Calling TP-Link’s Archer C5400X MU-MIMO Tri-Band Gaming Router, a gaming router, is like calling a Hummer a race car just because it’s sturdy and you can drive it on a race track.
Instead, it just has a QoS engine that allows you to prioritize Internet traffic for games generically. And that’s not new. QoS is a common feature already available in most home routers.
But that is not a huge deal, and you can still play games just fine with it; until you look at the retail price. At $400, you can rightfully expect the router to at least deliver everything its name conveys.
That said, though, this is still a great router. If you can’t resist the Archer C5400X’s radical design — I totally dig it — and are not a hardcore gamer, go ahead and get it now. You’ll likely be happy with what it has to offer.
Dong’s note: I originally published this on September 6, 2018, as a preview and updated it to a full review on September 18.
TP-Link Archer C5400X: Bold design with Link Aggregation and Dual-WAN
The Archer C5400X is unquestionably huge. It’s a 2.18in (55.3mm) tall, flat square box that measures 9.47in (240.5mm) on each side.
On one of the sides, it has nine Gigabit network ports (one WAN and eight LANs) and a power button. The extra LAN ports — most routers have just four — mean you can connect more wired devices to your network before resorting to a switch.
But there’s more; you can combine LAN ports number two and three into a super-fast 2Gbps connection, a boon for those having a NAS server that also features Link Aggregation. (The Synology DS1618+ is an example). And if you use two broadband connections — for load balancing or fail-safe purposes — the router’s first LAN port can turn into a secondary WAN port.
On the opposite side of the network ports, you’ll find three little buttons that control the LED light on top, the Wi-Fi function, and the WPS feature. On the other side, there are two USB 3.0 ports to host storage devices or USB printers.
Convenient antenna design
On top, the router has eight connectors around its edges to host eight massive antennas. I was a little overwhelmed at first thinking about having screwing them in one after another — quite a hassle in my experience with the Asus GT-AC5300.
To my surprise, I just needed to push them right into the port, and they stay snugly attached. This convenient design cut down my setup time quite significantly. In the end, the whole package looked like a glorified up-side-down spider. Pretty cool!
Note, though, that you can’t swivel the antennas at all. Once plugged in, they all stay up in the vertical position.
Lots of power, high-end Wi-Fi
The Archer C5400X is powerful as it can be for a Wi-Fi router. It sports a beefy 1.8GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of flash storage. Initially, I thought the flash storage is used to host user data, but as it turned out in my testing, that’s only for the router’s internal functions and not user-accessible at all.
As for Wi-Fi, the Archer C5400X can deliver up to 1000Mbps on its 2.4GHz band and 2167Mbps on each of its two 5GHz bands. All bands combined it has a theoretical bandwidth of some 5400Mbps. You can set up a Wi-Fi network for each of the router’s bands, or you can combine them into a single Wi-Fi network using its Smart Connect feature.
Generally, a tri-band router can handle more 5GHz clients before slowing down. That said, if you have many simultaneously active clients at home — like a dozen or more — this router will take care of them all, no problem.
Actual Wi-Fi speeds depend on many factors, including the specs of the clients themselves. One thing for sure, though, you will never get anywhere close to the numbers above. But even if you can get a small portion of those, that’d still be plenty fast for home networking needs.
TP-Link C5400X: Hardware specifications
|With antennas: 11.3 X 11.3X 7.2 in
(288 X 288 X 184 mm)
Without antennas: 9.47 x 9.47 x 2.18 in
(240.5 x 240.5 x 55.3 mm)
|IEEE 802.11ac/n/a 5GHz, IEEE 802.11ac/n/g/b 2.4GHz, IPv4, IPv6
|1.8 GHz 64-bit quad-core CPU,
|1GB of RAM and 16GB
of EMMC internal storage.
1x 2.4 GHz (1000 Mbps)
2x 5 GHz (2167 Mbps)
|8x Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports,
1x Gigabit Ethernet WAN port,
2x USB 3.0,
Bluetooth (for setup)
|Special port features
|LAN link aggregation and Dual-WAN
(AntiVirus, Parental Controls, QoS)
TP-Link C5400X’s detail photos
Standard setup process
Setting up the C5400X is like that of any standard router that has a web interface. First, you need to connect the router’s WAN port to an Internet source, such as a cable modem. Then from a connected computer, point a browser to 192.168.0.1 and sign in with the default password (admin), and the rest is self-explanatory.
By the way, you can use it without accessing its web interface at all since it comes with default Wi-Fi networks printed on its underside.
Keep in mind, though, that you should never use a router with its known default settings. Anyone who knows a bit about networking can access its interface and take control of your home network.
Most other routers I’ve reviewed recently require the user to change their default password before connecting to the Internet.
Optional vendor-assist access
You can associate the router with a TP-Link Cloud account. In this case, you’ll be able to conveniently access the router’s interface via the Internet using a browser or the TP-Link ether mobile app (available for Android and iOS).
In return, though, be aware that in this case, the router will stay connected to TP-Link at all times, and the networking vendor can potentially know about your online activities.
The router does support Dynamic DNS, meaning you can set it up to access it remotely without having a TP-Link Cloud account.
