- A top-end mesh Wi-Fi system should be easily installed, capable of providing high-speed internet to every end of your home, and supported by a useful app with plenty of features.
- I like the TP-Link Deco M4 Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System because it covers homes of up to 5,500 square feet, provides connectivity for up to 100 devices, and has effective parental controls.
- The Deco M4 is relatively affordable at a list price of $179.99 ($148.99 at the time of writing), and the router comes with a two-year warranty and feature-packed app.
About a year ago, my family moved to Michigan after we got a sweet deal on a giant historic home. But with the excellent price came an endless stream of headaches.
In addition to having to put tens of thousands of dollars into repairing the place, it was hard to find a decent router capable of providing Wi-Fi to every room. This is a must since both my wife and I work from home.
So far, we’ve found that mesh Wi-Fi systems are the only things that can reach every nook and cranny of our abode. These are multi-device systems consisting of a main router and one or more satellites, or extenders. Of the half dozen or so mesh systems I’ve tested, the TP-Link Deco M4 Mesh Wi-Fi System is the cheapest and has the best parental controls.
Design and setup
The Deco M4 comes with three identical routers, all cylindrical and white so they’ll blend into any home. One serves as the main router and connects directly to your modem. The other two are satellites designed to extend the reach of your Wi-Fi coverage.
Setup is seamless – I didn’t experience any hiccups along the way.
It only took about half an hour from opening the box until I was able to stream a video on my computer. This is relatively quicky since I was essentially installing three routers instead of one.
The app provided step-by-step directions that were easy to follow too in case you don’t know how to. As I installed each router, it gave me helpful tips on where to position them in my house. Once everything was in place, I updated the firmware and was ready to go.
- Dual-Band (5 GHz and 2.4 GHz)
- Each unit has two ethernet ports
- Covers 5,500 square feet as a system
- Provides connectivity for up to 100 devices
- 2-year warranty
- 24/7 technical support
- Controllable with Alexa
- WPA/WPA2 wireless encryption
- Wireless type: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
For more specs, check out the Deco M4’s product page.
Performance and features
Though the speeds aren’t amazing, the Deco M4 provides solid-enough internet to every corner of my 4,000-square-foot home and beyond. Right next to the modem, the Wi-Fi speeds are 185.2 Mbps on downloads and 222.1 Mbps on uploads in my tests.
In my office, next to one of the satellites, the Wi-Fi speeds are 17.8 Mbps on downloads and 17.3 on uploads. With a wired connection to the satellite, there is a slight bump in speeds – 20.6 Mbps downloads and 38.3 Mbps uploads.
In the far corner of my unfinished basement, which is a floor below and 50 feet away from the main router, I still have 17.9 Mbps downloads and 14.4 Mbps uploads. And, in front of my neighbor’s house, about 100 feet from the modem, the speeds are 7.2 Mbps down and 4.9 Mbps up.
Best of all, when we run several devices at once including three computers, three phones, a tablet, an Xbox, and countless smart home units, we don’t notice any degradation of streaming quality or any slow page-load speeds.
The parent controls work as advertised, too. With so many router brands moving toward paid parental control subscriptions, it’s refreshing to find a system supported by free and effective parental controls.
There are several ways to control your children’s access. With the app, you can block specific sites, which can help with productivity. You can also block content based on what is age-appropriate, and set time limits or specify what times you want the internet to be turned off on certain devices. In my tests, all of these services work well.
Depending on how speedy your internet service is supposed to be and whether you gave a wired or Wi-Fi connection, you might feel slowed down by the router.
The Deco M4 is a dual-band AC1200 router, so it can reach speeds up to 1200 Mbps total between its two bands – 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. This works out to an 867 maximum on the 5 GHz band and 300 on the 2.4 GHz. I have fiber optic internet that’s supposed to be able to reach 1 Gbps speeds. With this router’s max of 867 Mbps on a single band, I can’t experience the most out of my internet.
However, this should be taken with a giant grain of salt. The 1 Gbps speed for my internet is based on a wired connection, not Wi-Fi. The fastest Wi-Fi speed I’ve achieved using any router is 400 Mbps, well below the Deco M4’s limit. So unless you’re moving around massive files, you won’t notice a difference between 867 Mbps and 1 Gbps speeds.
I wish there were more ethernet ports on the routers. I have several devices that require a wired connection, and even one or two more ports would have been helpful. Fortunately, for less than $20, you can get a switch that will add four more ports.
The bottom line
Though the speeds didn’t break any records, I was impressed with how well the Deco M4 performed despite its sub-$200 price tag.
Should you buy it?
If your house is between 3,000 and 5,500 square feet, the TP-Link Deco M4 Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System is one of the most cost-effective mesh systems that’ll reach every corner of your home and then some.
It’ll serve the needs of homeowners, but if you’re hoping to play graphics-intensive computer games on a Wi-Fi network in the basement or far corner where noise doesn’t travel, you may have trouble getting the speeds you want. If this happens, I’d recommend connecting to the main router via a long ethernet cord or spending extra on one of the alternatives below.
What are your alternatives?
Below are three mesh systems that I’ve personally tested that cost significantly more than the Deco M4 but provide faster internet throughout my 4,000-square-foot home:
- Gryphon Smart Mesh Wi-Fi System ($209.00) – At this price, you get just one unit, which can then be added to later. This also comes in two and three-pack varieties. It’s the best mesh system I’ve tested and it provides fast speeds to more than a dozen devices throughout my home. Its biggest detractor is the parental controls. There are several ways to control content, but they don’t always work as they are supposed to. Read my full review here.
- Netgear Orbi Voice Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System ($228.88) – This two-unit system is unique because the satellite doubles as a high-quality speaker that’s compatible with Alexa. The Orbi Voice offers excellent speeds throughout my house even when several devices were in use. The parental controls are a negative with this as well: for full functionality, you have to buy a subscription to the Circle app. Read my full review here.
- TP-Link Deco M9 Smart Hub & Whole Home Wi-Fi Mesh System ($229.99) – Another TP-Link router, the two-unit Deco M9 system has impressive coverage. I placed one unit by the modem and the other on the third floor, and received seamless Wi-Fi everywhere. It may be worth spending $60 extra (compared to the M4) for the bump in Wi-Fi speeds. Read my full review here.
Overall, I’m a fan of the TP-Link Deco M4. I strongly recommend picking it up if you’re looking for an affordable device that can reach every corner of a home of up to 5,500 square feet, especially if you want to control your children’s internet usage.
Pros: Covers 5,500 square feet, can be used with up to 100 devices at once, excellent parent controls, intuitive app, affordable given comparable alternatives
Cons: Network speeds have a low upper limit (AC1200), only two ethernet ports on each unit