The Archer AX6000 is TP-Link's latest Wi-Fi 6 router. I've had a chance to put one through its paces, and it holds up well.
If a router does it's job properly, it sits forgotten in some dark corner, while users around the house enjoy their streaming video, Web surfing and mobile connectivity. And yet, there are many nuances that are worth considering. That's especially true in the case of a higher-end router like the Archer AX6000.
In my tests, I found that TP-Link has delivered a router that doesn't try to attract undue attention to itself. It does its job efficiently, conveniently and unobtrusively - just as it should.
Physically, the AX6000 is slightly more compact than the previous high-end routers I've tested. It also has some of the less obtrusive antennas I've seen. Rather than needing screwing-on by the user, antennas simply flip up from a streamlined horizontal orientation to a vertical operational stance.
It's particularly good to see that the AX6000 has keyhole slots on the bottom, for wall mounting - a convenience sadly missing from some recent routers. Wall mounting is a great way to clean up the ‘wiring closet' -- especially when that ‘closet' happens to be a cluttered corner of the living room or home-office, near the incoming ISP cable.
As far as hardware specs, the TP-Link AX6000 ticks all the right boxes. It's based on a powerful 1.8GHz quad-core 64-bit processor, aided by two dedicated coprocessors, and backed by 1GB of memory.
For connectivity, there's a 2.5Gbps WAN port, awaiting some golden future in which today's top one-gigabit Internet plans will be just a nostalgic memory. More immediately useful is the inclusion of 8 one-gigabit Ethernet ports, which will eliminate the need for an extra switch in heavily-wired locations. There are also two USB 3.0 ports (one Type A, one Type C), for attachment of shared network storage.
Of course, the biggest selling point for the AX6000 is support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) technologies, including OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access), 1024 QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) and MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output). These arcane acronyms won't change anyone's life just yet, but they should gradually prove their worth as more mobile devices take advantage of the efficient bandwidth sharing of Wi-Fi 6.
One novel feature of the AX6000 is the inclusion of three horizontal buttons along one side. One of these is pretty standard, used to initiate WPS wireless pairing. The second button is more unusual: it disables the router's LED indicators, in case they become distracting. The third button toggles Wi-Fi operation on or off. It's not clear why anyone would need to do that quicker than by going through the setup menus - but you never know.
On the Menu
The Archer AX6000 has a clean and straightforward approach to configuration, that quickly earned my appreciation.
For a start, there's a little card in the box, showing the router's default wireless SSID and numerical password. It's great that routers now come with their own unique settings, just in case a user is too naïve (or lazy) to create their own proper security settings. Thoughtfully, this particular card has space to enter the custom SSID and password one should create during setup - as well as a QR code for logging in to the router using TP-Link's Tether app (of which more below).
Being somewhat old-fashioned, I jumped right in to the router's traditional Web menus, accessed by browsing to the usual 192.168.0.1 address (all explained in the included Quick Installation Guide leaflet).
TP-Link's Web menus are among the nicer ones I've seen of late. Three tabs across the top of the page select the degree of complexity. The initial default is Quick Setup, which displays a wizard-style interface that guides users painlessly through the steps of getting connected to the Internet and setting up wireless security.
Users can then move on to the Basic tab. This enables a number of function categories in a vertical menu at the left of the page. Each of these menu items - such as Wireless, USB Sharing or Internet - displays a screen of options, covering most of the adjustments an average user might need to make. These would include setting up Parental Controls, for example, or enabling a Guest Network for occasional visitors.
The Advanced tab doubles the number of left-hand menu items, giving knowledgeable users access to all the controls they could wish for. I had no trouble quickly entering my own favored settings - enabling a third-party DNS provider for extra privacy, turning off UPnP connectivity, for extra security, and so on.
