It’s going to take a while, but when the rest of the world catches up, we’ll be ready. I like to think that’s what the guys over at D-Link had in mind when they introduced their 802.11ac routers. Because realistically, there aren’t a lot of devices out there that can take advantage of the pre-draft network standard. Having the biggest guns for the latest technology is one thing, but the flagship of D-Link routers, the DIR-868L Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud Router, also brings the familiar wireless essentials in an updated package.
We called this a behemoth of a router when we first unboxed it at the office. Instead of a discreet squarish box that blends into the living room, the DIR-868L is basically a large upright cylinder draped in a glossy black plastic finish. The overall design is mostly featureless, save for green status LED lights on the front, a few vents, and the expected gigabit ports: LAN (four in total), WAN port, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button, a USB 3.0 port, and power button located around back while the reset button is hidden underneath. This styling is not only an interesting aesthetic exclusive to higher-tier D-link routers, but the vertical orientation is supposed to provide a wider and evenly spread wireless signal between the six MIMO 3×3 internal antennas. However this also makes the DIR-868L impossible to wall mount without a bit of ingenuity.
For a long time we believed that Linksys routers were the best for initial setup novices, and in its own right D-Link has come close with a similar experience. We say similar because you have two ways of getting started. Simply plugging in the necessary cables through the router and following the on-screen instructions (no installation disc is required or even included for that matter) is definitely the recommended and typical approach since its quick and easy. But if you want to be clever, you can download the available QRS Mobile app for Android and/or iOS. To be honest, we think that this method is mostly a novelty since you’ll need both the app and the included QRS info card (which you’re likely going to lose at some point), and our experience with the process was hit-or-miss. It’s just better to do your configuring through the browser itself. When the setup is complete, you have a preset network ID and password that can left alone or changed with the info printed on the bottom of the router.
With all the sleekness and tech packed into the DIR-868L, it’s a contrast to see a configuration menu that literally dates all the way back to 2008. Unlike the Linksys model where only the essential and smart Wi-Fi settings are at your fingertips, D-Link puts every option in front of you. For casual users who want straightforward controls, this router is pretty cluttered and can be somewhat daunting to find the right group of settings. The exact opposite can be said for those who demand absolute control of their network, as incidentally there’s no shortage of advanced capabilities such QoS which actually improves lag and buffering and how much power the antennas can transmit at one time.
Unsurprisingly this is probably why D-Link routers are so popular among gamers and technophiles, despite the lack of an updated and cleaner interface. Equipped with Linksys Wireless Mini USB AC 580 Dual Band Adapters (AE6000), we tested the wireless performance of the DIR-868L by transferring files over a home network at a set distance of around 5 ft for short range and 25 ft for long range figures away from the router. True to its 802.11ac abilities we clocked download speeds of 58Mbps at close distances and 44Mbps at our possible maximum distance, the latter numbers has more to do with the physical hindrances of being behind three walls.
For typical 802.11n (5GHz), our averages were good also. We recorded 24Mbps (near) and 20 (far), while legacy 2.4GHz speeds had us moving at a pedestrian 8.3Mbps (near) and 5Mbps (far). Overall, both GHz varieties are within acceptable limits, but the general performance of this router beat out our closest competitor, the Linksys EA6400 in everything except 2.4GHz benchmarks. Overall our figures were pretty consistent between our set distances and multiple file transfers.
This router in general is excellent, but the DIR-868L has little to offer in terms of expandability. The biggest culprit among them are the compatible mobile apps from D-Link such as the aforementioned QRS app and more specifically the SharePort Mobile app, which serves as the router’s second proprietary content streaming tool for mobile devices. The biggest caveats are streaming and limited format support, basically same issues we had with the SharePort Go that are still present. Libraries are very slow to upload, common file types outside of .mp4 and .mov won’t play, and it can’t run as background apps. Straightforward USB support is adequate for support printers or external storage device (NAS), it’s not my first choice, but it is a good bridging tool if you’re after a more consistent and interchangeable DLNA solution.
Despite the interface not being the most user-friendly for normal people, and the optional mediocre apps, the D-Link DIR-868L Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud Router dutifully combines the best components of their previous models into one cylindrical package. As an advanced next generation 802.11ac, it provides a steady connection at a relatively reasonable price compared to the Linksys and NETGEAR offerings, and it’s probably the best router we’ve currently tested. Granted the cloud features still need work, but these nitpicks won’t take away from the performance factor, making it a device both technophiles and intermediate users will get plenty of use from.
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