Review TP-Link Deco M3: mesh network with Wi-Fi repeater design [análise/vídeo]

Everyone wants good Wi-Fi and the modems provided by broadband operators are not always able to deliver enough good signal throughout the house. Mesh technology is one of the solutions to this problem, forming a network with several devices that amplify coverage. We tested the TP-Link Deco M3: a kit of two devices with a promise of operation for up to 100 devices.

Video review of TP-Link Deco M4

Ethics notice

THE Tecnoblog is a technology-independent journalistic vehicle that helps people make their next purchase decision since 2005. Our product reviews are opinionated and have no advertising intent. For this reason, we always transparently highlight the positive and negative points of each product.

No company, manufacturer or store has paid the Tecnoblog to produce this content. Our reviews are not reviewed or approved by external agents. Deco M3 was provided by TP-Link on loan. The product will be returned after testing.

Design

As soon as I opened the box of the Deco M3, I found a little known figure here in Tecnoblog: yes, there’s a Deco M4 in there. The kit consists of a Deco M4 and a Deco M3W, which is a small device that you plug into the wall. The format is very reminiscent of traditional signal repeaters and can be discreetly plugged into any outlet.

Speaking of M3W, I missed an Ethernet port on the bevel between the base and the rear, as in other mesh router kits or even traditional repeaters. This would allow you to connect desktop, smart TVs and other devices without a Wi-Fi card. In general, there is no secret with the equipment: there are only indicator lights and a reset button on the side, which needs to be pressed with some sharp object.

TP-Link Deco M3W plugged in. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

TP-Link Deco M3 plug. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

And back to the M4, the opinion has not changed: it is presentable equipment, without a router face; the little tower is elegant and will not disturb the decoration of your room, or wherever your broadband operator’s modem is. The top has a kind of incomplete spiral embracing the TP-Link logo, which in turn is also the status indicator LED.

At the rear are two Gigabit Ethernet ports. The connector for the power supply is at the bottom, along with the reset button.

Configuration

Deco and M3W application. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

Putting the kit to work is very simple and can certainly be done by lay people. All configuration is done through the application TP-Link Deco for Android or iOS. From there, the user creates a TP-Link ID and follows the steps.

Deco installation tutorial. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

The configuration starts with the M4, which must be plugged into the outlet and also the operator’s modem. Deco tries to identify the type of your connection – if it is through DHCP, as in most cases, everything will be done automatically. If it is necessary to authenticate by PPPoE, it is possible to include the user and password. You can also configure VLANs, which can be useful if you have an IPTV subscription TV service that requires this adjustment.

Deco installation tutorial. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

After configuring the main equipment, the application itself asks if there are any more Deco units to add to the network and gives guidance on where to position the satellite device based on the layout of the residence. That done, just plug the M3W into the outlet, wait a few moments and you’re done: the configuration will be done automatically and just use it.

Deco installation tutorial. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

Another important point that deserves mention is that it is possible to expand the network with other Deco devices, which do not necessarily need to be in the M3 or M4 family. TP-Link itself discloses the connection order of the devices to have the best possible performance.

Resources

The features of M3 are identical to those of M4, not least because the router is the same. In addition to configuring VLANs, you can configure a guest network, which is isolated from the home network so that your visitors do not snoop on possible files shared on the network.

An important feature is QoS, which allows you to choose the priority of devices and ensures that your friend’s smartphone does not steal the entire internet band while you need to work. In addition, Parental Control can restrict access to websites, set a time limit and turn off the internet at certain times.

QoS, filter and parental control of the TP-Link Deco line. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

I have been using the M4 since the review aired and noticed some shortcomings that I had not yet noticed at the time. The first is related to monthly reports: the system displays data about network security and the total number of devices connected daily, but not about data traffic – which can be important for those using limited connections, such as broadband via satellite or small providers that do not need to follow the precaution of Anatel.

Another silly deficiency I found in the product is the absence of DMZ. This shouldn’t be a problem for most people, but it can be a useful feature for advanced users who need to expose the device directly to the network and don’t want to configure port forwarding individually.

TP-Link Deco router settings. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

And here again I praise the existence of the Access Point mode, which allows adding Deco to an existing network. This is useful for those who have another router controlling the internet or even for those who cannot put the operator’s modem in bridge mode (hello Vivo and Oi Fibra, what is the need to limit this function in some equipment?).

