-solid mesh router built to handle your network traffic for the next five years or so. Add in the multi-gig Ethernet WAN port in the back -- something the Deco W7200 lacks -- and you're looking at a better pick for future-proofers eyeing the growing availability of multi-gig internet plans from names like Google Fiber, Ziply Fiber, Comcast Xfinity, Verizon and AT&T. I still think the Deco W7200 is a much better value and a better pick for most, but the Deco X90 offers enough oomph to justify spending up.

Locating local internet providers

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Will it blend?

Mesh routers perform best when they're placed out in the open, so the ideal is that they'll look good enough (or, at least, inoffensive enough) not to tempt you into stashing the things away in a drawer or the back of a closet. With the angled, ridged build of each device giving the system just a bit of style, I'd say that the Deco X90 hits that mark, even if the bulky, all-white plastic is a touch bland.

As for the specs, the X90 is a tri-band AX6600 system, with the "AX" part denoting support for Wi-Fi 6 and the "6600" referring to the combined top speeds of each of the three bands, which is approximately 6,600Mbps. Your traffic will only connect to one bands at a time, so adding them up is a little misleading. The true top wireless speed, at least per TP-Link, is 4,804Mbps (4.8Gbps), which is the top speed of the faster of the two 5GHz bands.

Locating local internet providers

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Each Deco X90 device features a WAN port that supports incoming wired speeds of up to 2.5Gbps.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Much of those speed gains come by way of Wi-Fi 6, which is the newest and speediest generation of Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi 6, the Deco X90 supports new features like 1024 QAM and OFDMA that make for faster, more efficient networking performance. And, with support for 4x4 MU-MIMO enabling up to four simultaneous channels of traffic at up to 160MHz of bandwidth each, the X90 is built to move boatloads of traffic as quickly as it can. About the only thing missing is support for Wi-Fi 6E, which adds in support for next-gen connections over the ultra-wide 6GHz band -- but that would only jack the price up, and most homes won't see much of a performance boost from Wi-Fi 6E at all at this point.

More relevant is the addition of a multi-gig Ethernet WAN port in the back supporting incoming wired speeds as high as 2.5Gbps. That's a nice, forward-looking addition here at a time when internet providers are beginning to expand the thus-far narrow availability of plans with multi-gig upload and download speeds. If, in a couple of years, you decide to upgrade to an internet plan with speeds of 2 gigs, which is something a number of providers are already offering, the X90 will be ready to take full advantage.

I just wish that there was more than one spare Ethernet LAN port per device. Competitors like the AX6000 version of the Netgear Orbi mesh router offer four spare Ethernet jacks per device, which is great if you have a lot of smart home dongles to plug in, or multiple media streamers, gaming consoles, desktop PCs, and other devices that would benefit from a hardwired connection. No such luck with the X90.

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The Deco app will have your system up and running within minutes. Even better, the satellite will pair with the network automatically as soon as you plug it in.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Setup made easy

With app-based guidance that walks you through the process from beginning to end, most routers are pretty simple to set up these days. Even so, TP-Link's setup process is one of the simplest of all, taking just a few minutes to get things up and running.

To get started, you'll download the Deco app on your Android or iOS device, then follow the illustrated instructions on screen. After plugging the router into your modem and pairing with it, you'll pick a name and password for your network. From there, you'll add the satellite into the mix just by plugging it in and waiting a minute or so for it to auto-connect. It's about as unintimidating as router setup gets.

Once you're online, the app offers the usual baseline features -- namely, the ability to run speed tests and check network diagnostics, turn a guest network on and see all the devices connected to your network. You can also designate individual devices as "high priority," block unwanted devices, or tinker with advanced settings, including port forwarding, address reservation and DHCP server settings. TP-Link also offers parental controls, network history reports and a quality of service engine in the HomeShield section of the app, where you'll also find additional security and system management features via HomeShield Pro, an optional subscription service that costs $6 per month or $55 per year.

All told, the easy-to-use Deco app offers just about everything most users would want and then some, and it isn't too pushy about nagging you to sign up for HomeShield Pro, which I appreciated as I tested the system out. However, there's one big thing missing from the app -- and it has nothing to do with network management or internet speeds.

Privacy made murky

As I searched through the settings in the most recent build of the Deco app, I couldn't find any option for opting out of data collection. This isn't ideal, as TP-Link's privacy policy makes it clear that the company collects your data as you use its products, including for marketing and ad tracking purposes. TP-Link isn't alone there -- pretty much every internet-connected device in your home is collecting data to some extent, router or otherwise -- but I'd still like to see the company do a better job of making that point clear to users, and offering them a clear way to say, "no thanks."

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The section of the TP-Link privacy policy for residents of California, where privacy disclosure laws are stricter than the rest of the US, outlines the various categories of data collected by the company, including identifiers, geolocation data, and browsing history.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

That's the route other manufacturers have taken. For instance, I had some qualms with the data collection practices of Minim, the company that runs the software on Motorola networking devices, but I give the company credit for giving users a clear option for opting out of data collection altogether in its app. Netgear collects plenty of user data, too, but it does a much better job of making that point clear during setup, where it offers users the choice of opting out right from the get-go.

The Deco app's "About" section does include an option to manage privacy settings, but if you tap on it, the only option available is to opt in to an additional layer of data collection via TP-Link's User Experience Improvement Program, which tracks your network data for the purpose of improving overall mesh performance, and which comes with its own, separate privacy policy to read. There's no option for opting out of the data collection outlined in TP-Link's main privacy policy, which makes clear that the company, "may aggregate anonymized information from you and provide it to our third-party marketing service providers for our promotional and/or marketing practices."

