D-Link DIR-868L Wireless-AC Cloud Router

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D-Link has introduced their new DIR-868L Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud router. Built around using a dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, the router is capable of up to 1.3Gbps (1300Mbps) speeds over its 5.0GHz band.  Of course, you can still obtain 450Mbps on the 2.4 GHz channel if your networking device doesn’t support the faster 5GHz channel, or you need the range that the 2.4GHz provides.  Along with the Gigabit Ethernet ports, the D-Link DIR-868L is designed to be fast, stable, and offers up wide Wi-Fi coverage supporting USB 3.0 making network attached peripherals simple and fast.

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The D-Link DIR-868L is available now from your favorite retailers at a street price of less than $170.  At this price point, it is a very good buy considering all the things the router is equipped with.

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D-Link DIR-868L Featured Specifications:

Let’s take a look at setting up the D-Link 868L.

D-Link 868L - Design & Setup

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The D-Link DIR-868L, unlike the DIR-865L abandons the squarish shape routers and goes back to their vertical cylindrical design; it’s shaped more like a computer speaker or a Thermos than a traditional router.

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The cylindrical DIR-868L comes with four gigabit LAN ports, one gigabit WAN port, and a USB 3.0 port which can host a USB device such as a printer or an external hard drive on the back. There’s also a power on/off button and a WPS button which initiates a 2 minute window during which other WPS enabled devices can enter the routers Wi-Fi network on the back. On the front the router has two round green LEDs that show power and internet statuses. There are no other status lights for the network ports.

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D-Link has just announced a new firmware version that introduces a couple of new capabilities that improve web access along with mydlink SharePort support as well as some fixes in the 868L’s security (which is always welcomed!).  We will take a closer look at these apps a bit later.

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Setting up the D-Link DIR-868L is about the same as setting up any other home router. As the user all you need to do is plug the router into an outlet and connect its WAN port to an internet source with a network cable which is included with the router. After this, we simply connected our PC to one of the router’s LAN ports. If by some chance you do not have a second cable you can also use a Wi-Fi client such as a computer or a tablet which is connected to the routers default Wi-Fi network.  

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D-Linik has created a Quick Router Setup mobile app in which you can use on your smartphone or tablet to finish the rest of the setup process. If you don’t want to use the mobile app then you can finish from the connected computer by launching a browser which will take the user to a web based setup wizard that will walk you through the process via a few simple steps.  

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We found this to be a very quick and easy way to set up the DIR-868L and really separates D-Link from other router manufacturers.  Netgear, Western Digital, and Cisco/Linksys, and other have mobile apps for your phone and tablet, but these apps are generally only used once you have your router set up.  With the D-Link, now you can configure many things from your couch instead of at the kitchen table or home office where your PC sits.

D-Link DIR-868L Features

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The D-Link DIR-868L uses Wi-Fi chips from Broadcom; the new router is a true dual band router with support for the three stream setup for the 802.1n and 802.11ac Wi-Fi standards. This means it offers up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz frequency. On the 5GHz band it offers up to 450Mbps when used with Wireless-N clients, and up to 1.3Gbps when used with 802.11ac clients. The D-Link DIR-868L supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of their Wi-Fi standards.

Taking a peek inside, we find that the D-Link DIR-868L is powered by a second-generation Broadcom chip and now has SmartBeam technology which is designed to enhance the routers Wi-Fi performance and coverage, but the downside to this new router (when it was first released) is that it lacked the ability to work as a media bridge or as an access point only. This means that unlike other high-end routers on the market, the DIR-868L cannot be used as an 802.11ac client or bridge to add Ethernet ready devices to a Wi-Fi network or as a switch with built in access point to work with an existing network. [Note: The lack of the ability to operate in a bridged mode has since been addressed in D-Link’s v1.02 firmware].

D-Link 8668L Dual-Band Router GUI

D-Link 8668L Dual-Band Router GUI

The DIR-868L supports all common features found in high end routers including guest networking with two networks one for each band, IPv6, port forwarding, QoS, firewall, and etc. Also the router offers features that have been collectively available in other D-Link routers, including a well-organized Web interface, an extensive Web-filtering engine, and support for a storage device for data sharing and media streaming needs via a connected USB external hard drive.  The DIR-868L’s USB port can be used with any external hard drive which is formatted in either FAT32 or NTFS. The user would be able to easily share the hard drive with everybody in the network or securely share its hard drive content via user accounts. The DIR-868L is also designed to stream digital content stored on the drive like a network media streamers. 

The D-Link DIR-868L allows users to manage their home network via the internet using the MyDlink portal. The user will need to create a free account unless the user already has an existing one then add the router to the account by entering their username and password in the MyDlink settings section of the Web interface setup. Once that is done the user can view the status of the router as well as manage some of its settings.

D-Link calls the DIR-868L a “cloud-based router” because of the MyDlink services. The cloud based feature can also be accessed via a mobile app, called D-Link Light which is available for both iOS and Android devices. Unfortunately, using the router via the web interface only makes it a bit limited since it doesn’t offer the same amount of access in to the DIR-868L’s normal interface. An alternative for the more advanced user might be to set the router up with a free DynDSN service to access its Web interface on the go without the need of the MyDlink portal.

Now let’s take a look at how the D-Link DIR 868L Wireless Router works as far as its WiFi speeds.  First we’ll test the router with “legacy” 802.11n devices, and then we’ll take a look at the super-speedy 802.11ac performance.

