Any competition for TPLink Archer C7 in low cost space?

#1

I'm trying to locate a relatively low-cost router that supports gigabit ethernet and 802.11AC. Unfortunately, I'm currently finding a bunch of devices listed as supporting OpenWRT are only sold for about four times their component price. The one I have seen that is at something approaching reasonable is the TP-Link Archer C7 1750, which seems supported. I may go with this, but I note the following caveats about it:

  1. V5 is supported, but most online sites don't make it clear which version is being sold. The last thing I need is to buy an older version and end up with the worst of both worlds.
  2. It has only 16M flash and 128M RAM. I've heard that, when running an AC network, 128M of RAM is serviceable but not recommended.
    I'm wondering whether people here have suggestions for other routers supporting these faster connection types that are sold at some reasonable price. Since I'm going to reflash OpenWRT onto it immediately after I get it, I don't care if it has a companion app for remote control [inward shudder at security profile of that idea] which seems to be one of the major reasons for jacking the price up on all the comparable units.
    I don't have any requirements other than 802.11AC WiFi and gigabit ethernet ports to make that worthwhile. It doesn't need much more processing than needed to do the routing, as other services will run on client devices. Thank you all for your suggestions.
#2

Check out Netgear R6220.

#3

What is your price range?

The Archer C7v2 was a great unit in its day. It’s overpriced now for its performance (and uses old-generation wireless chips).

128 MB of RAM is generally fine if you don’t have dual “ath10k” radios.

Dozens of good units out there for AP functionality as you describe. Budget will narrow them down.

#4

Good question. I don't have any firm limit. I simply don't want to pay more than the tech is worth. For example, I see many of the devices on the list of hardware when I filter by my requirements selling for $200-$250, when devices with similar hardware but without OpenWRT support are selling for much less. I think that, in general, $200 would probably be an upper bound. However, if the type of hardware I'm looking for doesn't need to cost that much, I'd be happy buying something for significantly under that amount. A previous suggestion of the Netgear R6220 appears to be selling for $55 (I'm just looking up prices on amazon because there is no easy way to see how much any of these costs today). I'm happy to exceed this, but only if the increase provides benefits in the hardware as I don't care about the provided software.

#5

I would not recommend the C7 as a main router for fast cable or fiber ISP due to its weak CPU. The primary thing to consider when choosing a main router is if it can keep up with your ISP speed.

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#6

If you're in the US, the WRT32X is often available refurbished through Amazon US for ~US$100. I don't own one myself, but the reviews here seem to be generally good. Refurbs are often a crap shoot, but Amazon US, if the vendor (not a marketplace seller) they have a good return/exchange policy.

At a slightly lower price point there is the Linksys EA6350 v3 (different hardware than previous versions, seldom advertised in any way but a sticker on the bottom) that runs the IPQ4018. I have a "sister" model, the EA8300 that runs an IPQ4019 and a third radio that make sense for wireless-mesh applications, but the performance I would imagine would be the same.

#7

I'm planning to connect an ISP gigabit fiber connection, so this is an important detail. Is there a minimum CPU spec you'd recommend? That one was a 700MHZ MIPS. I've currently considered the netgear R6220 (880MHZ MIPS single core) or the GL-Inet GL-B1300 (ARM 717MHZ quad-core). What do you think of those options? Do I need raw compute, or can multiple cores handle this as easily? Thanks.

#8

1 GBit/s WAN speed is indeed an important 'detail' not mentioned so far, as it throws the whole previous discussion out of the window. Unless you go with high-end mvebu or x86, the routers under discussion so far drop out between 200 and 450 MBit/s.

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#9

@cfernandez

  • what are you expecting to get out of your 1 Gbit/s fibre conn?
  • which services are going to be connected via LAN?
  • how do you expect to use your WiFi bandwith - connected clients, use cases, throughput?
  • what does your WiFI environment look like?
  • why do you consider OpenWRT; what are your configuration / setup requirements?

In general, I wouldn't use any single core CPU device for routing and WiFi at the same time, even with much lower WAN speeds, so the key question for me seems to be why you have a 1 Gbit/s uplink and how you expect to utilise it.

Make sure to read product pages such as https://openwrt.org/toh/tp-link/archer-c5-c7-wdr7500

#10

I don't need a connection this fast; I'm simply going to have one because there are relatively few options available, and all the slower connections are through an ISP that charges ludicrous prices (some of their slower copper lines cost more than the fiber, and even the ones that cost less are dramatically worse value). I would probably not notice the difference between 400 and 1000 mb, but I figured that, if I had the line, I might as well make sure the router on my end could make use of some of that extra capacity.
"* what are you expecting to get out of your 1 Gbit/s fibre conn?"
I'm hoping for a stable and fast internet connection for client devices, a couple of desktops, and some internal servers that are not under heavy load as they are only accessed by myself and a small dev team.
"* which services are going to be connected via LAN?"
The only one with much speed is a smallish server, which has a fast NIC in it but really doesn't use much bandwidth. My desktop will be connected via ethernet as well.
"* how do you expect to use your WiFi bandwith - connected clients, use cases, throughput?"
Laptops and phones, mainly. Not things that need much bandwidth, although I'm sure there will be streaming sometimes.
"* what does your WiFI environment look like?"
A relatively small area, with the AP almost exactly in the middle. Range is not at much issue, which is why I wanted to run a 5GHZ network for the increased speed and lower risk of collisions.
"* why do you consider OpenWRT; what are your configuration / setup requirements?"
I mostly want OpenWRT because of its security benefits over random untested router firmware. It doesn't hurt that I've used it for many other (non-gigabit) networks and am familiar with all the configuration tools and setups I've used in the past. Also, it means that it's harder for my hardware to suddenly become obsolete because I can repurpose as required.
I know that gigabit is overkill for the network usage I've described. As I've said before, I don't think I'd notice if I was getting much less than gigabit speeds. I would probably still be fine with a relatively cheap device for that reason, although I'd not mind one that has more capacity for the future.
This leads me to another question. If a router of this level lacks the processing to exceed about 400 mbps, why do they bother having an 802.11AC WiFi capacity? That doesn't even reach the top speed for 802.11N. It's not as if the most expensive one on the table of hardware is that much better (yes, it has two cores and they're clocked much higher than the low-end ones, but even if this was a linear benefit, it wouldn't reach full speeds).

