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TP-Link Deco X50 review: A solid mid-range Wi-Fi 6 mesh system

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
290
inc VAT

This dual-band mesh does its job perfectly well but the pricing isn’t particularly competitive

Pros 
Three GbE ports per unit
Basic security and parental control tools are free
Smart home integrations
Cons 
Performance doesn’t justify the price
No VPN support
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Some meshes sell themselves on extreme speeds; others focus on value. The TP-Link Deco X50 aims for the centre ground, with a mid-range price and a Wi-Fi 6 configuration that’s fine rather than exceptional.

The pack comes with three units, promising wide coverage: TP-Link says it’ll support more than 150 devices across a property of six bedrooms or more. However, each X50 station has only two radios – a legacy 2.4GHz one and a 5GHz transmitter that handles both client connections and backhaul traffic.

This makes the system a lot more affordable than tri-band systems such as TP-Link’s Deco X90 but it also means there’s less bandwidth available overall. Is it a smart economy?

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TP-Link Deco X50 mesh router review: What you need to know

The Deco X50 mesh works with all wireless devices, using both Wi-Fi 6 and older standards. Wi-Fi 6E clients can connect too, although they won’t see faster speeds. They’ll just drop back to a regular Wi-Fi 6 connection.

The system claims a throughput of up to 574Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band and 2.4Gbits/sec on the 5GHz band. Premium meshes and routers often promise double that rate, although that doesn’t mean they’re literally twice as fast. A fat 160MHz channel width helps the Deco system overcome physical obstacles and interference from other networks.

As usual, the X50 is designed to wholly replace your current router but it can also be switched into Access Point mode, to extend the wireless reach of an existing network. This disables most of its management features, however, including the network security and parental control tools.

READ NEXT: The best wireless routers you can buy

TP-Link Deco X50 mesh router review: Price and competition

The Deco X50 package currently costs £290 at Amazon, which is about the market rate for a three-node dual-band mesh kit. It recently saw a temporary reduction to £220 though; if you’re tempted, it might be worth holding out for another sale.

At the regular price, the obvious alternative is the Linksys Atlas Pro 6. That’s a very competitive option, as it only costs a tenner more, and offers faster overall coverage.

You might also consider the Netgear Orbi RBK752. At £370 this is still pretty close in price to the Deco X50, and it boasts a tri-band design. However, Netgear’s system is a few years old now, and in our tests we found it barely any faster than the Deco X50. TP-Link’s new Deco X90 system is a more impressive tri-band mesh, but also much more expensive at £474.

If you’re more concerned with keeping the cost down, Netgear’s Orbi RBK352 offers a similar specification to the Deco X50. You only get two stations rather than three but these provide acceptable coverage throughout a medium-sized home, and the £175 price is hard to quibble with. The cheapest option we’d consider is the Xiaomi Mesh System AX3000, which serves up a two-unit Wi-Fi 6 mesh for just £110. That’s a grey-import price, however, as it’s not officially distributed in the UK.

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TP-Link Deco X50 mesh router review: Hardware design

The Deco X50 units aren’t exactly beautiful but they’re unobtrusive. Each squat cylinder stands 114mm tall, with a diameter of 110mm. The only visual interest is a Deco logo at the front and a sculpted motif on the top, plus a

multicoloured LED set into the base that glows various hues to let you know when something’s amiss.

Spin the X50 units around and, at the rear of each one, you’ll find a stack of three gigabit Ethernet ports and a power socket. That’s all there is to see, aside from a recessed reset button on the underside of each one. There are no other connectors, no WPS button and no power switch.

TP-Link Deco X50 mesh router review: Software features

TP-Link’s meshes all use the same software for installation and management, so if you’ve used a Deco system in the past you’ll know what to expect. There’s no web interface to speak of, just a lightweight status page, with setup carried out via the smartphone app. This swiftly detects the Deco units and prompts you to choose a name and security settings for your new mesh.

Subsequently, the same app handles basic network management tasks such as setting QoS to prioritise specific clients and setting up port forwarding, to make individual devices reachable over the internet. To make life easier you can register a memorable internet address for your home network via TP-Link’s dynamic DNS service but, as usual, there’s no VPN server to ensure incoming connections are secure and you can’t route your traffic through an external VPN, either

Security options depend on whether you’re willing to pay an annual subscription for TP-Link’s HomeShield Pro service. For £54 a year this blocks cyberattacks and malicious content, provides versatile time limits for kids’ devices and generates a wide range of reports. For many homes, though, the basic free service will suffice, offering on-demand network security scans, plus simple per-device web filtering and bedtime settings.

The Deco app also works as a smart-home hub, offering one-touch controls for TP-Link’s Kasa appliances, plus integrations with Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings. I suspect most people already have this covered through the Alexa or Google Home apps but the simple automations could be useful, allowing you to set network events as triggers for IoT actions.

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TP-Link Deco X50 mesh router review: Performance

To test the X50’s performance, I set up the system in my own home, with one node connected to the main internet line in the study and the other two in the adjoining bedroom and downstairs living room. Then I connected a laptop to the 5GHz network, carried it around various rooms and measured read and write speeds to an Asustor Drivestor 4 Pro NAS appliance connected to one of the gigabit Ethernet ports on the primary Deco station.

Here are the speeds I saw, along with those achieved in the same tests by some of the rival meshes mentioned above:

These numbers clearly illustrate the gulf in performance between an affordable dual-band mesh and a high-end tri-band one. The Deco X90 provided convincingly faster download speeds than the X50 in every location, and more than doubled its performance at short range. That’s what you can get if you’re willing to pay the big bucks.

Yet, even within the price-conscious dual-band market, the X50 faces stiff competition. The Linksys Atlas Pro, for instance, costs only £10 more than the Deco, but its download speeds were around 35% faster on average. The Orbi RBK352, meanwhile, worked out a modest 5% slower overall, while knocking a massive £120 off the price.

READ NEXT: Check out our round-up of the best Wi-Fi extenders

TP-Link Deco X50 mesh router review: Verdict

The Deco X50 isn’t a bad idea. High-end mesh systems generally offer far more bandwidth than the typical household really needs, so it makes sense to trade off some of that performance against price.

And the Deco design has its strengths. Upload speeds aren’t bad at all, while the HomeShield and smart appliance integrations add usefulness. Three Ethernet ports per unit is a welcome provision too.

Sadly, when it comes to the core mesh function the X50 simply doesn’t distinguish itself. If you care about speed then it’s a no-brainer to pay the extra £10 for the Linksys Atlas Pro 6. Conversely, if you’re satisfied with this class of performance, you can get it much more cheaply from something like the Netgear Orbi RBK352. Either way, it’s hard to picture a situation where the Deco X50 is the best choice.

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