Last year, D-Link earned top honors with their flagship DIR-868L AC1750 Router. The performance at the time was excellent, it was reliable, and had an asking price that trumped most of its competitors from the get-go. Now that 802.11ac is becoming commonplace manufacturers have geared up for the best possible Wi-Fi device they can make for 2014. Now D-Link’s is back with their Wireless AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit Router.
Compared to its immediate predecessor the look of the DIR-880L is pretty restrained and doesn’t play off the unique cylindrical theme introduced last year. It features a glossy black surface with status lights on top and venting on the sides and underneath. Around back the usual assortment of WAN/Gigabit LAN ports and a USB 2.0 port are found, while a single USB 3.0 port and an unlabeled WPS (Wireless Protected Setup) button are located on each of the front sides. Finally, three prominent high gain antennas complete the otherwise conventional slab design.
Because most, if not all, routers are required to walk you through the setup the 880L starts you off with a default Wi-Fi network with printed SSID details on the bottom. If you prefer to change things to your liking during the installation wizard you have that option, too. The initial process only takes 2-3 minutes whether you opt for the recommend settings or customize it yourself and no installation disc is required (or even included for that matter).
D-Link was playing catch-up in when it came to intuitive user menus, which was perfectly fine for advanced network users but not so much for everyone else. As a result, the entire interface is drastically more visual, it’s so different in fact that even I was thrown off by the minimalist layout. It’s better organized and navigation is much quicker, with icon-heavy screens such as the easy-to-understand visual network map for the casual user and the QoS (Quality of Service) that allows drag and drop priority changes between connected clients and bandwidth usage.
But for all of its simplicity the 880L is a lot more vague and restrictive when it comes to full-on customization. Features such as Dynamic DNS (DynDNS) have been reduced to its most basic options, while more specific options in the Wireless Security menu options (TKIP/AES) have been taken out entirely in lieu of more immediate presets; I’m sure some people will complain but all of these changes were necessary to make network tweaking more accessible.
Savvier and less picky users will adapt quickly but as far as performance is concerned the DIR-880L produced consistent figures during our rounds of benchmarking (walls and conflicting ISM bands notwithstanding). With local file transfers and speed tests done wirelessly on both 2.4GHz/5GHz modes.
Compared to Linksys’ WRT1900AC, the DIR-880L’s 5GHz direct range (6ft) numbers trailed behind at 81.5MBps (652Mbps) and decreased to 59.2MBps (473.5Mbps) at 36ft, the most notable tradeoff is that the D-Link performed slightly better through walls. Oh the other end, 2.4GHz speeds were stable (a common issue we had with Linksys routers prior) and produced an average number of 22.6MBps (180.8Mbps). Also worth noting is the full theoretical Wi-Fi signal range is 200ft, more than enough for an upper-midsized dwelling.
Since the DIR-880L has USB ports and MyDlink support for networked cameras (we weren’t able to use the latter for testing) we had to try DLNA functionality. The nicest thing I can say is that while the streaming delivery was good (partially because of the router itself) it worked best when the network wasn’t under too much load. One feature that I do like is VPN server support, where you can securely access your network remotely from anywhere; it requires setup of your DynDNS administration first but worth the extra time it you want absolute control away from home.
So what’s the best flagship router for 2014 so far? It’s neck-in-neck but Linksys still holds the edge with its throwback-inspired WRT1900AC largely to its enthusiast-oriented features inside and out – it’s just a better performer with power users in mind. Regardless, D-Link’s new Wireless AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit Router remains a fantastic all-around option in its own right, especially when it undercuts its nearest competitors’ MSRP by default ($40-$60 cheaper online). It’s relatively affordable and definitely worth it if your home network is always on demand.