MeshForce M3 review

The MeshForce M3 allows you to easily set up a mesh network on a budget

MeshForce M3
(Image: © MeshForce)

Tom's Guide Verdict

With a mesh router and pair of plug-in nodes, the MeshForce M3 tries to balance performance with the ability to fill a home with Wi-Fi for under $100. It does well at mid-range but its speeds up close and at a distance fall behind the competition. While two nodes are included with the MeshForce M3, purchasing additional nodes costs almost as much as this mesh router kit does in the first place.

Pros

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    Traditional router plus two plug-in extenders

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    Nodes have a single LAN port

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    Attractive design

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    Excellent mid-range performance and range

Cons

  • -

    Poor Performance

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    Two antenna design

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    Extra nodes cost $69

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MeshForce M3: Specs

Wi-Fi Spec: AC1200
Number of Antennas/Removable: 2/No
Ports: Router—1 WAN, 1 LAN; Extender—1 LAN gigabit per second
Processor/Memory/Storage: 1GHz/64MB/8MB
Peak 802.11ac performance: 198.4Mbps (at 15 feet)
Range: 105 feet
Size: Router—4.0 x 4.0 x 3.6 inches; Extender—4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches
Estimated Annual Electricity Cost: $19.10 for three devices

Based on a traditional mesh router and pair of plug-in Dot extenders, the MeshForce M3 package is strong enough to fill most small to mid-sized homes with Wi-Fi. While its extenders plug right into an AC outlet, have a LAN port and yielded good range in testing, the M3’s ability to move data was strongest at mid-range distances. Still, the kit lacks the Wi-Fi performance punch we’re all looking for with half the throughput of other similar Wi-Fi 5 products.  

Our MeshForce M3 review will help you decide if this is one of the best mesh routers for those on a budget looking to upgrade their home network.

MeshForce M3 review: Pricing and availability

Like the TP-Link Deco M3, the MeshForce M3 uses a hybrid approach with a mesh base router with two plug-in extenders. The three-part kit costs $100 and is rated by MeshForce to cover 4,500 square feet. Extra Dot nodes are an expensive $69 each though. MeshForce sells other mesh kits, including the M1 dual band and M7 tri-band designs.

MeshForce M3 review: Design

The MeshForce M3 design is similar in scope to the TP-Link Deco M3 as they both have a standard base router that links up with two plug-in extenders. MeshForce calls them Dots and they can hide in plain sight better than towers or cubes.

Available in black or white, the host router is shaped like a small pyramid with a flattened top. Its chrome edge on top gives it an elegant look that is unmatched in its class. The router measures 4.0 x 4.0 x 3.6 inches while the plug-in extenders are 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches and are faced with a geometric pattern. By contrast, they stick out of the wall more than the Deco M3’s units. Overall, the entire package is easy to hide and the extenders can be used right-side up or up-side down for greater flexibility.

MeshForce M3 sitting on table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Happily, the MeshForce M3 is a step ahead of the Deco M3 in one regard. Its host router has inserts for wall mounting and the extenders stand on their own, held up by an outlet.

Although the M3’s router has no vents below, its open ring at the top allows hot air to escape. Each extender has several vents underneath to bring cool air up to the device. Neither got hot during a week of heavy use.

Both designs have a single LED up front that shows its status. Solid green means everything is online with data flowing as expected while a yellow light means the extenders need to be moved closer to the router. A blinking green light shows they are ready to be configured.

Powered by a Realtek 8197 networking chip, the host router uses a 1GHz processor, 64MB of RAM and 8MB of flash storage to hold firmware and settings. By contrast, the Dot extenders have a slower 600MHz processor.

With an AC1200 rating, the system has two antennas inside, as is the case with the Deco M3. It falls short of the Vilo VLWF01 and WavLink Halo’s four antenna design. Still, the M3 can theoretically move up to 300Mbps of data over its 2.4GHz band as well as 867Mbps over the 5GHz band.

The network uses some of the latest Wi-Fi tricks, like beamforming to tailor the transmissions to suit the receiving systems and MUMIMO to service a lot of clients. It can be used with up to 60 devices at a time. Should a problem arise, both the router and the Dot extenders have recessed reset buttons.

The MeshForce M3’s wired Ethernet connections top out at 1Gbps as corners had to be cut to reach its low price tag. Besides being unable to use wide 160MHz data channels, you also can’t plug in a USB storage device into the router or the extenders. MeshForce doesn’t include any extra security software and you can’t use anything stronger than WPA2 to secure the M3.

MeshForce M3 review: Performance

Using the Wi-Fi 5 protocol, the MeshForce M3 creates 2.4- and 5GHz networks that have a theoretical speed of 1.2Gbps. Based on tests with a Samsung Galaxy Book Pro and the Ixia IxChariot networking benchmark on a busy network with 10 data hungry users in my 100-year-old home, it lagged behind other inexpensive mesh kits at most of the test distances but had superior range. 

