TP-Link Deco M5 Review (Page 2 of 5)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Hardware

Unlike most routers, TP-Link's Deco M5 is intended to be placed around the house for the best distribution of Wi-Fi signal. Thus, they are made to be quite minimalist in styling and size. As you can see, each Deco M5 unit is a flattened cylinder, with some neat edges to ensure it is not just a white hockey puck. The whole unit is made out of white plastic and generally feels solid. The top is almost cone like, with a slight protrusion in the middle. Overall, it kind of reminds me of a smoke detector unit. Exactly in the middle of the node is a single LED, which is used to indicate the status for the particular unit. A yellow light means the unit is starting up, with a pulsing blue to indicate the unit is ready for setup. A solid blue light indicates the Deco system is setting up, green light means everything is good, and a red light means there is an issue with the particular unit. Otherwise, both the top and bottom are finished in a matte feel to prevent any fingerprints from showing up. The edges on the other hand are glossy for some contrast. TP-Link's logo can be found in a shade of gray on the top of the Deco M5.

I have to really say the Deco M5 nodes are not intrusive in terms of their size. In terms of dimensions, each cylinder is 120mm in diameter and 38mm in height. I really like this small footprint, which should allow these units to be placed across the entire house without being too intrusive. Inside each of these units is a Qualcomm quad-core processor, with four internal antennas in each Deco unit. You might be wondering, why do we need four antennas? The first reason is the fact the TP-Link Deco M5 system requires extra antennas to communicate with each other over a wireless backhaul. (A wired backhaul for increased performance and reliability is also supported; more on this later.). On the client side, the use of multiple antennas for communications has been the foundation of many modern wireless technologies; ranging from short range unlicensed bands such as Wi-Fi to long range licensed bands like LTE cell phone networks. The fundamental principle lies in the fact that multiple antennas allow the designer to enhance performance using beamforming and diversity techniques. Beamforming, in the simplest explanation, allows power to be directed towards a certain direction. Diversity exploits multipath -- where the same signal can arrive via different paths due to reflection and refraction in the propagation channel -- to enhance the received signal quality. Multi-user MIMO, otherwise called MU-MIMO, lets multiple antennas from multiple users to communicate with multiple antennas on base station. Obviously, the more antennas on the access point the better, but we are bound by the laws of diminishing returns.

Flipping to the bottom, you can see the ventilation holes here to ensure the quad-core 638MHz Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 processor, 256MB RAM, 32MB of flash memory, and other associated electronics stay cool. Four rubber feet are around the node to provide some clearance for air to flow in and out. Near the edge by the other ports is a reset button, which can be accessed through a pin hole. Each TP-Link Deco M5 node is an AC1300 wireless access point. This means it operates at 400Mbps on the 2.4GHz band via one 40MHz channel with two streams, while an 80MHz channel with two streams on the 5GHz band provides 867Mbps for a total of 1300Mbps theoretical throughput. We will evaluate the performance of the mesh system shortly.

Rotating the three TP-Link Deco M5 units will reveal some other inputs into each one. Here we have a single USB Type-C connection, followed by two Ethernet ports. For the main node, one of the Ethernet ports is used to connect to your modem, while the other can be used for a wired device like your desktop as it is with a traditional router. For the other nodes, both of these ports can be used for wired devices. The Ethernet ports can also be used to connect between the Deco M5 nodes for a wired backhaul instead of a wireless one for increased Wi-Fi performance. Otherwise, it is pretty cool to see the USB connector here, as it is not only new, but it lets users use their own USB Type-C AC adapters. The adapters are capable of delivering up to 1.2A over 12V.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Configuration and User Interface
4. Performance Tests
5. Conclusion