The TP-Link Deco M5 and Google WiFi are two of the latest WiFi mesh systems (although Google WiFi had the advantage of being released several months earlier) and both are sharing very similar traits and are focusing towards the same type of audience: users that have a large house with lots of wireless “dead-zones”. The concept of a wireless mesh system is not something that got invented in the last couple of years, it is actually quite old (more than a decade) and was commonly found inside an enterprise or military environment. As with every other technology, as it ages, it gets less expensive to implement and, as expected, even the mesh tech has been ported to the consumer market in the form of two to three (usually) identical nodes.
|TP-Link Deco M5|
As expected, every major networking manufacturer has released its own version of a WiFi system, each aiming at bringing something unique to the table: Linksys and Netgear created tri-band WiFi systems (Orbi dedicated a band to backhaul, while the Velop left it for the wireless clients, along with the other two bands) and the older dual-band Eero, Luma and Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD had a lot more time to perfect themselves, therefore making the mesh technology simple and affordable.
The Deco M5 and the Google WiFi are also dual-band mesh systems which promise a high level of simplicity and a great wireless performance (all at an affordable price tag), so let’s see which is the better one.
Note: You can also check the full review of the TP-Link Deco M5 and the full review of the Google WiFi.
Unlike the usual wireless routers (where we get variations of pretty much the same design blueprint), the WiFi systems manufacturers have gone to some lengths to ensure that their devices are uniquely designed and won’t be mistaken for other systems from the competition. So, these systems can be found in various shapes and sizes, but, the one that I think has the best design so far, is Google WiFi.
The kit comes with three identical units (you can also purchase a single unit), each node (also called point) being quite small (it measures 4.17 x 2.70 inches), but heavy enough to ensure it won’t budge after you connect the Ethernet wires (it weighs 12 ounces). The small cylindrical case is horizontally divided into two parts and in the middle, there’s a narrow section which houses the LED light (the exterior is covered by a matte finish, so it won’t retain any fingerprints).
It’s clear that TP-Link had the Google WiFi appearance in mind (and, maybe, the Eero system) when it designed the Deco M5 since every node is also quite discreet, small and cylindrical. But that’s where the similarities end, since a single unit measures only 4.7 x 1.3 inches and it weighs 8 ounces, therefore making it less prone to accidentally falling off the table because of some careless passers-by.
Furthermore, while a Google WiFi node is elegant, but a bit conservative looking (it could easily pass as a cream recipient), TP-Link gave the Deco M5 an unusual top side: the case swirls on the upper side to give a seashell-fractal overall impression. Similarly to the other WiFi systems, the Deco M5 is covered by a white matte finish (so, no fingerprints) and, along with the Google WiFi, it can be easily positioned anywhere in the house. Furthermore, because of the minimal design and small form-factor, neither will attract too much attention (that’s an advantage that neither the Linksys Velop, nor the Netgear Orbi have, since both are taller devices which, inevitably will need more careful planning before being positioned inside the room).
But, the small size may come as a disadvantage when talking about heat dissipation. TP-Link did not break the design continuity with any vent holes, but it did add a substantial amount of cut-outs on the bottom which have proven to be useful and kept every router unit at a reasonable temperature. Google WiFi, on the other hand, lacks any relevant cut-outs so the points will have a harder time cooling themselves (at this moment, no unit has overheated, but this is something that may change as the devices age a bit more).
The advantage that both the Google WiFi and the TP-Link Deco M5 have over the other WiFi systems is that any unit can act as the main router, while any other unit can be the satellite (the non-mesh Netgear Orbi has a router and a satellite, which are not interchangeable, but be aware that the mesh is not necessarily the main differentiating factor between these two groups, as can be seen in the case of the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD).
Like I mentioned earlier, the Google WiFi has a narrow section which is home to a LED that has the role of showing the status of the network and the node by displaying different colours: flashing amber signifies that the node has no Internet connection, flashing red indicates an error, while solid blue means that the device is returning to factory default settings and solid green-blue indicates that everything is working properly and the node is registered. The Deco M5 also has a LED which shows the status of the network, but it is a lot less intrusive (almost unnoticeable) and lies on the top of every unit (similarly to Linksys Velop). The LED will flash blue when the node is ready for setup (solid blue means that it is setting up), solid red indicates an error and solid green means that everything is working properly. During the night, the LED can be turned off.
I do see the value in the simplicity of these devices, but I’m not sure using a single LED setup is the best way of showing the status of the system, simply because colours are not an universal construct and, while red may indicate an error in pretty much all systems, blue, green or yellow could mean anything (sometimes they’re implemented into two phases: solid and flashing). So, people need to have the manual at their side to understand what’s going on with their network and that’s the opposite of simplicity in my book. Fortunately, manufacturers have started to support various ways to configure the WiFi systems via voice control (such as compatibility with Amazon Alexa), but, so far, this system is still quite crude and will need a longer period of time to be fully implemented (so far, both the Google WiFi and Deco M5 support basic voice commands through Alexa).
