TP-Link Deco X4300 Pro Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router Review: Impressive But Imperfect - CNET

2023-02-15 19:51:49 By : Ms. Eileen Yu

Your guide to a better future

It aced our speed tests and comes with multi-gig Ethernet jacks on each device -- but this appealing Wi-Fi 6 mesh router comes with a few compromises too. Gpon Onu Olt

TP-Link Deco X4300 Pro Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router Review: Impressive But Imperfect - CNET

TP-Link is one of the most prolific names in the router aisle, with dozens of new mesh systems released in recent years. Among them, the Deco X4300 Pro sits as one of the company's top Wi-Fi 6 offerings. It's a relatively expensive option at $399 for a three-piece setup, especially since this is a dual-band system we're talking about, with no Wi-Fi 6E support and no additional 5GHz band to act as a dedicated wireless backhaul. Still, the impressive AX4300 speeds, the multi-gig Ethernet jacks on each device and the strong ease of setup position it as a good potential pick for homes with gigabit-or-better internet speeds .

Sure enough, the Deco X4300 Pro was able to impress in our gigabit test lab, with average wireless download speeds to my Wi-Fi 6 test device that were faster than any other system I've tested in that setup to date, as well as the second highest average upload speeds on record. That said, the system wasn't as consistent as I wanted to see -- speeds across the entire test space were blazing-fast when I'd connect in close proximity to the main router but much slower when I'd connect at range, beyond the placement of one of the satellites. 

That's not at all surprising for a dual-band system like this, and in the end, the overall averages were still quite strong. On top of that, the auto-pairing satellites that join the mesh as soon as you plug them in make for setup that's truly as easy as it gets. All that makes the Deco X4300 Pro a very worthy pick, but there are lots of other systems you'd be smart to compare it with before making a purchase. Tri-band systems like the AX6000 version of Netgear Orbi and TP-Link's own Deco W7200 will offer comparably fast speeds while doing a better job of delivering consistent performance, and well-reviewed, dual-band alternatives like the Eero 6 Plus and the Asus ZenWifi XD6 will offer slightly better value. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi 6E upgrade picks like the Eero Pro 6E are probably worth a look at this point too.

In addition to the power port, each Deco X4300 Pro device includes a 2.5Gbps WAN port along with two gigabit LAN ports. You won't find any USB jacks, though.

With no exterior antennas, no abundance of flashing lights and a white, cylindrical design that isn't much bigger than your average pillar candle, the Deco X4300 Pro is about as inoffensive-looking as routers get. Remember, wireless routers perform best when they're placed out in the open , so I'll always prefer a safe, somewhat bland build that's capable of blending in over an ostentatious design that some users might feel compelled to stash out of sight in a closet or drawer.

Each Deco X4300 Pro is identical, so you can use any of them as the main router for your setup by wiring its 2.5Gbps WAN port to your modem with an Ethernet cable. Each device also offers two additional gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, which makes it easy to give peripherals like smart TVs, printers and gaming consoles a wired connection to your network. You won't get any USB jacks, but that's pretty typical for a mesh system like this.

The Deco app does an excellent job of walking users through the setup process. Keep an eye on the clock in these screenshots -- we had our network up and running in less than five minutes. From there, additional Deco satellites automatically pair with the network as soon as you plug them in.

Once you've connected a Deco to your modem and plugged it into power, you'll open the Deco app on your Android or iOS device and follow the on-screen instructions to get your network up and running. This setup process is one of TP-Link's big selling points -- it really is as simple as it gets, particularly thanks to the fact that your satellites will automatically join the mesh as soon as you plug them in. In all honesty, the most difficult part might be scrolling down through the immense list of Deco routers at the start of the process to select the X4300 Pro as your system of choice.

The Deco app also includes optional controls for compatible Wi-Fi smart home gadgets, including the ability to trigger automations whenever you enter Wi-Fi range.

Once you're through with setup, the Deco app will provide you with a one-stop shop for all of the router basics. You'll be able to change the network name and password, monitor the devices connected to your network, activate a separate guest network for visitors, run a quick speed test, and adjust settings as needed. TP-Link also offers additional network security features under HomeShield branding, and the free plan includes threat scans and a quality of service engine that can prioritize traffic to specific devices, which is nice to have. Upgrade to HomeShield Pro for $6 per month or $55 per year to add in extras like customizable parental controls and specialized security against things like port intrusion or DDoS attacks .

On top of that, the Deco app also promises to serve as a control center for any smart home gadgets you've paired with your network. The system doesn't support Zigbee, Thread or any other wireless smart home standards apart from Wi-Fi, so your device options will be more limited than you'd see with a more multi-lingual router like the Eero 6 Plus or the Nest Wifi Pro , but it's still a nice addition -- especially since you can trigger automations whenever your device of choice rejoins your network. I haven't had a chance to test it out, but it sounds like a neat way to play with geolocated automation without actually sharing your full location data.

On average, the Deco X4300 Pro returned the fastest download speeds of any system we've tested at our 1,300 sq. ft. lab space.

