The TP-Link Archer AX50 ($ 149.99) is a rare, moderately priced router that finds a sweet spot between premium and budget models. It offers the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology and has achieved solid speeds on our flow tests. It also comes with several features that can typically be found on more expensive models, including connection aggregation, lifetime parental controls and malware protection software, and USB connectivity. Its file transfer performance could be faster, but that doesn’t stop it from winning the Editors ’Choice Award for affordable Wi-Fi 6 routers.
More features than most affordable routers
The Archer AX50 looks exactly like the Archer AX10 we reviewed earlier this year. It has a two-tone glossy and matte black finish with textured grilles, four adjustable antennas and six small LED indicators. It measures 1.5 x 10.2 x 5.3 inches (HWD) and has four gigabit LAN ports on the back, along with a WAN port, USB 3.0 port, power button and socket, reset button and Wi-Fi / WPS button. None of the ports are multi-gig, but the AX50 supports link aggregation, a nice feature of routers in this price range.
The AX50 is a two-band AX3000 router that can achieve maximum (theoretical) speeds of up to 574Mbps in the 2.4GHz band and up to 2,402Mbps in the 5GHz band. It is powered by a dual-core CPU and uses the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) technology, including OFDMA packet transmission, MU-MIMO simultaneous data flow, beamforming directly to the client, and Smart Connect (control range). However, it does not support WPA3 encryption or 160 MHz channel bandwidth.
As with the Archer AX11000 gaming router and the Deco X20 network system, the Archer X50 comes with TP-Link’s anti-malware HomeCare package, parental controls and QoS software. Malware protection software allows you to apply malware filters and allow you to quarantine infected clients and view security warnings, while QoS settings offer preset settings for gaming, streaming, surfing, and chatting that make it easier to prioritize bandwidth. Parental Control for Home Care offers preset settings for kids, teens, teens and adults, featuring age-appropriate site filters for gambling, social networks, games, chat rooms and other adult content. You can also check your browsing history and set access schedules and time limits for each client.
You can control the AX50 using the TP-Link Tether mobile app for Android and iOS devices, or you can use the web console. Both are easy to use, but the web console offers several more advanced options such as DHCP server, NAT forwarding, firewall, and IPv6 settings.
The Tether application opens on the My Devices screen, which lists all your TP-Link routers. Touch the AX50 panel to open the Home screen, which displays the network map and panels for Wi-Fi radio bands and the guest network. To access the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz wireless settings, tap the appropriate panel. Here you can enable and disable a band, rename it, change the Wi-Fi password, and enable Smart Connect, which creates a single SSID and password for both radio bands.
At the bottom of the home screen are the customer, help, and help keys. Touch the Clients button to see a list of connected devices and their IP addresses. Tap any client to see which band they are using, as well as their MAC address and join date. Here you can enable parental controls for the device, give it QoS priority and block Internet access. HomeCare allows you to create parental control profiles, enable antivirus options, and assign QoS presets to clients. The Tools button takes you to a screen where you can access all of the above settings, create a guest network, and run network diagnostics.
Solid bandwidth and signal strength
The AX50 is easy to install whether you use the TP-Link Tether mobile app or the web console. I used Tether and started by downloading the app and creating a TP-Link ID. I then touched the plus icon in the upper right corner of the My Devices screen to add a new device, select a router, and followed the instructions to turn off the modem, connect the router to the modem, and turn everything on. Once the LEDs lit up, I tapped Next and used my phone’s Wi-Fi settings to connect to the router’s SSID. I typed in the password located on the Wi-Fi info card, went back to the app and tapped that I was connected. The app immediately found the router and I entered a new router password. I selected the connection type (Dynamic IP), named both radio bands, and created new Wi-Fi passwords. After a brief firmware update, the installation is complete.
The AX50 has achieved respectable performance on our bandwidth tests. Its 109Mbps speed was faster than the D-Link DIR-LX1870 (100Mbps), Linksys MR 7350 (78Mbps) and D-Link DIR-X1560 (80Mbps). At a distance of 30 feet, the AX50 ran the packet at a speed of 42Mbps.
The 689Mbps Archer AX50 at 5GHz close proximity testing was again faster than the D-Link DIR LX-1870 (569Mbps) and Linksys MR7350 (662Mbps), but slightly behind the D-Link DIR-X1560 (712Mbps). However, its speed of 231Mbps on the 30-foot test took away the greatest honors.
To test the file transfer performance, we move a 1.5 GB folder that contains a combination of music, video, photos, and documents between the USB drive and the wired desktop, both directly connected to the router, and timed read and write speeds. The Archer AX50 manages a write speed of 42MBps, which is decent, but not as fast as the Asus RT-AX86U (52 MBps) or Linksys MR-7350 (74MBps). On the read test, the AX50 collected a faster 44MBps, but that still couldn’t match the RT-AX86U (66MBps) or MR-7350 (80Mbps).
To test the signal strength of the router, we use the Ekahau Sidekick Wi-Fi diagnostic device and the Ekahau Survey mobile app. This combination generates heat maps that illustrate router signal strengths of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz throughout our test home. (Note: Ekahau is owned by J2 Global, the parent company of Ziff Davis, publisher of PCMag.com.)
Top to bottom: 2.4 GHz signal strength, 5 GHz signal strength
The circle on the heat map represents the location of the router, and the colors represent the signal strength, with dark green being the strongest signal and lighter yellow the weaker signal. Gray areas indicate no measurable signal reception. As shown in the 2.4 GHz map above, the AX50 delivered a strong 2.4 GHz signal through most of our test house, but the signal became a little weaker in the far corners of the house and garage. The 5GHz radio router provided a better range, in which the signal remained relatively strong throughout the house.
Best Wi-Fi 6 router for the price
The TP-Link Archer AX50 offers some nice premium features for the $ 150 router, including USB connectivity and multiple LAN ports with link aggregation. It also comes with a free lifetime subscription to HomeCare, which protects your network from malware and prevents your family from visiting unwanted websites, while providing strong performance in testing. Its file transfer performance is quite adequate and does not support 160 MHz channel bandwidth, but wide channel technology is usually found on much more expensive routers. Still, the Archer AX50 is still great, which is worth the reward of our Editors ’Choice for a mid-range Wi-Fi 6 router.