Every TP-Link Deco M5 node has the same ports and buttons on the bottom and rear side: a Reset button, a USB Type-C port (which is used solely for powering up the router – it’s not compatible with any external storage device) and two Gigabit Ethernet ports (WAN/LAN – depending on the node, if it will act as the main unit or if it will be a satellite).
The bottom of every Google WiFi unit has a large carved zone that gives you access to a USB type-C port (for powering the router) and two Gigabit Ethernet ports (one port will act as WAN if the node is the one that will connect to the Internet, while the other nodes will have two available LAN ports). The Reset button is located on the back side of the Google WiFi, where the LED section is interrupted.
Verdict: The Google WiFi and the TP-Link Deco M5 are very similar WiFi mesh systems from the design point of view: both have three identical units, both have a single LED indicators and two Gigabit Ethernet ports, so, in the end, it will come down to user preference. Even if I do prefer the design of the Google WiFi, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I will call this round a tie.
Every TP-Link Deco M5 is equipped with a quad-core Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chip (at 638 MHz), a Qualcomm Atheros QCA8072 switch chipset, Bluetooth 4.2 BlueCore WLCSP chip, 256 MB of RAM and 32MB NOR flash memory. The 2.4GHz radio band makes use of the Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chipset and the 5Ghz radio band also uses the Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chip, along with a Qorvo RFMD RFPA5542 Power Amplifier.
Google WiFi is built on the same platform, so it’s also equipped with a quad-core Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chipset (at 717 MHz), a Qualcomm Atheros QCA8075 Gigabit Switch, 4GB eMMC flash memory / 4MB Winbond 25Q64FV and 512MB of RAM. The 2.4GHz radio band uses the Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chip and the 5GHz also uses the Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019 chip with the Skyworks SKY85717-11 integrated module. Similarly to the Deco M5, the Google WiFi also takes advantage of the Bluetooth 4.2 technology and the ZigBee technology (although not officially, a version without ZigBee support has been spotted at the FCC).
TP-Link Deco M5 is advertised as featuring a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 400 Mbps using the 2.4GH band and a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 867 Mbps using the 5GHz radio band. Added together (and rounded), we get 1300 Mbps per device. A Google WiFi unit is advertised as being an AC1200 class router, so, using the 2.4GHz radio, the maximum theoretical data transfer rate is 300 Mbps and, while using the 5GHz radio, the data rate is 867 Mbps (adds to 1167 Mbps and rounds to 1200 Mbps).
Verdict: Both the TP-Link Deco M5 and Google WiFi are built on the same platform (Qualcomm Atheros IPQ4019) and each is honestly advertised as being AC1200 and, respectively AC1300 class devices (no inflated numbers on the box this time), but the Google WiFi has a slight hardware advantage, so it wins this round by a nose.
Features and Performance
Although WiFi systems such as Eero, Luma or Open-Mesh were already taking advantage of the wireless mesh technology in a home environment, Google WiFi was the one that really took it into the mainstream and made this type of approach a lot more popular. No, it did not bring anything new to the table over older systems, but it did make the mesh approach simple, affordable (maybe the most important factor) and it definitely used its brand name to reach a higher level of trust. So, it’s clear that Google did a lot of things right and the later released TP-Link took some notes and also released an affordable system that operates pretty much in the same way, but it has added some twists to separate itself from the bunch (which I will address a bit later).
The implementation of the wireless mesh technology inside a home has the potential to cover larger areas and leave no corner untouched which is something that even a high end router can miss if the walls are thick and the house is very large and old.
In order to take advantage of the wireless mesh, you need to connect one node (can be any unit) to the Internet and spread the other units around your house (most systems will let you know if the distance between nodes is too high). So, depending on the position of your wireless clients, the data will only go through one node or, if necessary, it will travel through the second or even the third node to reach its destination.
To choose the best path, the system uses various algorithms to detect the signal strength, the number of clients already connected to a node, the channel availability (and more), so the data finds the best and fastest route available (which is dependable on the position of the nodes). Besides its increased flexibility, a mesh network can also heal itself in case a node fails (so, the system once again analyses its options and the data gets rerouted through the next best node, so it manages to reach its destination) and it can create new and faster routes in case you add additional nodes to the network.
So, the more nodes, the better will the network behave and it will have more bandwidth, right? Well, no quite. In reality, as you add more nodes, it gets harder to manage the backhaul traffic and, by the fourth node, the system may become completely unusable (especially for one-band systems). That’s why both the Google WiFi and the Deco M5 use a dual-band setup. But, this still may not be enough, especially if you have lots of clients that need to be connected, so a tri-band would have made things a lot better.