According to the section of the privacy policy for residents of California, where privacy disclosure laws are stricter than the rest of the US, the data TP-Link collects includes identifiers like your name, email address, street address and phone number, rough geolocation data gathered via your IP address, and browsing history collected using cookies, tags, pixels and other similar technologies.

"At this time, TP-Link does not honor Do Not Track signals," the privacy policy notes in its section on cookies.

The privacy policy also points out that users have the right to view their data or erase it; they can do so by emailing privacy.us@tp-link.com or by calling 1-866-225-8139. That's good, but I'd like to see TP-Link fast-track that process in the app.

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The TP-Link Deco X90 (red) was able to max out my connection speeds in every room of my home. Only one mesh router in the history of my tests has delivered faster average download speeds.

Ry Crist/CNET

Powerful performance

To test the Deco X90 out, I started like I always do by setting the system up at my home in Louisville, Kentucky: a one-story, 1,300-square-foot house where I have a fiber internet connection with upload and download speeds of up to 300Mbps. With the router in the front half of my house and the satellite plugged in the back half, I spend multiple days moving from room to room taking speed tests, and in the end, I take a good, hard look at the average speeds.

I liked what I saw from the Deco X90. After many, many speed tests across five spots in my house, it finished with an overall average download speed of 357Mbps to my Wi-Fi 6 Lenovo ThinkPad laptop, which is just about as fast as things get with my connection, and the second-best result I've ever seen from a mesh router in the history of my at-home tests. The only system that beats it is the AX6000 version of Netgear Orbi, which finished with an average of 366Mbps to the same device but costs about $250 more. Meanwhile, the less expensive Deco W7200 falls to a very close third place with an overall average download speed to my Wi-Fi 6 laptop of 351Mbps.

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Speeds stayed consistent whether I started my connection close to the router in the front of my house (green) or close to the satellite in the back of my house (yellow). That's strong evidence of a mesh that makes intelligent decisions as it routes your connection.

Ry Crist/CNET

I also ran a separate set of tests with an Apple iPad Air 2 that I bought back in 2015 -- a previous-gen Wi-Fi device that only supports Wi-Fi 5. The overall average fell, but just slightly, down to 350Mbps. That's the best Wi-Fi 5 result I've ever seen.

Through all of my tests -- Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 5, connecting close to the router, connecting far from the router, single router only, etc. -- the system ran smoothly and consistently, never stalling out or dropping my connection. Upload speeds were a touch less consistent than the downloads, but not noticeably so, finishing with overall averages of 257Mbps to the Wi-Fi 6 laptop and 232Mbps to the Wi-Fi 5 iPad. Fancier systems can beat those numbers -- for instance, the Orbi AX6000 finished with average uploads of 342Mbps and 300Mbps to that same laptop and iPad, respectively.

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The TP-Link Deco X90 delivered peak download speeds (the chart on the left) to my Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E test devices throughout the entire CNET Smart Home, though it struggled with a dead zone in the dinette, particularly with my Wi-Fi 5 device (green). Meanwhile, average upload speeds were much less consistent -- again, most noticeably with my Wi-Fi 5 device.

Ry Crist/CNET

With my testing at home complete, I packed the system up and headed out to the CNET Smart Home, located in the rural outskirts of Louisville. At 5,400 square feet, it's a much larger space than my humble abode, though the fiber internet connection is more limited at 100Mbps. Still, it offers a great look at how the mesh systems I test perform in a multistory environment (a key challenge for mesh routers).

Specifically, I wanted to see if the Deco X90 could outperform the single-point router we normally use while working out of the Smart Home. With limited range, that control device typically sees upload and download speeds plummet into the single digits down in the basement (the last four rooms on each of the two charts above), but with the Deco X90, those speeds were much, much stronger.

Still, they weren't perfect. I tested three client devices this time -- my Wi-Fi 5 iPad, my Wi-Fi 6 laptop, and also a Samsung Galaxy S21 that supports Wi-Fi 6E. The Deco X90 does not, so it essentially treated that Samsung phone like a regular Wi-Fi 6 device, and just as I saw with the laptop, my average download speeds stayed up above 100Mbps in every room I tested it in. That wasn't the case with the iPad, though -- speeds held up fine for the most part, but I saw a noticeable dip in the dinette.

I saw even greater dips in my upload speeds, including an average of just 16Mbps in the dinette for my Wi-Fi 5 iPad, and a strange dip down to 73Mbps for the Wi-Fi 6 laptop in the laundry room, the room where the router is located. Larger homes mean more variables -- more walls, more obstructions, more distance to cover -- so it isn't surprising to see some gulfs in performance, but it was still more than I would have liked to have seen here, especially at close range.

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The verdict

The TP-Link Deco X90 offers strong, tri-band mesh performance and full support for Wi-Fi 6, and it isn't unreasonably priced at $450. That's the same ballpark as other tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems that tested well, including the Asus ZenWifi XT8 and the Eero Pro 6, and it's less than high-end systems like the Netgear Orbi AX6000. All of those systems are perfectly fine as upgrade picks, and the Deco X90 belongs in that category, as well.

That said, the Deco W7200 is right behind it as far as performance is concerned, and costs nearly half as much. Even without a multi-gig WAN port, it's still the much better value between the two, and the first mesh router I'd steer most people toward. Even so, if you're eyeing a faster future with multi-gig internet speeds at home, then the Deco X90 is a justifiable step up.