D-Link DIR-868L Cloud Router
Review Price £139.99
Superfast wireless n & ac performance
Smart, interesting design
mydlink Cloud platform remains basic
Just one USB port
No Ethernet activity LEDs
Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac; mydlink cloud platform; 802.11n dual band 5GHz & 2.4GHz wireless; USB 3.0 port; 4x Gigabit Ethernet Ports
What is the D-Link DIR-868L?
The DIR-868L is D-Link’s second 802.11ac wireless router following the impressive DIR-865L. Like its predecessor, it integrates the company’s mydlink cloud platform, but also reverts to the D-Link’s popular cylindrical design and incorporates the acclaimed SmartBeam technology found in the DIR-645 when using 802.11n. Could this combination make it both the wireless n and ac router to beat?
D-Link DIR-868L – Design
As mentioned the DIR-868L is the first time D-Link has brought its likeable cylindrical design to an 802.11ac model. This should not be surprising as many of the first wireless ac routers broke from their respective companies’ traditional designs due to the scramble to get models to market.
In addressing this, D-Link is doing more than gifting us a more pleasant aesthetic. Many routers tend to perform better from one side of another (try turning your router around at home to test this), but D-Link boasts the cylindrical shape of its Darth Vader Pringle tube means signal can be distributed equally in all directions.
Aside from this the cylindrical design gives the D-Link DIR-868L a pleasingly small footprint. And while its casing is plastic like all routers (so as not to block wireless signal) it is well made and doesn’t pick up fingerprints easily. The only downside of the cylindrical design is it is not wall-mountable.
D-Link DIR-868L – Features
The D-Link DIR-868L Cloud Router’s specification list is impressive. The highlight is obviously the 802.11a/b/g/n/ac connectivity, which is boosted by six amplified internal antennas, but the talking point is the aforementioned SmartBeam.
This is a standard part of the 802.11ac spec (where it is called ‘Beamforming’) but is not usually applied to wireless n. It works by detecting connected devices and focusing signal in their direction instead of casting out wireless signal randomly in all directions. It benefits range and performance significantly. This gives us high hopes that the 868L Cloud Router will bring new life to your existing wireless n equipment, not just shiny new ac kit.
Moving to the more perfunctory side of the D-Link DIR-868L, it also packs Gigabit WAN, 4x Gigabit Ethernet ports and a USB 3.0 port for sharing a wireless printer or USB storage across a network.
Being picky, we would like D-Link to supply a second USB port (increasingly common on routers these days) and more Ethernet ports, but no router-maker seems to be listening to this latter request. One larger complaint is the 868L’s Ethernet ports have no flashing LED activity lights. Some may welcome this as the lights can be distracting, but they are a useful element in troubleshooting problems should you ever run into difficulties.
Switching to software the D-Link DIR-868L offers WPA/WPA2 security plus WPS for adding devices at the touch of a button (here it is positioned on the rear below the USB port). There is also compatibility with IPv6 and support for guest access, which grants devices a web connection but restricts access to your local network and router settings.
To top its features off, we have mydlink, the company’s cloud platform, which allows users to check the status of their router from any web browser from any location by logging into the mydlink.com website or using the company’s mydlink app for Android and iOS. Additional mobile apps SharePort’ and ARS Mobile let you access media remotely from your network and offer a step-by-step setup guide respectively.
D-Link DIR-868L – Setup
Something D-Link has aced in recent years is the simplicity of its router setups. This is again the case with the D-Link DIR-868L Cloud Router.
Just connect your modem to the DIR-868L’s WAN port (a modem restart may also be required), plug in the power cable, switch it on and connect to the wireless signal using WPS or the password written on router and supplied on a card. Once connected you are prompted to change the default router password and asked whether you want to change the SSID and wireless passwords for the two signals its projects (2.4GHz wireless for b/g/n and 5GHz for a/n and ac).
