TP-Link Deco M5 review: A brilliantly affordable mesh networking kit
Good wireless coverage, a great price and a strong selection of features
TP-Link has regularly topped the list of our favourite wireless routers, but with mesh networking providing the best way to improve your Wi-Fi coverage at the moment, it's having to play catch-up.
The TP-Link Deco is the firm's first mesh networking kit and, just like Google Wifi and BT's Whole Home WiFi, it aims to improve wireless coverage around your home by using multiple boxes to bounce the wireless signal from one to the other.
The TP-Link kit consists of three of these "nodes", one more than Google Wifi and the same as BT's kit, and it works in largely the same way -- by hanging off one of the Ethernet ports on your existing router it extends your existing network rather than replacing it.
The TP-Link Deco is top value for money. It costs 230 for a kit that includes three nodes. That's better value than Google Wifi, which costs the same amount of money but only includes two nodes. The BT Whole Home WiFi system also includes three nodes, though, and that's only 190 at the moment.
Bear in mind, though, that with the TP-Link system you're getting a three-year subscription to Trend Micro antivirus, which covers every device connected to your network, which adds considerably to its appeal.
TP-Link Deco M5 review: Design, features and ease of use
The Deco is more attractive than your average wireless router. Each node is disc shaped and attractively sculpted on top with a status LED residing at the pinnacle of each device. Like Google Wifi, each box is equipped with a pair of Gigabit ethernet ports and takes power from a USB Type-C mains adapter.
Setup and general maintenance is carried out via the TP-link Deco smartphone app and ran smoothly when we set it up. As usual with mesh systems it takes a few minutes per box, but we were ready to go in under 20 minutes. That's partly thanks to the fact that each box has Bluetooth connectivity, so you don't have to fuss around connecting to Wi-Fi or entering passwords every time you want to add a node to the network.
On the negative side, the system does require you to connect to the system via TP-Link's cloud system for management and setup, which has potential implications for privacy.
As for Wi-Fi features, the Deco M5 occupies the middle ground. Like Google Wifi it doesn't have a dedicated backhaul link, and so throughput falls as you get further down a chain of boxes. It has four internal antennas and offers 2x2 MIMO connection for a maximum speed of 400Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz spectrum and 867Mbits/sec on the 5GHz spectrum. The BT Whole Home WiFi system is much quicker, offering tri-band connection with a dedicated backhaul link.
As for usability and software features, the Deco M5 is pretty basic compared with traditional wireless routers, but great compared with most mesh systems. As we mentioned above you get three years of antivirus coverage from Trend Micro. This covers all your devices while they're connected to your network.
The app also gives you customisable content-based quality of service controls, allowing you to prioritise certain types of traffic, such as "streaming" or "gaming"
TP-Link Deco M5 review: Performance
We installed the TP-Link Deco M5 at home and ran our usual close range and long range tests using the iperf3 command line application. As should be clear from the performance figures in the charts below, the Deco M5 provides a strong Wi-Fi signal property-wide. It doesn't go particularly fast up close with a speed of 68MB/sec, but it did deliver the best long range speeds of the three with two nodes and three in our tests - 33.7MB/sec and 21.8MB/sec respectively.
TP-Link Deco M5 review: Verdict
In short, the TP-Link Deco M5 is a worthy entry to the low end of the mesh networking market. It's well priced at 230 for three nodes, includes network-based antivirus and excellent QoS controls.
We prefer Google Wifi's app and the BT Whole Home WiFi system is faster at close range and cheaper overall. But TP-Link's offering is competitive nonetheless.