I did notice a few interesting new items in the Advanced setup. For example, there's a section for configuring IPTV services that need to pass through the router. TP-Link includes settings for IGMP (used by British Telecom and Talk Talk in the UK), as well as separate modes for Singapore, Malaysia and Portugal. Not a big deal for Canadian users, obviously, but an interesting peek at how these technologies are being adopted globally.
There's also a Smart Life Assistant section that lets users set up Alexa skills or IFTTT (If This Then That) applets to perform router actions.
No App Gap
Of course, many users will prefer not to mess with the Web menus at all. For them, TP-Link offers its free Tether app, available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store.
On Google Play, Tether gets a 4.6 rating out of 5 - a very good sign, in a world where hardware-related apps all too often fail to work as well as one might hope. In my tests, TP-Link Tether lived up to its rating, installing smoothly on my aging Samsung phone, and offering clear, comprehensive controls. Tether let me log directly into the router via Wi-Fi, and gave me pretty much the same options as the router's built-in Web-based menus.
One of the things I particularly appreciated about the AX6000 was not feeling like I was being coerced into using the app, or into signing up for TP-Link's Cloud Service. I have an aversion to linking a router, my network's front-line security device, to some outside Internet service. But TP-Link seems to be doing the cloud right, providing useful basic features without a lot of self-serving corporate clutter.
The credentials one sets up on first logging in to TP-Link Cloud become the admin account. From there, one can set up extra user accounts. The admin can, as you'd expect, access all router settings remotely. Users have the similar privileges, but cannot reset the router to factory defaults, and cannot add or remove accounts.
Aside from remotely managing router settings, the other main option currently provided by TP-Link Cloud is DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name Server). This lets a router on a typically changeable ISP address act as if it has a permanent Internet domain address. This could be handy for sharing photos on a connected USB drive, for example.
By the way, drives connected to the AX6000 support both DLNA media sharing and Apple's Time Machine backups. The router also provides account control, for limiting user access to certain areas of a drive, as well as the ability to set a share name, making it easier to find the drive on a network.
As a double-check, I ran a number of speed tests, both before and after installing the AX6000. The last time I did similar tests, I found that only the top router in my round-up was able to pass along the full line speed my ISP was providing. It seemed that lower-cost routers were simply unable to keep up with what were then nosebleed-fast 200 and 300Mbps speeds.
Today, I'm on Rogers' gigabit service, so I was curious to see how things stacked up. I found that the AX6000 amply lived up to is high-end specs. Of my various PCs, the faster ones had no problem registering around 880Mbps downloads - typical for Rogers' current coaxial delivery. Even my slower PCs were able to max out Rogers' 32Mbps upload speed. Latency rated very low. Clearly, the AX6000 is capable of managing the latest high-speed Internet connections.
It was no surprise that speeds on my older Samsung tablet were much lower than on my PCs. However, they remained consistent even from two floors below my home-office, where the router was located. My wooden townhouse is presumably quite radio-transparent compared to concrete structures, but coverage seems to be about as good as one could hope for. (Given the arrangement of antennas, I suspect that most routers would rather be at the bottom, beaming upwards.)
Bottom line, the TP-Link Archer AX6000 comes across as a solid all-round device. Its menus and mobile app make basic setup as easy as it's going to get, while leaving detailed settings fully exposed to more advanced users. TP-Link has wisely resisted the temptation to get too ‘creative' with its software, and instead delivered a straightforward interface that's easy to get along with.
Alas, I had no Wi-Fi 6 devices on hand to test the router's most advanced wireless features. Clearly, it's going to take time for Wi-Fi 6 to make much impact. But the inclusion of these latest technologies should make the AX6000 a good future-proof choice, and allow performance to improve over the next few years of Wi-Fi 6 rollout. We'll follow up with Wi-Fi 6 tests as soon as client hardware is available.
TP-Link has been steadily upping the ante in the Canadian router business. Priced at $399.99 CAD MSRP, the Archer AX6000 continues that trend. It's available now at Best Buy Canada.