After a few years spent running tests out of my home, I'm back testing routers at the CNET Home lab facility in Louisville, Kentucky. Our main battery of tests takes place in a five-room, 1,300-square-foot test area with a gigabit fiber connection that's meant to approximate an average-size single-story home with a detached garage. I set each mesh router up according to the manufacturer instructions, with the router in the "living room" and one satellite extender in the "master bathroom," then I spend a few days running speed tests in each room to test the system's wireless speeds at various ranges. As of February 2023, I've tested 10 mesh systems in this latest test setup, including re-tests for some of the top systems I tested during the work-from-home years.

The graph above shows the results of those tests, with each system's overall average download and upload speeds to my Wi-Fi 6-enabled Lenovo ThinkPad laptop. Impressively enough, the Deco X4300 Pro finished with the fastest downloads of any of them, clocking in with an average of 646Mbps. It was also the second fastest system as far as average upload speeds were concerned, beaten only by the Eero Pro 6E.

That said, those overall averages tell only part of the story. After all, it isn't just speed that you should be looking for in a mesh system but also consistency. The whole point of mesh systems like these is to spread a steady, reliable Wi-Fi signal across all corners of your home -- and this is where the Deco X4300 Pro stumbled a bit in my tests.

If I started my connection in the living room, where the router sits (green bars), my average download speeds came out to an impressive 767Mbps. However, if I started my connection from afar in the garage (yellow bars), my average speeds fell to 525Mbps. That's a noticeable drop in performance for devices that connect at the edges of your Wi-Fi network.

That's what you're seeing in this graph with the green and yellow bars. Whenever I'm testing a router, I divide my tests into two sets -- one where I start by connecting to the network while I'm in the same room as the router (the green bars), and a second set where I start each run by connecting to the network in the garage, which is farthest from the router (the yellow bars). Splitting my tests like this gives me a good look at how the router I'm testing performs with devices that connect at different ranges -- and in the X4300 Pro's case, the split was dramatic.

How dramatic? In tests where I started by connecting in the living room, where the router sits, my average download speed across all distances was 767Mbps, which is flat-out fantastic. However, in the tests where I started by connecting my laptop from the garage, which is farthest from the router, my average download speed fell to 525Mbps, with the system continuing to route my connection through the extender even after I had moved back into the living room, where the router sits. It all added up to more than a 30% reduction in speeds, which undercuts some of this three-piece system's appeal for large homes. The larger the home, the more likely you are to connect from afar.

Other mesh routers -- particularly tri-band systems -- will tend to do a lot better in this test. For instance, TP-Link's own Deco W7200 only saw its average download speed fall from 633Mbps with a close connection to 567Mbps with a far connection, which is only about a 10% speed cut -- and that system costs less than the X4300 Pro. Higher-end systems can do even better; for example, the Netgear Orbi 860 Series returned average download speeds of 612Mbps with a close connection and 610Mbps when connected from afar. That's a difference of just 0.33%.

The good news is that the Deco X4300 Pro never dropped my connection or stalled out throughout any of my tests. Even with the far-connected speed reduction factored in, the system's performance was strong enough to make up for it, which is why it finished with such strong overall averages. In a lot of cases, you probably wouldn't even notice the issue, but it's still something to consider as you comparison shop.

Something else worth considering is Wi-Fi 6E and the ultra-wide, 6E-exclusive 6GHz band that comes with it. You won't get that with the Deco X4300 Pro. If you have any Wi-Fi 6E gadgets on your network, they'll still be able to connect, but the system will treat them like Wi-Fi 6 devices and connect them over the same 2.4 and 5GHz bands as everything else. I didn't see any problem with that when I repeated my tests with a Wi-Fi 6E-enabled Samsung Galaxy S21 smart phone -- the speeds were right in the ballpark with my Wi-Fi 6 figures, which is what you'd expect. Personally, I'm fine with speeds like those, but if you're living with a multi-gig internet connection and hoping to get the absolute best performance out of Wi-Fi 6E phones, laptops and other next-gen gadgets, then it might be worth going with a 6E system that can offer them a little more oomph.

The TP-Link Deco X4300 Pro is a highly capable mesh router, but it's hard to recommend at its full asking price of $399 for a three-pack. Other mesh systems with comparable speeds will offer performance that's more consistent for a lower price, including TP-Link's Deco W7200 and systems like the Eero Pro 6E that support Wi-Fi 6E make more sense as multi-gig upgrade picks.

TP-Link Deco X4300 Pro Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router Review: Impressive But Imperfect - CNET

Gpon Olt Ont Of course, TP-Link stuff tends to go on sale pretty often -- and sure enough, as of writing this in February, you can find the X4300 Pro for as much as $100 off at Best Buy . Sales like that put it in the same price range as other dual-band Wi-Fi 6 systems like the Eero 6 Plus . The X4300 Pro is basically just a faster version of that mesh system with multi-gig WAN ports added in, so taking advantage of a sale like that makes plenty of sense. Even so, I'd recommend shopping around and considering all of your options before making a splurge here.