Paper launches have become all too common in the router industry. A company announces a new product and basks in the uncritical news coverage before seeding eval units with reviewers like us. These early press opinions are invariably uncritical because the manufacturers haven't given reviewers anything to benchmark. That typically comes a week or two later.
So a tip-o'-the-hat to TP-Link for not only making its latest router--the Archer C3200--available for sale on the same day it's announced, but for sending reviewable product to critics before that product goes on sale.
Unfortunately, I was on vacation last week when the router arrived, so I didn't have enough time to run all the tests I depend on to write an informed review. So please consider this an early hands-on preview of the Archer 3200, to be followed by a more thorough review with pros, cons, and a bottom-line score.
I already mentioned that the C3200 is a tri-band router. That means it can operate three independent wireless networks: One on the 2.4GHz frequency band, one on the 5GHz band (operating at the lower end of that band, on channel 36) and a third on the higher end of the 5GHz band, using channel 153.
Most of the other routers in this class, including the D-Link DIR-890L and the Netgear Nighthawk X6, use the same SSID for both 5GHz networks and automatically route clients to the least-crowded and therefore most effective channels. The C3200 gives each network its own unique SSID, but the router will still try and steer you to the most appropriate network; unfortunately, you can't pick which channels those networks will operate on--they default to channel 36 at the lower band and channel 153 at the upper band and cannot be changed.
Like its high-end competition, the Archer C3200 does have two USB ports (one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0), which means you can share both a printer and a storage device over the network. And the router supports beam forming to help form a strong connection between the client and the router. Since I recently changed my router-benchmarking routine, I was obligated to retest the four tri-band routers I wanted to compare to it: The Asus RT-AC3220, the D-Link DIR-890L, the Linksys EA9200, and the Netgear Nighthawk X6.
As you can see in the chart below, TP-Link's Archer C3200 mostly held its own in this competition. It didn't take a first place finish in either my proximity test (the laptop client in the same room, nine feet away from the router) or my distance test (the laptop client in my great room, 33 feet from the router with one insulated interior wall, some kitchen cabinets, and several large appliances in between). But the Archer C3200 turned in respectable performances in both situations.
When I publish my full review, I'll have benchmarks measuring the C3200's performance as a dual-band router (2.4- and 5GHz 802.11n) and one measuring its network-attached storage chops. I'll also go into more depth about the C3200's firmware and feature set. It looks as though TP-Link intends to compete hard on price: the new router is priced at $260, which is well below the current street prices of the tri-band routers it's competing with. Is that enough to make it a good value? Stay tuned to find out.