Networking

D-Link DIR-895L Review: Tri-Band AC5300 Wi-Fi Router

D-Link DIR-895L top

I have the D-Link flagship Ultra Wi-Fi router for review thanks to D-Link Singapore. This DIR-895L resembles the predecessor DIR-890L which I also reviewed last year.

D-Link DIR-895L front
The main difference between the 2 routers is the technology enhancements. The DIR-895L runs at AC5300 while the DIR-890L blazes at AC3200. What this means is that the DIR-895L can achieve up to 5300 Mbps, using 3 Wi-Fi bands – 2.4GHz at 1000Mbps and 2x 5GHz at 2165Mbps. In comparison, the DIR-890L delivers 2.4GHz at 600Mbps and 2x 5GHz at 1300Mbps, adding to 3200Mbps.

Sounds fast ya? But there is a catch.

MU-MIMO

If you read my detailed review of the DIR-890L, you would have learnt about the wireless technology called MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output). In simple terms, the router is capable of transmitting data to multiple devices at the same time using many data streams. Traditionally, routers can only transmit to one user at a time within the constraint of the maximum bandwidth, e.g. 433Mbps.

18 months later, only selected premium smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and ASUS Zenfone 3 Deluxe support MU-MIMO. And even if there are more devices, our internet bandwidth will never achieve that maximum speed. Nevertheless, the ultra-fast bandwidth can be enjoyed within the home network, for instance, transferring huge amounts of data among devices.

Remote Storage

The DIR-895L supports network access storage (NAS) by plugging a storage device to the USB 3.0 port on the router. From there, you can access the files from any connected device, like watching videos, streaming music, viewing photos. If you buy a dedicated NAS and connect to DIR-895L, it should better maximise the DIR-895L bandwidth, but only if all your devices support MU-MIMO.

The second USB 2.0 port can also be used for another slower storage device or peripheral like printer, which will allow all your devices to use conveniently.

Tri-Band Works Like 3 Routers

With 3 Wi-Fi bands built into the single router, the DIR-895L is as good as having 3 routers. During set up, the default configuration is to set all 3 Wi-Fi bands with the same network name (SSID), and let the router manage the connection, which D-Link calls “Smart Connect“. What it does is that it will intelligently select the optimal band to connect your device based on the Quality of Service (QoS) that you specify under the Features menu. You can also prioritise based on applications, like YouTube, Facebook, etc. The DIR-895L is quite intelligent in detecting the type of applications.

To share my experience, bandwidth congestion is a real problem for my old routers. I have experienced my devices displaying “unable to connect to Internet” and I wondered if my broadband was down. I then realised that my wife was streaming TV drama on her phone.

For consumers who understand the value of multiple bands, it may be more prudent to configure each band to a different SSID and to manually switch the network depending on the situation. For instance, I would configure some devices to SSID-1, others to SSID-2, and a dedicated device to SSID-3. Another reason why I don’t like to use Smart Connect: imagine you are queueing up at customs with 3 counters – Wi-Fi bands. Smart Connect is like having a single queue, and when you reach the beginning, the queue officer will direct you to the counter depending on your profile. I am at the mercy of the queue officer – the router – to decide which counter I should go to. On the other hand, when I disable Smart Connect, I end up having 3 separate queues and I get to choose which counter I want to go. This is more effective, but only if I know which counter I should go to in the first place, or else you end up taking an even longer time because you went to the longest queue.

D-Link DIR-895L rear

Coverage

The DIR-895L also comes with 8 antennas while the DIR-890L has 6. More antennas means it supports up to 4 simultaneous data stream. The DIR-895L can theoretically cover up to 500 sq m, or 5400 sq ft. But walls will reduce the coverage.

Now comes to the most important question: how is the wireless coverage? Based on my real life non-technical test experience, the DIR-895L did not perform any magic, merely average results. The DIR-895L is located at the corner of my living room with line of sight to all my bedroom doors. When I tested in my study room, the nearest room to the living room, I achieved up to 40Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, and nearly 200Mbps on the 5GHz band. At the same room, I ran speedtest on 2 smartphones concurrently, and the speed hovered around 10Mbps on one of the devices, due to the single-stream constraint. When I tested, door closed, in the master bedroom where I often experienced the most blind spot situations, the DIR-895L delivered below 10Mbps.

One thing you need to know: the higher the transmission frequency, the shorter distance it can travel, but the faster speed it can transmit. Hence, the 2.4GHz will cover a larger area than the 5GHz, while the 5GHz can deliver faster speed.

Conclusion

The DIR-895L offers fast bandwidth only for homes that use devices with the latest Wi-Fi technology, MU-MIMO, that delivers multiple data streams up to 5300 Mbps. Like all routers, the DIR-895L cannot sustain the full bandwidth if the devices are a distance away from the router, and with barriers like walls and doors. If you decide to buy it, do cater for a large area to seat the huge router. Retails at S$449 at all good electronic retail outlets.

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