Finally, a disappointment is the integration with Alexa: the M3 box shows that the product is compatible with Amazon’s voice assistant, but does not speak of the unavailability in the Portuguese language. TP-Link had commented to the Tecnoblog that has no date to make the resource available due to the coronavirus pandemic, but you can manage with the IFTTT integrations.

Performance and signal

Top spiral of the Deco M4. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

My house has two floors and the placement took into account that I needed a unit on each floor. In addition, the main unit needed to be close to my operator’s modem or some pre-existing network point.

Here we need to divide the review in two: the Deco M4 has an excellent performance, but I cannot say the same for the M3W. And perhaps here is a case of what size is the document: since it is smaller, the M3W’s antennas are also smaller and this results in some limitations in terms of access speed and signal strength. In addition, the small access point does not support MU-MIMO.

For better coverage, I chose to place the main Deco on the lower level in the stairway hall, while the Deco M3 satellite was on the second floor, with a positioning outside the traditional logic: if it were in the top floor canopy, for example, the devices ended up connected to the main Deco in some of the rooms closest to the stairs, and the network speed was slower. The best cost-benefit was to leave it to the left of the plant.

First floor plan, where the Deco M4 is connected to the operator's modem

First floor plan, where the Deco M4 is connected to the operator’s modem

Second floor plan, where the Deco M3W was

In practice, it was possible to cover the entire house with Wi-Fi, but the transfer rate was far removed from my contracted speed (300 Mb / s) in some rooms. The closer to the main Deco, the better the performance. Individually, the Deco M4 performs well and delivers high speeds, while the M3 serves to expand signal coverage.

Speed ​​tests

The speed tests were done using a laptop with a Wi-Fi card compatible with 802.11ac, transferring files from a desktop connected via network cable and Gigabit Ethernet interface. It is important to note that the results may vary according to the type of construction and interference from neighboring routers. Values ​​are in megabits per second (not to be confused with megabytes per second).

Laptop location Average speed at 5 GHz
Lower staircase hall
Connected to Deco M4
481.7 Mb / s
Living room – lower floor
Connected to Deco M4
435 Mb / s
Room on the right side of the plant – upper floor
Connected to Deco M3
94.3 Mb / s
Upstairs Bedroom / Office
Connected to Deco M3
125.4 Mb / s
Room to the left of the upper floor
Connected to Deco M3
130.3 Mb / s

Worth it?

Deco application with M3W. Photo: Lucas Braga / Tecnoblog

The Deco M3 is an easy to install product that has the potential to please potential buyers. However, it is very complicated to recommend the acquisition: in the publication of this review, the product is sold for about R $ 950 in Brazilian retail; for that same price, it is possible to purchase a kit of two units of the Deco M4 that brings performance much higher.

What would perhaps make sense would be the single sale of the M3W, so that users of the Deco solution can expand the current network to some point where the signal is still weak. However, TP-Link do Brasil should only market the individual product next year; abroad, it is possible to buy an M3W for about $ 50.

For those who do not need a main unit with gigabit ports, you can find the Deco E3 for less than R $ 700, but I don’t think it’s worth investing in this type of equipment: broadband speeds are increasing more and more with the expansion of optical fiber from large and small operators, and equipment with Fast Ethernet has physical limitations of 100 Mb / s.

Technical specifications

Deco M4

  • Processor: Qualcomm Dual Core
  • RAM memory: 128 MB
  • Doors: Gigabit Ethernet (x2) hybrid WAN and LAN
  • Radio: 802.11ac, frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, MU-MIMO, 2 internal antennas
  • Rated speed: 300 Mb / s at 2.4 GHz and 867 Mb / s at 5 GHz
  • Connectivity: IPv4, IPv6
  • Operating modes: Router (DHCP server), Access Point (DHCP client)
  • Extra services: Amazon Alexa (unavailable in Portuguese), IFTTT and TP-Link Cloud
  • Resources: guest network, device reports, parental control, bandwidth control (QoS), Beamforming,
  • Dimensions: 90.7mm in diameter and 190mm in height

Deco M3W

  • Processor, RAM: Not disclosed
  • Radio: 802.11ac, frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, 2 internal antennas
  • Rated speed: 300 Mb / s at 2.4 GHz and 867 Mb / s at 5 GHz
  • Connectivity: IPv4, IPv6
  • Operating modes: pre-existing Deco mesh network extender
  • Extra services: Amazon Alexa (unavailable in Portuguese), IFTTT and TP-Link Cloud
  • Resources: guest network, device reports, Beamforming (QoS and parental control conform to the main Deco configuration)
  • Dimensions: 124 mm × 69 mm × 35 mm (without plug)

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