Tenda is back for round two with the latest AC18 Enhanced Smart Gigabit Router. And it doesn’t feel that long ago from our review of their first AC1900 router, the AC15, which was supposed to serve as a no-pressure option.
Despite the noticeable penny-pinching in places, we liked it just fine for an inexpensive bundle. Of course, the AC18 is a small step above its previous entry-level starter with more memory, better chipset, and VPN support all of which bring this router up to a standard most owners expect.
Keeping up with the competition, the AC18 trades in bubbly diamonds for bold angles and B2 stealth bomber inspirations. Tenda sculpted everything with a ruler and draped it in a matte finish for something aggressive, a look that many will prefer over the softer-looking AC15. It’s also more practical as a result and can be positioned flat and/or vertically, measuring in at 10.2 x 6.6 x 2.5 inches.
The status lights are resituated up front, along with a lone USB 3.0 port that’s hidden by a door tab. Everything else is around back in a neat row with a WPS (a simple connection method which you might want to disable in case of remote attack), WiFi on/off button, WAN, and four LAN ports. Like the AC15 before it, the high-gain omni-directional antennas are fixed for simplicity.
The internals are equipped with a Dual Broadcom ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, 256MB of DDR3 RAM, and 128MB of flash memory. Both 2.4GHz (600Mbps with Turbo-QAM) and 5GHz (1300Mbps) bands are provided by a Broadcom BCM4708A0KFEBG chipset. Router geeks should be aware that the AC18 could be a dead ringer of the ASUS RT-AC68 from a few years ago, which is one of the better hardware hand-me-downs a cheap router could get.
Upon setup and usage, features have been added from the AC15, but not much. Beamforming+ technology discovers and can direct its signals to active clients for better throughput, and range covers 450 square feet under normal operation. Aside from IPTV it’s really down to VPN functionality (PPTP and PPTP/L2TP) for people who value remote privacy, something that made the AC15 distinctly lacked for advanced users. Other than that, the initial configuration and dashboard remains minimalistic and easy to navigate, with the same orange sidebar layout and clean visuals take the guesswork out of most options — many will appreciate the layout if they’re needs aren’t demanding.
Wired benchmarks were good, maxing out our average download speed at 111MBps (888.16Mbps) with Speedtest. Wireless performance was also satisfactory at 5GHz range of 6 feet, our real-world figures of 78.88MBps (631.12Mbps) was roughly the same as it was for the AC15, while a rate of 53.17MBps (425.36 Mbps) over a 36-foot distance remained identical. Of course, 2.4GHz operation will be slower no matter the range and we recommend sticking with the former band, but if you must rely on it the 28.69MBps (229.52Mbps) close range and 20.45MBps (163.63Mbps) is par for the course.
Tenda has made another compliant network device with the AC18 Enhanced Smart Gigabit Router, offering slightly better hardware and sharper looks. Yet, I can’t help but think that Tenda could have taken things farther, it’s an improvement over that AC15 we reviewed, but is mildly outdated against the competition (the TP-Link Acher C2600 and TRENDnet TEW-818DRU immediately come to mind). Overall, this is still a decent option that doesn’t overpromise, especially for less than $100.