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REVIEW: D-LINK DIR-868L WIRELESS AC ROUTER

Faster than Wireless-N, but disappointing range

Since moving in to our new place, we’ve really struggled to get a decent WiFi signal to all corners of the apartment.  It’s a little bit larger than our last place, but the construction is concrete/steel rather than the brick and stud-wall construction, which is relatively easy to get a signal through.

With wireless AC having been out a while (in draft format, at least) I decided to take the plunge and invest in a new AC equipped router.  Call it future proofing.

After a quick look on Amazon, the DIR-868l from D-Link seemed to have all the features I needed at a reasonable price, so here we go…

Design

I’m a huge fan of the design of the DIR-868l.  It’s interesting and yet understated at the same time.

From the front and sides it looks like an oversized Coke can, only finished in a high gloss, black plastic finish.

DIR-868l 3

It looks a little bit like Apple’s new Mac Pro, though probably with less processing power under the hood.

To the front you have two LED indicator lights, one showing power, and the other showing Internet connectivity.  I’m a huge fan of this, one of my biggest complaints about our previous router was that it was covered in powerful blue LED lights that caused a huge distraction when streaming video.

This understated look makes the DIR-868l ideal for use within a living room, where you probably don’t want your router to look like a mobile disco.

To the rear of the unit you’ll find a USB 3 port, 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports and the Gigabit WAN port for connection to a cable or DSL modem.

DIR-868l 2

In terms of design, that’s pretty much it, and I really like it.  Even though this router isn’t going to be sat in the living room, I still didn’t want it drawing too much attention to itself.  The DIR-868l does an excellent job of remaining inconspicuous.

Performance

It took me a little while to get the DIR-868l to work properly with my ISP’s modem.  My previous router, a TP-Link unit, sussed out the settings automatically and worked straight away.  This model took a little more thought.

D-Link’s quick start guide and online FAQ were of no help whatsoever, they just said “speak to your ISP to obtain settings”.  Seeing as my ISP are a nightmare to deal with I had to muddle through myself, but I got there in the end.  It’s worth pointing out that there is a wizard built in to the router to help you, it just didn’t work properly for me.

Once I’d gotten the darn thing configured it actually worked pretty well.  In fact, my network has been a lot more stable than my previous router, which needed rebooting once or twice a week.

Transfer speeds between wired devices has been about what I’m accustomed to – around 90MBps in Windows file transfers.  Wireless perfomance with non-AC devices has been impressive as well, yielding file transfer speeds of around 10-12MBPs, compared to speeds around 8MBps on my old TP-Link router.

For testing the routers Wireless AC performance, I’ve upgraded the built in wireless card in my laptop to an Intel 7260 based card, which should be able to cope with 5GHz connections up to 867Mbps.

In practice, the transfer speeds I registered to a wired computer were around 45MBps, which equates to 360Mbps.  A lot less than the quoted maximum, but a lot MORE than I’ve ever received on a wireless device before.

Other devices on my network will be upgraded to Wireless-AC in due course, but for now it’s nice to know that I’m getting speeds significantly faster than Wireless-N has ever given.

In terms of range, 5GHz performance is noticeably improved when compared to my old router.  I can stay on the 5GHz band for most rooms in the flat, only losing connection when I move into a room four concrete walls away from the router.  With the router sat in front of an open window, I can pick up a clear signal at the opposite end of the courtyard, around 35m away from the router.

Unfortunately, performance on the 2.4GHz band is actually slightly worse than with my Wireless-N router.  It’s still better than the 5GHz band (2.4GHz penetrates walls better), but it’s worse than on my previous router.  Two rooms of our flat are no-go areas for wireless coverage.

Perhaps this is to do with the aerials of the DIr-868l being built in to the casing.  On my TP-Link unit they were movable, which had allowed me to position them to give the best coverage.  On this one I pretty much have to live with what I’ve been given, which is the price to pay for the clean design.

Web Interface

The only concern that I had when buying this router was that I know how terrible D-Link’s web interface has been in the past.

Unfortunately, they’ve not improved much since I last used one of their routers.  It’s still just as slow to load, looks incredibly dated and doesn’t use industry standard terminology that other manufacturers decided on years ago.

That being said, there are quite a few features built in.  You can configure the built-in USB port to be used for a printer or USB hard disk, you can easily set up a DMZ, port forwarding, dynamic DNS and a range of other features.

Dlink Web Interface

One thing that D-Link do better than some other manufacturers is the QoS (Quality of Service) options that they include.  Using this you can control the priority of individual services (and devices) when it comes to how much of your Internet connection is used for them.

As an example, you can prioritise YouTube traffic so that your videos don’t take so long to buffer when others on your network are web browsing or downloading large files.  The router will give YouTube priority, effectively throttling back the connection to other services.

If you’re a heavy web user or spend a lot of time on services like Xbox Live then this is a huge advantage.  You can give your online gaming the highest priority, so that you don’t lag whenever someone else in your household decides to watch their favourite show on Netflix.

Conclusions

For me, the DIR-868l offers several improvements over my previous router.  The wireless range and speed are generally better (although less than D-Link would have you believe), the design is much more fitting with my decor, and (for now) it seems a lot more stable.

If you’re looking for a router to quickly and easily share between multiple devices then this is definitely one to look at.  Unfortunately, it does lack some features of other Wireless-AC routers out there.  It only has one USB port (admittedly USB 3), so if you want to connect a printer and a hard disk at the same time you’re out of luck.

That being said, performance difference over a decent Wireless-N router is still huge, so if you’re newer devices come with AC capability, then the DIR-868l offers a (reasonably) affordable way to get some much faster speeds.  At around £120 online it’s cheaper than most AC routers out there, and comparable to high end Wireless-N routers.

DIR-868l score

Author

Matt

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