The TL-WDR4900 is one of TP-Link's top-end routers. The three large external antennae demonstrate TP-Link's commitment to performance; this is further borne out inside, where we find an 800MHz processor for faster data processing. It even has a hardware NAT chip which is used to offload the task of translating network addresses from the CPU. See also: Group test: what's the best wireless router?
The rear of the unit offers four gigabit network ports, a WAN port and two USB ports for hard drives and printers. The outside has a modern-looking black gloss finish with blue LEDs. It has a quality feel to the touch. Take a look at our Apple AirPort Express 802.11n (2nd Generation) review too.
Setting up the router is simple, even if the first step is almost old fashioned now. Instead of offering an open Wi-Fi network straight out of the box, you plug into the router directly using an ethernet cable to start the process. Setup is simple: there's a quick setup option to get you online and configure the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks.
The TP-Link router menu itself is also clearly laid out, with all the options you expect displayed down the left-hand side of the screen rather than forcing you to hunt through nested menus.
The USB 2.0 ports on the rear of the router allow the connection of NTFS (Windows-formatted) drives. We tested HFS+ drives (Mac-formatted) but they were not detected.
Once you connect a drive you can set up a number of different ways to access the drive. Firstly, the router supports DLNA and allows you to use the drive as a media server, sending streaming video to any DLNA-compatible device on the network.
You can also create an FTP server to access your data remotely and transfer files to the hard drive across the internet. The FTP server handily displays its IP address and port on the main setup screen so you don't need to hunt for the information.
A new feature just added to this router is the TP-Link tether app. This is a free iOS app to monitor and manage your network. Once you're logged in, you can see which devices are connected, then label the ones you recognise, making unwelcome Wi-Fi guests easier to spot. You can even kick someone off the network from the app.
Another nice addition is the media server access through the iOS app, and can send video directly to your iPhone or iPad. The video encodings supported are more limited than a local option such as VLC, but the most common, H.264, is supported.
To test the router's speed, we placed a 3x3 MIMO-equipped laptop at varying distances, and benchmarked the throughput on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
At 1m the 2.4GHz result was 135 Mb/s; we measured 125 Mb/s at 5GHz. This was a surprising result, but repeated checking confirmed that even at close range using the often-faster 5GHz radio band, the router could not deliver to the 150 Mb/s-plus level we would expect.
At 7m the 2.4GHz channel achieved 95 Mb/s and the 5GHz 127 Mb/s. Things got interesting at 10m, with a major obstruction in the signal path. The 5GHz band here averaged 111 Mb/s and the 2.4GHz averaged 66 Mb/s. Most routers tested in this location struggle to hit 50 Mb/s.