The TP-Link TL-WR841N (and the similar TL-WR841ND) is a lower-mid range router that routinely sells in the $20-$25 range. Although many people consider it an off-brand, TP-Link has had a following in the enthusiast community for a couple of years. I’ve been prone to recommend them because they have a better track record than many of the bigger-name brands of continuing to release firmware upgrades that fix security vulnerabilities. If you’re going to buy a router and leave it stock, you’re better off with a TP-Link than anything else.
I only used the stock firmware to load DD-WRT on it though, so about all I can say is that the TL-WR841N runs DD-WRT really well.
It’s possible to find cheaper routers than the TL-WR841N, but the ones I’ve seen typically have a single antenna and a 400 MHz CPU in them. The TL-WR841N has two antennas and a 535 MHz CPU, which I think is worth the extra $5 most of the time. In a situation where you’re deploying multiple access points, perhaps you would do better with a larger number of shorter-range, inexpensive devices, but that wasn’t my situation.
The key with any device is knowing its limits, and at this price point, you’ll have some. The TL-WR841N is a single-band, 2.4 GHz router, so it will get interference from microwave ovens and 2.4 GHz phones. It’s not unusable in those situations, but if you’re in a neighborhood where everyone has wi-fi, the 2.4 GHz band is likely to be crowded and moving up to a dual-band router that can move some communications into the 5 GHz band may give you a way of escape.
Also keep in mind that even though the TL-WR841N is advertised at a speed of 300 megabits, your wireless clients will only get those kinds of speeds when they’re talking to each other. The wired ports on the TL-WR841N are 100 megabits, so when you’re talking to the wired portions of your network, you won’t get anywhere near 300 megabits. And, of course, your Internet connection is probably nowhere near even 100 megabits. If this router makes your wireless Internet connections faster, it’s because your devices are getting a better signal.
Of course, addressing those concerns becomes a slippery slope. If I get gigabit, I might as well get 802.11ac, which is faster still, and more antennas, and multiple USB ports so I can share some disk storage and a printer, and pretty soon I’m looking at a $60-$100 device instead of a $20 device.
I took a look around, noticed I don’t have any 802.11ac-capable devices yet, and realized what I really wanted was to get better reception in a single room of the house that gets lousy reception, so that $60-$100 device was going to be overkill.
What it can do
After I upgraded and installed the TL-WR841N, I tested its range with Meraki Wifi Stumbler running on an Android phone. I found it does a pretty nice job of covering 1,200 square feet of area, if not a bit more. With my ISP-provided router in the basement and the TL-WR841N working as an access point positioned on the first floor, I don’t have any dead areas anymore. And now I’m free to try moving the router around a bit to try to get better coverage in the areas the TL-WR841N isn’t reaching, since now I don’t have to worry about the router trying to reach the back room, where it was struggling.
The key to getting good coverage really seems to be looking around with a tool, like Meraki Wifi Stumbler, so you can see where the signal is weak and what channels are strongest where. My signal was weak in my back room, and I found that channel 6 was what most of the neighbors were using. So I put the TL-WR841N in that room running on channel 1, to supplement my existing router, which was on channel 11.
It took about two minutes for me to reach that conclusion, which was nice. And the results were pretty much immediate.
It’s likely to struggle to cover all areas of a three-bedroom house. Then again, I’ve never had much luck covering the entirety of anything larger than a two-bedroom house with a single router. This makes a fine supplemental access point, and getting two of them to cover a typical house won’t cost much money, which is nice.
I’ve had no speed or stability issues with it. It’s been a rock solid device, especially for the money. I recommend it.