The TP-Link tl-wa850 and the wa750 are both very identical, the only differences I could find are that the wa750 only has one internal antenna and the wa850 has two of them. This translates into to that the wa750 can only do 150Mbps and the wa850 300Mbps and of course de ring with the coloured leds on the wa750 are orange and on the 850 they are blue. (I do like orange leds better). Also the wifi strength indication on the ring looks nice, but is slightly pointless in my opinion. Price wise between the devices is not much differences either, so I would go with the wa850 in any case.
A bit more in depth
Because this device is a range extender, it is a shame it doesn’t have two radios. The benefit of two radio’s would be that it can send and receive at the same time passing the extended wifi along happily. This basically means that if you retransmit your wifi trough the range extender, you cut the speed in half more or less. Although this is a bit of a drawback, I haven’t found any device in this price range with two radio’s. It would be amazing if a router company decided to make such a device 🙂
Feature wise the wa850 and wa750 is a bit crippled lacklustre but that is probably by design, the slightly more expensive routers and access points they offer the much needed missing things. The fun thing is though that in terms of hardware there are no difference between some access points tp-link offers and the range extenders. For example it is not possible to run a lead to the range extender from your existing router and eliminate the issue of the cut in half speed of the wifi, oh well who know maybe they add it in a future update. But I wouldn’t bet my money on it.
Configuring the thing is relatively easy, but it works terrible when attempted over wireless directly. I would recommend using the included Ethernet cable to set it all up, Also worth mentioning is that the connection over wifi back to the main router is sometimes flaky and cuts out completely from time to time, and requiring you to unplug and replug the device.
My conclusion for the firmware that is running on the wa850 and wa750, the intend is there but not not quite there yet. Also the flakiness is dependent on what router you have, in conjunction with other tp-link devices there wasn’t an issue worth mentioning.
Beyond the exterior casing
Because I had other plans for this need device and needed some custom firmware on it I cracked open the case. Getting into the device was really a hassle because the ultrasonic welded the thing together, I ended up putting the whole thing into a vise and tightening it until a cracking sound was heard. At least my warranty was void for sure at this point ;). How the device cracked open along side the seems, I was very pleased with that. At least I’m able to put/glue it back together again.
The pcb is double sided and rather thick, not flimsy as you see more and more common these days. This also means that the device can handle some abuse of dropping it for example, from experience I know that the exterior case can handle a lot of abuse as well.
One thing though I am missing is a heat sink on the SoC, but not really needed for it’s intended purpose as range extender. Oh well it can do probably without.
The design itself is put together properly, and is almost identical the the Atheros ap123 reference design. Why change a good design anyway 🙂 For the tinkerers under us, the ring of leds can potentially be used for signal in and outputs.
More bang for your bug
Because the lacklustre firmware that the device came with and I needed to do run some other funky software on it. I ported it to OpenWrt. Currently the wa750 and wa850 are only supported under the trunk (beta) release of OpenWrt, this also means that there is by default no user interface. But my custom OpenWrt firmware comes with a webgui installed by default.
If you like to install OpenWrt stable (Attitude Adjustment), I backported the wa850 and wa750 to it as well, only downside to my backported devices is that it does come without a webgui, but it can be installed afterwards.
To install the OpenWrt firmware simply download the correct image that ends with factory in the name, and you are good to go :). You can simply flash it trough the tp-link web interface
More bang for your bug the simple way
Of course I understand that OpenWrt is not your cup of tea and you don’t want to keep tinkering with it and get frustrated when it doesn’t work. The solution for you is GarGoyle , it does run on OpenWrt Attitude Adjustment (stable). But in this case the added value is that the firmware isn’t harder then your avarage firmware a router comes with, but it does have a complete range of amazing features you have always been missing without the hassle of learning OpenWrt.
Because the range extender is fairly recently supported under OpenWrt, I made some custom gargoyle images available to flash them on to your range extender 🙂 . Just download the correct firmware with factory in the name and you are good to go, you can simply flash it trough the tp-link web interface.
The why on the custom firmware
While the original firmware on the Tp-link TL-wa850re and the wa750 works more or less, the custom firmware can really get everything out of the device. And if you flash the GarGoyle firmware you can have the same functionality again as the original firmware (extending your network). But have a lot more stuff and options in the process.
Also an other potential benefit would be that you now also have a fully fledged router.
Although the original firmware on both the wa850 and wa750 leave a lot desired, putting custom firmware on it makes it an amazing device and router.