What does a TP-Link do? It depends on which product you’re asking about. But all of TP-Link’s products allow computers, game systems, and mobile devices to network together, so they can share things like a printer and an Internet connection.
TP-Link makes a number of devices, including routers, access points, switches, network cards, and powerline adapters. What these have in common is they all create or extend computer networks, either wired or wireless.
What does TP-Link software do?
If you have software on your computer from TP-Link and wonder if you can remove it, chances are it’s left over from setting up some TP-Link device. If it’s taking up space on your computer, you can probably safely remove it.
If you see device drivers on your computer that reference TP-Link, make sure you’re not using a TP-Link network adapter before you remove it. If you do, you may lose access to your network, which probably isn’t what you want.
As for what TP-Link’s hardware products do, let’s take that one at a time.
What does a TP-Link router do?
Routers are the most versatile device TP-Link sells. A router plugs into your modem, creates a wireless network, provides a firewall for security, and ports for wired devices to plug in. Most importantly, they share your Internet connection with everything that knows how to link to it. Routers are probably the most popular home networking product. After all, the main thing people want to do with their computers and mobile devices is share an Internet connection.
Some of the higher-end routers even have USB ports so you can connect a printer, hard drive, or both to the router so all devices on your network can use them, as long as they have drivers. Your computers shouldn’t have much trouble with them, though mobile device compatibility with printers can be spotty.
TP-Link routers aren’t perfect. But as far as consumer-grade routers go, you can do much worse than TP-Link. TP-Link is fairly good about releasing security updates for their routers, and the hardware itself is pretty reliable. On top of all that, TP-Link charges less than most of its bigger-name rivals. So TP-Link routers are a good value overall.
TP-Link is one of a hanful of companies who make portable routers for travel. These routers have a USB port to plug in a phone or hotspot and a wired network jack for a computer. They allow your computer and tablet to share your phone or hotspot’s Internet connection. The connection may or may not be faster than your hotel wifi, but it’s safer.
TP-Link isn’t as good about updating its portable routers as it is its home routers, so a portable router probably still isn’t as safe as your home network. But it’s better than public networks.
What does a TP-Link access point or repeater do?
Access points and repeaters are just cut-down routers. Instead of doing five or more things like a router does, they just extend a wireless network. If your Internet connection cuts out in certain parts of your house, these devices are the cheapest solution.
Access points work if you have a wired connection available. They provide a faster connection since they can use the wired connection to go upstream, so all of the wireless power goes to your devices. Of course, most houses don’t have an abundance of wired connections. Here’s how I add them, if you’re interested.
If you don’t have a wired connection available and don’t feel like wiring your house, a repeater is easier. Place the repeater somewhere that you have a signal, and it extends it further, hopefully allowing your devices to work where they didn’t before.
What about Mesh and Onemesh?
TP-Link also makes mesh networking products, under the Mesh and Onemesh names. Mesh networking is the next level above access points and repeaters. One mesh device acts pretty much like a traditional router. Additional devices work together to extend your network intelligently. For best results, connect your mesh devices via wired connections. But for convenience, you can connect them and let them communicate over wireless. They’ll just use half the available capacity to talk to each other, and leave the other half available to your local devices.
A mesh network can have a slower top speed than a traditional network does, but its speed will be more consistent. With a traditional network, you may find you get great performance when you’re in the same room as the router, but the speed drops off considerably once you get one or two rooms away. A mesh network’s performance is much more consistent from room to room, and its range will be longer.
A switch extends a wired network. Wired networks are generally faster and more consistent than wireless networks. If you have gigabit Internet, you really need wired connections to take full advantage of it. It’s not really worth paying for gigabit Internet if your wireless network can only sustain a 500 megabit connection, which isn’t all that unusual.
Switches allow your computers and game systems to talk over a stable wired connection. TP-Link switches are inexpensive and reasonably high quality. I have two of them, and I’ve been happy with their performance. They’re as good as any other brand you’ll find selling at retail, and probably better than the store’s house brand.
TP-Link also makes powerline network adapters. These devices are clever, as they use the electrical wiring in your house to transmit computer networking signals. This is convenient, because every room has electrical outlets. Unless your house was built very recently, not every room has Ethernet.
Unfortunately, powerline networking isn’t as fast or as reliable as Ethernet. I have one that I use in a room where running wires isn’t practical, because it’s an addition that’s on a slab, so I don’t have a basement under it to run wires. I have wires in the part of the room closest to the rest of the house, so I plugged one adapter in there, and the other in the part of the room where I want the connection. In spite of being on opposite sides of the same room, I don’t get the full 500 megabit speed the adapters are rated for. Unfortunately you never know how well yours will do until you try it.
The reliability is pretty good, but every once in a while one of the adapters will cut out. This can cause streaming media to buffer, and it can interrupt video games. It’s a bigger annoyance if it interrupts a game than if it interrupts Netflix. Unplugging one or both adapters from the wall and plugging back in usually clears it right back up, but it’s nice when stuff just works.
Now that mesh networking is getting less expensive, I may replace it with mesh.
TP-Link also makes wired and wireless network cards. If the networking built into your computer malfunctions, or if you want to add a different type or upgrade, you can add a network card. TP-Link makes network adapters both for USB ports and for a desktop computer’s internal slots.
TP-Link’s USB adapters are no worse than anyone else’s. As long as they are compatible with your device, they’re a good choice. Just don’t assume that if your game system has USB ports, any USB device will work in it. It probably won’t work in a Nintendo Switch, for example.
As for TP-Link’s internal adapters, there’s nothing especially wrong with them, but I like to buy secondhand Intel cards instead. If you need a card today, TP-Link is fine. But if you can wait a few days, Intels are nicer, and no more expensive if you know my secrets.