As mentioned the mydlink Cloud platform remains basic, but its ability to check the router status, connected devices, set email alerts for any network activity you specify and change passwords and SSIDs is all most people will need. For more advanced users the traditional text heavy router interface we have seen for the last decade remains at 192.168.0.1 which will no doubt please techies.
D-Link DIR-868L – Performance
802.11ac performanceWe had high hopes for the D-Link DIR-868L and by-and-large they were met. Our tests showed some barnstorming wireless ac speeds when transferring files with the D-Link.
Testing at our usual distances of 2m and 10m line of sight plus 13 metres between two solid walls the D-Link DIR-868L Cloud Router recorded speeds of 34MBps (272Mbit), 31.2MBps (249.6Mbit) and 24.5MBps (196Mbit). This was when transferring data within the home network, letting us max-out the router’s speed.
All are far in excess of any fibre optic broadband speeds and provide local network speeds fast enough to enable multiple streams of 4k video let alone 1080p. These speeds make the 868L our second fastest wireless ac router to date, just behind the retested Linksys EA6700, which clocked 36.7MBps (293.6Mbit), 35.2MBps (281.6Mbit) and 28.8MBps (230Mbit) in an identical test scenario.
5GHz 802.11n performanceAnd what the much hyped 802.11n SmartBeam performance? At 5GHz its speeds of 20.7MBps (165.6Mbit) at 2m and 19.4MBps (155.2Mbit) at 10m were actually topped by the EA6700, which managed 24.5MBps (196Mbit) and 22MBps (176Mbit) respectively, but it blew away the Linksys at arguably the most important distance of 13m with two solid walls recording 14.1MBps (112.8Mbit) verses the EA6700’s fairly poor 7.7MBps (61.6Mbit).
The good news continued on the wireless n 2.4GHz band as well hitting speeds of 11.5MBps (92Mbit), 10.1MBps (80.8Mbit) and 3.3MBps (26.4Mbit) at 2m, 10m and 13m. At 2m and 10m these again were records besting the EA6700 at 2m (9.1MBps) and 10m (9MBps) though interestingly not the EA6700’s predecessor, the EA6500, at 13m (3.9MBps). All in all though this means the 868L is not just a great router for 802.11ac wireless, but one that will deliver a sizeable performance boost to your existing 802.11n equipment.
We also got reasonable speeds from the DIR-868L’s USB 3.0 port. Dragging files from USB connected storage produced speeds of 4.9MBps (39.2Mbit) which remains some way off the 7.1MBps benchmark of the EA6700, but still the second fastest USB network speeds we have had. That said these figures do illustrate that USB network speeds (whether 2.0 or 3.0) are still a long way down on what can be achieved over a Gigabit Ethernet connection.
Incidentally D-Link restricts the 868L’s USB 3.0 port to USB 2.0 by default saying it interferes with 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. We didn’t see any evidence of that with USB 3.0 enabled, but it is something we will keep an eye on in future USB 3.0-enabled routers.
Should I buy the D-Link DIR-868L?
Based on its performance alone, the answer to whether you should buy the D-Link DIR-868L is a resounding ‘yes’, and sweetening this further is that the 868L retails for £30 less than the EA6700 at £139.99, comapred to £169.99. D-Link products also traditionally fall faster in price online than Linksys models.
That said there are some caveats. The EA6700 does remain the faster wireless ac router and mydlink is significantly less developed that Smart WiFi. As such we find ourselves still slightly inclined to lean towards the Linksys EA6700. But there is only a hair’s breadth in it. For all intents and purposes D-Link has produced a router every bit as appealing as Linksys’s benchmark and consequently we highly recommend it.
The D-Link DIR-868L takes all the best elements of previous D-Link routers and wraps them into a single package. As such it has superb wireless ac performance, class leading wireless n performance and tops it off with an appealing price tag. The company’s mydlink cloud platform does still need to develop though and we’d like to see a second USB port and activity lights on the Ethernet ports, but otherwise this is truly superb product.
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