The Archer C5400X’s interface is rather standard, with a granular menu on the left and tabs on top. If you have some experience with router interfaces, you’ll be able to find what you need quickly. The mobile app interface is similar to that of the web interface, albeit a bit abridged.
What I like the most is the responsiveness. In my trial, the interface changed from one page to another almost instantly. It’s more responsive than this emulator.
What’s more, the router could apply most changes without having to restart. And when it needed to reboot, that also took very little time, less than 30 seconds. In all, the interface, for the most part, is a pleasure to use.
But the interface is not perfect. For example, if you want to set up a port forwarding, or Virtual Server, you’ll need to manually enter the IP address instead of being able to select one of the lists of connected clients.
Also, the IP reservation feature is available in two places: In the Network section, where it’s called “address reservation,” and in the Security section, called “MAC & IP binding.” Both do the same thing: it ensures a client will always get a particular IP address when connected to the router.
Nice feature set
The router comes with all the usual settings and features you’d expect in most routers of this tier. In short, you can do everything with it, and it also comes with powerful VPN server features that can host up to 5 remote clients at a time.
However, all those are minor, especially when considering the router’s other excellent HomeCare features, including Parental Controls, QoS, and AntiVirus.
Effective online protection
TP-Link’s AntiVirus is similar to the AiProtection feature of Asus. It’s a built-in protection feature powered by TrendMicro, which protects the entire network in real-time against online threats.
This feature is turned on by default, and it worked well in my trial. When I try going to any known “bad” websites, I always got a warning. I didn’t go as far as getting my computer infected to see how the router behaves, but at least, this feature sure adds a layer of protection as promised.
There’s a little catch; the AntiVirus is free to use for three years. After that, according to TP-Link, it might require a yearly fee.
Excellent Parental Controls
The C5400X’s Parental Controls feature is both easy to use and effective. You can choose to filter online content to one or multiple clients based on pre-selected and customizable categories. You can also manually add a website or a keyword that you want to block. And you can also schedule the filters.
Most importantly, this feature worked in my testing and could block everything I wanted to keep out. Many routers I’ve reviewed can’t block secure (HTTPS) websites (like Facebook, YouTube, etc.). The Archer C5400X is one of a few that can.
Cool QoS but no game-specific feature
QoS, or Quality of Service, is a common feature available in most routers. It allows the user to prioritize the Internet connection for specific applications or clients. Most of the time, though, you’ll need to program the QoS settings manually, which can be a daunting task.
The Archer C5400X’s QoS, on the other hand, is much easy to use. You can pick the type of application you want to prioritize, including Gaming, Surfing, Streaming, or Chatting. Or you can choose the Custom option, where you can use sliders to adjust the level of prioritization.
This feature worked as intended in my testing, but it’s not enough to qualify the Archer C5400X as a gaming router. You need more than just prioritization to have the best gaming experience.
TP-Link Archer C5400X: Fast performance
The Archer C5400X performed well in my testing, fast and reliable. The truth is I didn’t have enough Wi-Fi clients to push it to the limit. However, during the entire week of using it, I had no complaints.
The router delivered fast Wi-Fi to every corner of an 1800 ft² home and passed my 3-day stress test without disconnecting even once.
In terms of actual Wi-Fi speeds, I tested the router throughout a week using 3×3 clients (which caps at 1300Mbps) and picked the highest numbers I could get for the comparison charts.
Overall, on the 5GHz band, at a short range of fewer than 10 feet, it delivered a sustained speed of almost 800 megabits per second. When I increased the distance to some 40 feet, it now averaged some 650 Mbps.
These were among the fastest, and the router was able to maintain this type of speed when hosting multiple clients simultaneously.
On the 2.4Ghz band, the Archer C5400X scored 250 Mbps at a short distance. And at a more extended range, it averaged some 70 Mbps. It was fast enough to deliver the most residential broadband connection in full.
Keep in mind that Wi-Fi speeds vary a great deal depending on many factors. The numbers posted here are reference points to distinguish one router from another and might not be the actual speeds you’d get at home.
Thanks to its top-notch hardware specs, the Archer C5400X was most impressive when working as a NAS server.
I tested it with the My Passport SSD connected to one of its USB 3.0 ports. Via a Gigabit connection, it has the sustained copy speed of some 75 megabytes per second for writing and more than 110 MB/s for reading.
These were almost as fast as a real NAS server. If you’re looking to do some light data sharing, backups, or media streaming in your network, this router will get the job done.
TP-Link Archer C5400X's Rating
Fast and reliable Wi-Fi performance
Solid design with responsive and well-organized interface
Useful HomeCare features
Extra LAN ports with Dual-WAN and Link Aggregation
Fast NAS performance when coupled with an external hard drive
No advanced gaming-specific features
Bulky physical size
2.4GHz Wi-Fi speed could be better
There’s a lot to love about Archer C5400X. The router has excellent performance all around and a useful set of features for home users. Its esoteric design is also fun to the eyes.
That said, if you have $400 to burn, live in a medium-size home with lots of Wi-Fi devices, and are not a hardcore gamer, you will be happy with it. Otherwise, keep in mind that there are many alternatives, like the Asus RT-AC86U, the Netgear XR500, or the Asus GT-AC5300, that will give you similar performance and more features for less.