We've officially entered the age of, with faster top speeds and connections that are more capable of handling lots of devices at once. You'll need in order to take advantage, and in order to boost your network performance at home -- and TP-Link hopes to tempt you with the most inexpensive Wi-Fi 6 router yet.
It's the TP-Link Archer AX10, a dual-band AX1500 router with full support for like OFDMA, which helps it handle multiple connections simultaneously, and Target Wake Time, which helps conserve battery life in devices that routinely ping the router. Most interesting of all is the price tag. Most outlets have the AX10 listed for its retail price of $80, but Walmart's currently offering it for just $70. There are previous-gen, Wi-Fi 5 that cost more than that.
We're holding off on a full review of the AX10 until we can fully test it out in our lab, and at the CNET Smart Home, but I was still able to set one up at home for some initial tests. Here's the rundown on that first impression.
Clad in glossy black plastic and sporting a quartet of antennas in the back, the smallish TP-Link AX10 isn't anything too flashy -- though I did appreciate the subtle "X" design across the top of the device, which might be a nod to 802.11ax, the technical name for Wi-Fi 6.
At 10 inches wide and about an inch thick (save for the antennas, of course), it isn't nearly as big or as ostentatious-looking as some of the higher-end Wi-Fi 6 routers I've tested to date. If you think routers like those are a bit aggressive in appearance, then you'll probably appreciate the unassuming design here.
Turn the thing around, and you'll find four spare Ethernet jacks in the back, along with the WAN port. Unlike the multi-gig WAN ports we're starting to see on, this one caps your incoming wired speeds at 1Gbps, but that isn't a surprise at this price. For most, the lack of any USB ports is probably a more noteworthy omission.
As for controls, you'll set the router up and tweak its settings in TP-Link's Tether app, which offers a pretty clean interface as far as router apps are concerned. You won't find very many fancy settings to play with, but you can create guest networks, turn on a limited Quality of Service engine, enable parental controls,and easily update settings like your network names and passwords. That's more than enough at this price.
Some early speed tests
As said before, we won't have full speed test data until we're able to return to our test lab, where we clock the top speed of each router we review in a controlled environment. That didn't stop me from testing the thing out at home, though -- the obvious caveat being that speeds in my home are limited by my AT&T fiber internet plan, which caps things at 300Mbps.
I also run my speed tests on a Wi-Fi 5 laptop. Speeds would likely be a little higher when connecting to a Wi-Fi 6 device, which is something else we'll test out as soon as we can.
As a dual-band, AX1500 router, the Archer AX10 claims top speeds of 1,200Mbps on the 5GHz band and 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Those manufacturer speed claims are always based on ideal, lab-based tests that don't take real-world factors like distance, interference and obstructions into account, so your actual top transfer speeds will be considerably lower.
I'll also note that 1,200Mbps is slower than the fastest Wi-Fi 6 speeds we've been able to hit in the lab, which clocked in at about 1,500Mbps late last year. So you definitely shouldn't expect this router to push speeds to the full potential of 802.11ax.
Still, in my home, it performed reliably well, and never once dropped my connection as I moved from room to room running speed tests over the course of a few days of tests. Speeds were a little inconsistent, though. In my living room, where the router sits, I clocked close-range wireless speeds on the 5GHz band that ranged from 189 to 330Mbps, leading to a final average of 248Mbps. That's not a bad number, but it isn't as good as higher-end routers like TP-Link's own Archer AX6000 router, which averaged an impressive 310Mbps in the same room.
Once I factored in the rest of my home, the AX10's overall average speed on the 5GHz band came in at 189Mbps. What really pulled that average down were the speeds in my back bathroom, the farthest room from the router. With a weak connection at range, the AX10 averaged speeds of 59Mbps in that room, including several tests that came in below 20Mbps. Mind you, my shotgun-style house isn't very big at all.
The 2.4GHz band should typically give you some additional range (albeit with slower speeds), but that wasn't the case with the AX10. Again, my speeds dipped considerably in that back bathroom, as you can clearly see in the graph above.
The TP-Link Archer AX10 will upgrade your network with all of the new features that come with Wi-Fi 6, but it can't hit the same top speeds as fancier Wi-Fi 6 routers with more oomph to them. That might sound like a deal breaker, but your ISP plan already caps your internet speeds well below what Wi-Fi 6 is capable of. If limiting the top speeds is what it took to get us a Wi-Fi 6 router for less than $100, then so be it, I say.
More concerning is the inconsistency in speeds, and the poor performance at range. I'm withholding full judgment on both counts until we can finish our full spate of speed tests, which involve tests at multiple locations and on multiple networks, as well as wireless file transfers to a local server in our lab. We'll obviously know more when we have that data -- but for now, the AX10 looks like a worthy bargain pick for folks in small homes who want to upgrade their network with Wi-Fi 6 support for as little cash as possible.