It wasn't so long ago that we were treated to TP-Link's second generation Archer C5400 router, and that wowed us with its smart home features and its outrageous power.
By adding an 'X' to the name, pasting on some red flashes and using far more aggressive moulding, and boosting just about every single aspect of the hardware, TP-Link's Archer C5400X is a gaming router aimed at the gaming market… For gamers. Either that or, judging by its looks, it's a sacrificial plinth for cats who've been very naughty.
But is it only for gamers? If you can cope with the styling – which is, it must be said, more divisive than the slightly subtler looks of the non-X variety – then the C5400X's specs promise a super-powered, almost enterprise-grade router that can cope with anything.
It's not casually priced, that's for sure. But can it match all that bluster and all those numbers with the performance that counts? Let's find out.
Price and availability
Here's the painful part. The TP-Link Archer C5400X can be had for around the £350/$399/AU$565 mark, which is a not insignificant chunk of change. Looking around at the time of review, many retailers are asking for significantly more than that, suggesting that units may be in short supply.
To use UK prices, a £350 price point places this gaming upgrade at £100 more than the C5400 v2, for what might be a reasonably non-essential upgrade.
There's also the competition to worry about; yes, this is cheaper in terms of MSRP than the suspiciously similar (though slightly more demonic) Asus GT-AC5300, but far more expensive than the current asking price of the Asus RT-AC5300, and about twice the price of the excellent Asus RT-AC86U.
And that's just one competitor. The TP-Link C5400X is as expensive as a good mesh setup like Google Wifi or Netgear's astonishing Orbi which, however powerful the terrifying antennae on top of this router may be, will likely get you better overall coverage if that's your concern.
Design and features
We've talked about the physical design of the TP-Link C5400X already, so we won't get excited about it again here. You can make your own decisions – just bear in mind that if you hide it away to avoid offending visitors, you're likely to see something of a drop in throughput.
However, there's a huge amount here to talk about in terms of features. Let's start with the non-wireless part: a full 8-port gigabit switch. That's not a common sight on home routers in the first place, but this switch also does a little more, supporting link aggregation. This allows you to pair up ports to potentially get 2Gbps transfers to NAS devices or LACP-supporting PCS. You can also use a LAN port in conjunction with the WAN port to connect to a DOCSIS 3.1 modem.
The pursuit of ridiculous network performance continues on the MU-MIMO wireless side; the C5400X runs two 2167Mbps radios on the 5GHz side (appearing as individual networks, giving you the option of shaping traffic depending on what's connected where) as well as a single 1000Mbps 2.4GHz radio.
Each is backed by an individual coprocessor, and run from a central 1.8GHz quad-core CPU with 1GB RAM. This is a significant computing device in its own right.
Then there's the little extras. It beamforms, targeting specific devices for maximum throughput. It features something called Rangeboost, which we presume is a term which boils down to 'this has good range' rather than being anything particularly technical.
It manages 'Airtime Fairness', which is TP-Link's take on multi-device QoS. And there's a host of VPN management tricks on board, including built-in OpenVPN support and the ability to spread a five-connection pipe to your favourite VPN provider.
Somehow, unbelievably, that's not all. There's AV and parental controls, as well as customizable device prioritisation. There's similar Alexa and IFTTT support to the standard C5400 v2.
Plug in a USB drive and you can take advantage of NAS features, and there's even a tiny chunk of cloud storage right on the router, behind its firewall; if you're away from home and want to save a file, you can.
We have absolutely no complaints about the abilities of the C5400X to throw around the packets. None whatsoever – although if you're on a device restricted to the 2.4GHz band, you might not be quite as happy.
Right next to the router, we hit a decent 46.8MB/s down on 2.4GHz, and a beautifully speedy 173Mb/s on the 5GHz band, on a connection (theoretically) capable of topping out at 200Mb/s. Moving away to a few known black spots around the home, the C5400X managed a passable 2.4GHz 18.6Mb/s a floor up on the opposite side of the house; the same spot on 5GHz somehow hit 184Mb/s, better than the router managed mere inches away.
On the same floor, with a wall (and around 20 meters) in between, this router managed 33.4Mb/s on 2.4GHz, and hit its peak in our testing, grinding out an excellent 191Mb/s on 5GHz.
Upload speeds were consistent across bands and locations, hitting around 21.5Mb/s every time. That's what we'd expect from our severely imbalanced connection.
Realistically, the 2.4GHz performance here isn't actually bad – it's just standard 2.4GHz performance. And it's good enough, because the C5400X has far better range than our stock router. On the 5GHz band, it's unbelievably good.
It'll be polarising in terms of its looks, no doubt, but the TP-Link C5400X is an excellent router with the logical and physical chops to satisfy packet-hungry gamers. It's easy to set up, easy to administer, and easy to forget about once it's running.
Plus, this thing is fast. Very fast. And, we were impressed with the number of features TP-Link packed in on the back end. If we were streaming or gaming hard, and didn't need the coverage of a solid mesh network, this would be a top choice.
If you're looking for something that'll suit your family as well as your own network-abusing predilections, this is a great choice.
It's a great choice if you can afford it, at least. The C5400X is incredibly expensive, and if you're not going to take advantage of its many features there's a level of overkill here that's going to cost you more than you absolutely need to spend; its more reasonable little brother, the C5400 v2, is probably just as good for most people at a slightly lower price.