Networking

Upgrade to the new Wi-Fi AC3200 Technology: D-Link DIR-890L Wi-Fi Router

When I received news that the D-Link DIR-890L is selling for S$339 instead of the recommended retail price is S$399 at the IT Show (ending 22 Mar 2015), I knew I had to write this review and publish real quick so that you can read and decide whether to buy one at such a fantastic offer.

About AC3200

First of all, a little update on Wi-Fi technology. For many years, the versions of Wi-Fi protocols are denoted by 802.11 followed by an alphabet. The latest wireless standard commonly used on consumer routers is “AC”, and has been around since 2013. In recent years, new routers have been beefed up by incorporating more “bands” to allow multiple streams of Wi-Fi connectivity, consequentially improving bandwidth. Whenever you see “AC3200”, it means there is one “N” band and 2 “AC” bands, where the “N” band can support up to 600Mbps and the “AC” band can deliver 1300Mbps (433MHz x 3 streams). If you add them up, you get 3200Mbps. To go more into the technicalities, the AC standard can only connect in 5GHz band, whereas the N standard can work in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. 2.4GHz band is the band used by the older Wi-Fi standard. So you can imagine how congested this band has been. This is one of the causes of poor Wi-Fi performance.

Compare the number of 2.4GHz routers (above) compared to the 5GHz routers (below).

The other cause of poor Wi-Fi performance is the number of devices connected to the router. Do you know that all routers can only send and receive data to one device at a time? So if you have 3 devices connected to the same Wi-Fi band, the router will alternate the data transmission across the 3 devices. This doesn’t seem to have any issues years ago when most of us only have 1 or 2 wireless devices at home. Today, we could have as many as 10, from smartphones to tablets to laptops and even home security systems.

Of course, the other common reasons for poor performance is the wireless coverage. The further you are from the router, the slower it gets. In many cases, due to solid objects like walls and doors, you get dropped signals.

Finally, the poor Wi-Fi performance could be due to the device which you are using. Not all devices are built equal. To achieve the maximum bandwidth speeds advertised for any router, the device must support multiple streams, denoted by 2 numbers with an “X” (e.g. 2×2, 4×4). Regarding this information, unfortunately, most product spec sheets leave them out. Nonetheless, you can assume that most devices could only support at most 2 streams.

Which brings us to the D-Link DIR-890L.

Specs

  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless LAN
  • Four 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN ports
  • 1 USB 2.0 port
  • 1 USB 3.0 port
  • 387 x 247.3 x 119.5 mm

Features

  • SmartConnect
  • Guest zone
  • mydlink SharePortâ„¢ web access
  • Multi-language web setup wizard
  • Green Ethernet
  • DLNA media server support
  • Advanced AC SmartBeam
  • Dual active firewall
  • Network Address Translation (NAT)
  • Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI)
  • VPN Passthrough (PPTP/L2TP/IPsec)
  • Advanced QoS
  • QuickVPN – L2TP over IPsec

Mobile Apps

  • mydlink Lite
  • mydlink SharePort
  • QRS Mobile v1.5

Why D-Link DIR-890L? Rather, why AC3200?

My current router is Dual-band N-standard, and has served me rather well. When people found out that I am reviewing this monster router, they asked me if it is good and what routers I would recommend, and particularly whether they should upgrade. My answer is: don’t replace it if you are happy with the performance. If performance is bad, possibly due to one of the above factors, then the new AC3200 routers like DIR-890L might be for your consideration.

The difference with AC3200 and the more mainstream and cheaper AC1900 is the additional band (AC1900 is actually N600 + AC1300). So what are the features on the DIR-890L that might interest the normal consumers?

1. SmartConnect Triple Band

In most other routers with dual-band features, you have to select different Wi-Fi Network Names (SSID) for each band. This means that you have to manually switch to different network bands. For DIR-890L, you only need to define one SSID, and the router will intelligently switch bands depending on the data priority (i.e. QoS). Remember that the routers can only transmit data to one device at a time? This auto-switching will theoretically improve the wireless performance among all the devices connected to the DIR-890L. Even if you prefer to assign different SSID manually to your devices, the DIR-890L has an additional band for you to use compared to other routers.

2. Powerful Intelligent Transmission

DIR-890L offers pretty impressive coverage. While reviewing the DIR-890L in my 5-room apartment, I practically have no dead zones. Even at the farthest-reached bathroom, I could still get good Wi-Fi signal. Seems the SmartBeam technology works pretty well.

3. File Sharing

If you plug in a USB storage device to the DIR-890L, you will be able to use it like a basic NAS (Network Access Storage). Install the mydlink SharePort app on your Android or iOS device and then you can upload, download or stream media files (using DLNA) from the storage device. Based on my experience, the app may not have a pretty UI, but it works fine.

4. Easier Setup

Using the D-Link QRS app, I am able to configure the router without using a computer and going through the admin page. I first experienced the advantages of QRS when I reviewed the D-Link Wi-Fi Audio Extender DCH-M225. For the DIR-890L setup, I did encounter problems renaming the SSID, for reasons unknown. So after the successful initial default setup, I logged in to the admin page from the computer to rename the SSID.

Upgrade or Hold?

As my earlier paragraph says, don’t upgrade if your current router is working fine. Most of the time, when your router is working fine and you just feel like getting a newer better-spec router, sometimes you might not achieve the desired performance increment. During the review period, other than getting better wireless coverage, I do not experience any blazing speed difference on my mobile devices, because not all of them support the new AC standard and certainly not in multiple streams (remember: to achieve 1.3Gbps maximum AC speed, your device must transmit at 433MHz with 3 streams). More often than not, I am getting lower bandwidth due to the distance from the router (average 72Mbps). So end of the day, you might end up getting the same bandwidth as your existing router.

But if your current router is getting somewhat cranky, then I would recommend you to get a router with the latest spec that technically offers tangible advantages. I feel that the DIR-890L fits into this description.

First, the tri-band might sound like a gimmick, but you do get 3 wireless bands out from the router, which means, logically-speaking, you are getting 3 routers worth of connectivity power. The new DIR-890L also has better antennas which means the wireless connection is more stable.

Second, the DIR-890L comes with 2x AC bands at 5GHz, which as of now, is not congested. Many high-end devices support the AC standard, including HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy, iPhone 6, Macbook, Sony Xperia Z3. Do a search and see how many of your current devices work on 802.11ac. At the same time, if you can find the number of streams the devices can support, then you will truly achieve much higher bandwidth than the existing N-routers! (If you really do not have any devices that work in AC standard, then forget about AC routers)

Finally, you can now get the DIR-890L at S$339 from the IT Show! At that price, the DIR-890L is the lowest-priced AC3200 router in Singapore!!! Even if you don’t have that many devices that support the latest AC3200, it is likely that you will be getting one within the next 3 years, which is the warranty period of the DIR-890L.

P.S. The red colour model is really stunning. Check it out here!

Image Credit: D-Link

Article written by Chester Tan http://musicphotolife.com/

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