To start, the MeshForce M3 could only muster a throughput rating of 198.4Mbps, less than half the bandwidth that the TP-Link Deco M3 (539.2Mbps) and Vilo VLWF01 (455.4Mbps) provided. This puts it back of the pack in terms of its ability to distribute data, even close up.

At a distance of 50 feet, the MeshForce M3 was able to deliver 46.8Mbps to the receiving system. That’s enough for some 4K video but again only about half the throughput available for the Vilo VLWF01 (102.4Mbps) or the TP-Link Deco M3 (93.1Mbps). 

The MeshForce M3 kit should be fine for distributing broadband at the level of roughly 100Mbps. Anything over that might end up being overkill and a waste of data and money. 

The surprise came at 75-feet, where the M3 switched to 2.4GHz mode and thrashed the competition with a throughput of 106.4Mbps. That’s 50 percent more than the VLWF01’s 71.6Mbps or the Deco M3’s 65.5Mbps. All three blew away the WavLink Halo’s 44.1Mbps.

With 90-feet separating the router and test system, the MeshForce M3 could still muster 25.1Mbps, twice that of the VLWF01 and six-times the throughput of the Deco M3. Its 105-foot range makes it the obvious choice for a large home, but with a couple provisos.

MeshForce M3

(Image credit: MeshForce)

Prime among them are that it didn’t do well in our upstairs-downstairs testing where the test machine is 40 feet away from nodes a floor above and below the host router. Both disappointed with 55.0Mbps available upstairs and 49.3Mbps available downstairs. Clearly, this is a mesh kit for use in a single floor ranch home.

It also disappointed on the test where the data signal is sent across a 20-foot room and through a wall. Here, the M3 pushed 165.6Mbps, roughly half the throughput of the Deco M3’s 332.1Mbps or the Vilo VLWF01’s 320.3Mbps.

The MeshForce M3’s data signal was strong enough to play more than eight hours of various YouTube Premium live feeds without interruption. It also passed our saturation test, where I played videos on a Samsung Tab S7 tablet while a ThinkPad T470 computer played the BBC WorldService news feed and an iPad Pro played Spotify music. While this was going on, an HP Elite Dragonfly moved files to and from a RAID storage array. There were no video or audio problems during the test.

The MeshForce base station used 5.6 watts of power while the Dot extenders each consumed 5.1 watts. Add it up and you get an annual power bill for the gear of $19.10 if you pay the national average of 14 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. That’s midway between the cheaper and greener Vilo VLWF01 and the more power-hungry TP-Link Deco M3.

MeshForce M3 review: Setup

Using the MeshForce My Mesh app, I was able to set up the three-part kit in about 16 minutes, making it among the slowest of the cheap mesh world. Everything revolves around the apps for Android and iOS. The program is similar to that used by the Tenda Nova MW6 kit.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

First, I had to agree to the company’s license and plug the router in; its green light blinked. After connecting my phone to the router’s network (the details are printed under the router), I tapped on the app’s welcome screen and added a new network name and password.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

After a quick restart, it was online and I plugged in the two extenders. Unbeknownst to me, the extenders automatically linked to the router and were active.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That said, the app warned with a yellow LED that the basement Dot was on the edge of its range.

MeshForce M3 review: Configuration

With an interface similar to the Tenda Nova MW6, the MeshForce M3 is easy to tweak and adjust. It has the same lime green look and is open and functional. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The main action takes place in the My WiFi section, which is the equivalent of the MW6’s Overview screen. In addition to a network topology map, it showed how many clients are connected. A level below the router and nodes is a section that has the online status and signal strength. It showed that the basement node had a poor signal although it was in the same place as the others, which had a better connection.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I like that the app allowed me to turn the LEDs on and off but there’s also a place to add a room name.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Tap the globe to see the type of Internet connection, the IP address and things like the Default Gateway and listed DNS servers. As far as clients go, the data includes how long it’s been connected and which node it’s connected to as well as its IP and MAC addresses.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As was the case with the Tenda Nova software, the MeshForce app’s Settings category had lots of detailed options. In addition to Wireless Settings and Guest Network, it’s easy to tweak the Parental Controls and Internet Settings. There’s a QOS section for steering bandwidth to a device.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

On top of adding a new node, it can check for new firmware or set up a Maintenance schedule for turning the router off every night to wake to a fresh network.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

MeshForce stands by the M3 kit with a one-year warranty and lifetime support. There are several set up videos, a link for help and an extensive knowledge base on its site.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Happily, if you want to talk through issues with a human, a call can be scheduled for 9AM to 9PM (Eastern time), Monday through Friday.

MeshForce M3 review: Verdict

One of the least expensive ways to create a home-bound mesh network, the MeshForce M3’s traditional router and pair of plug-in extenders fell short in terms of performance. Up close it could only move about half as much data as the others but made up for it with superior range. Its price can’t be beat but extra M3s cost $65 each, making it a poor choice for a large home. 

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in technology reporting and reviewing. He works out of the suburban New York City area and has covered topics from nuclear power plants and Wi-Fi routers to cars and tablets. The former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing and Communications, Nadel is the recipient of the TransPacific Writing Award.