#11

Marketing and overcrowding of the 2.4 GHz band. You also can't push much more than 50 mbps through 802.11n on 2.4 GHz in real-world conditions.

I've had Archer C7v2 units for years and they work well. I'm upgrading to get newer-generation chipsets for the wireless and dual, 5 GHz radios for meshed backhaul (as we can't run cable). I find that the EA8300 (ported to OpenWrt and awaiting merge into master) has better low- and mid-signal performance, even though the EA8300 is 2T2R and the Archer C7v2 is 3T3R.

If you purchase a moderate-priced unit today, you can always repurpose it as an AP for an x86_64-based router in the future. I run three all-in-ones as meshed, "dumb APs" with all my routing and services on x86_64 / AMD64 on appropriate OSes selected for each task and/or hardware.

If you want an all-in-one that has a chance of dealing with a gigabit line, others suggest that the mvebu platform is the only reasonable option. I don't own any mvebu-based devices, so I can comment from personal experience.

#12

There is not one 802.11ac. E.g. he number of spatial streams and the channel width play a major role there.

The 450 Mbit/s are with OpenWRT, not with stock firmware. You did not read https://openwrt.org/toh/tp-link/archer-c5-c7-wdr7500 or did you?

But regardless, 450 Mbit/s throughput is enough for a perfect 5 GHz 867 Mbit/s 802.11ac connection, which is the maximum that can be achieved with two spatial streams and an 80 MHz channel.

How many WiFi clients do you plan to serve in that "small area"?

#13

I'm planning to have about 10-15 WiFi clients at one time, but most will not be actively in use (E.G. users' phones in standby). I'm afraid my hardware knowledge is not as much as yours, so I don't quite understand how 450 mbit/s throughput can be enough for 867 mbit/s performance, but as 450 mbit/s would serve the use case admirably, it doesn't matter so much.

#14

The R6220 comes with different flash layouts which I personally don't feel attracted to, and the GL-B1300 was reported to have disappointing WiFi performance.

Some more key questions then will be, what kind of 802.11ac clients will that be (one, two, three antennas), what do users of the WiFi clients expect when they hit that button which is supposed to start traffic, can you use a 5 GHz 80 Mhz channei without interference, do you expect to download / upload large files... and getting back to "small", how large is the area you want to cover with your single WiFi access point...

#15

The devices are mostly laptops (2 antennas) with a few phones (the phones need to connect but they aren't going to do very much on the network so their speed isn't such a big deal). There is a network disk, so there will probably some exchange of large files (on the order of 1 GB or so, but not much larger than that). The 5GHZ bands are not that heavily trafficked, but 2.4GHZ is which is one reason I wanted to do mostly or entirely a 5GHZ network. The area is small enough that the single access point in the middle operating a 5GHZ signal covers it, this from a test with an older and slower 5GHZ device.

#16

Used Archer C7 v2 are really cheap on Ebay. I use them as AP's. They perform very well when used on separate 5GHz channels (I use 40MHz wide channels). I tried 80MHz as well, but there are just not enough space with four AP's to separate them so 40MHz is nice compromise that still gives you honest 30MB/sek iperf3 speed.

If used as a router, you might look into Fast Path (as ordinary CPU-based NAT tops out around 250Mbit).

#17

While that might regionally differ significantly, they're selling -in used condition- for around 40-45 EUR over here, which I wouldn't consider to be cheap for a used device of unknown provenience and usually 2-5 years on the clock.

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#18

wrt1900ac wrt3200acm or wrt3200acx For a AP use a C7 OpenWrt works with the v2 v3 v4 and v5. I have a wrt3200acm as my router doing all my adblocking and dns/dhcp + SQM stuff. Then I have a C7v2 as my AP using the 2.4 and 5 ghz radio. The radios on the c7-v2 are slower than the wrt3200acm but more stable imo. The more wi-fi devices you connect the more unstable the radio for the 5ghz on the wrt3200acm gets.

#19

I bought them in bulk and got them for 35-ish EUR. 35-40 EUR for 802.11ac stable 5 x GbE router/switch/AP combo is a bargain IMHO. Mine work perfectly on 5GHz and are only rebooted when I need to update. Zero issues. Also, it is 80MHz-channel capable which is basically what a modern iPhone tops out at.

So it is still a proven,capable and stable platform for small money. MIMO is nice, but as long as your mobile device do not support it, it is pointless. Also, when you have large area many AP's trump one AP with MIMO.

#20

Do not get me wrong, they're solid devices - but I do think that they're overpriced for what they can offer (at least since 2017) for ~70 EUR new (you can get brand new ipq40xx devices for that money) or ~40-45 EUR used; even 35 EUR feels like a stretch.