D-Link DIR-868L – Wireless Speeds

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We wanted to test the D-Link DIR 868L in a real world situation so we connected the D-Link D-Link DIR-868L to a PC running Windows 7 64-bit and configured it using “Automatic” settings for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. We then took our Alienware M17XR4 to use as a target laptop client.  The Alienware M17XR4 features an Intel i7-3610QM CPU with 6GB RAM running Windows 7 64-Bit, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M.  More importantly for our tests, it is outfitted with a Qualcomm Atheros Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter. The Killer 1103 is a three-antenna network adapter that connects at up to 450Mbps over 802.11n and features reduced power consumption and Wi-Fi Direct. Much has been written about the Killer NIC technology in recent years but there is no doubt that this 3-antenna solution will give us the best possible wireless throughput for our test. Many people don’t have an 802.11ac device in their arsenal yet, so we are looking at some of the best speeds this router can do without the use of Wireless-AC.

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We took our Alienware M17XR4 laptop and moved it 25-feet away from the D-Link router. We didn't tell the client anything more than the SSID name for each router tested and let it automatically choose the channel to connect to.  All the routers were set to “Unsecure Mode” (for fastest data throughput), and with WMM / QoS turned ON. After connecting, we ran the PC application LAN Speed Test (LST) to measure file transfer and network speeds. LST builds a file in memory and then transfers the packet without the effects of windows file caching.  It then reports the time and calculates the network speed.

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We repeated the test 2 more times rotating the router 90 degrees after each test to make sure that the router’s speed was affected adversely by its orientation.

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Benchmark Results: This is an interesting look at how these 802.11ac routers perform when they are paired with non-AC devices.  Here we see the D-Link DIR-868L competes quite well when compared to its peers.  The Average Write Speed of the DIR-868L eclipses any of the other router in our test suite. We have been testing routers for a while now and have never seen this .  While the Average Read Speeds are just slightly ahead of the rest of the AC router, the D-Link DIR-868L’s Average Write Speed eclipses anything that we have ever tested.  Very impressive!

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Benchmark Results: When evaluating the larger packet speeds, the story is about the same.  The D-Link DIR-868L and Killer Wireless 802.11n make for a combination that we have never seen before. We were so surprised at the D-Link’s test scores that we retested it to double-check.  What is amazing is that the DIR-868L actually showed faster speeds than what is represented in this graph.  Remember, these are AVERAGE speeds, the DIR-868l produced Read and Write speeds well past 200Mbps in our testing.

 

 

D-Link DIR-868L – Wireless 802.11ac Tests

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For our next test, we turned off the built-in Wi-Fi on our Alienware M17XR4 and connected it to a Netgear R6300 802.11ac Router configured as a Bridge to each of the wireless AC routers in our test suite. Let’s check out what true 802.11ac wireless networking can do.  Again, we used LAN Speed Test (LST) to check the throughput of our 1MB and 100MB data packets.

 

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Benchmark Results: Now we get to see how these routers do when used in a pure WiFi-AC environment.  Normally, routers shine with unbelievable speeds, and today is no exception.  The D-Link DIR 868L shows us the fastest speeds that we have ever measured with Average Read speed of 365Mbps which is about 6% faster than the Netgear R6300, one of our favorite AC-routers. The D-Link’s Average Write speed comes in at a blistering 405Mbps, 57% percent faster than the Buffalo WZR-D1800H.

 

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Benchmark Results: We like to look at packet sizes of 100 MB because it emulates well data that is associated with multimedia traffic in your network.  From our test results, the D-Link DIR-868L will be an excellent choice to stream this kind of data. The average Read Speeds of the 868L come in right where some of our top-tiered routers have measured, but the Average Write Speed for the router leads the way with a score that is almost 30% faster than its nearest competitor, the Netgear R6300.

 

D-Link DIR-868L – Power Consumption

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Power consumption by your home’s electronic devices continues to be a very important issue so we have made an attempt to present some simple power consumption tests on the various routers that we had. To measure idle usage, we reset each wireless router to the default settings and plugged them with no devices connected to them. We then measured the power draw from each router at the wall with our P3 International P4400 Kill-A-Watt electric usage monitor.

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Benchmark Results: As expected, the D-Link DIR-868L consumes about the same amount of energy as that of all the wireless-AC routers.  

Since most people will have their routers turned on for 24-hour a day operation, we think that examining power usage is an important benchmark. Total cost of ownership (TCO) is an important financial estimate that helps consumer’s direct and indirect costs of a product. In our TCO calculation we will be figuring up how much it costs to have a wireless router running per year in an idle state with the unit being installed 24-hours a day. We will be using 12.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) based on the bureau of labor statistics report from April 2012 showing that amount as the national average.

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Benchmark Results: Because the routers consume roughly the same amount of power, the cost differences in owning one of these AC-routers is really very small.  You might see a slight uptick in your electric bill when you make the move to WiFi-AC from Wireless-N but we think it is well worth the slight cost increase.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

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When we first saw the cylindrical design of the D-Link DIR-868L we really didn’t know what to think since its physical design was slightly different than what we had seen before. Obviously, the engineers at D-Link did something correct because the WiFi performance of the DIR-868L is something that we have never seen before.

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Regardless of what the router looks like, we were very excited to see the router come outfitted with many of the most wanted features that a flagship router should come with. Along with the standard gigabit Ethernet ports, the DIR-868L features dual-band wireless speeds of up to 1300 Mbps (5.0 GHz). Of course if you don’t have any WiFi-AC devices, the 2.4 GHz channel will connect you up to 450 Mbps.

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We found the wireless connection to be rock solid during the few weeks we had the router at the hub of our network.  We were able to connect 3 PCs via Ethernet, 2 set-top boxes, 4 more wireless PCs, and a host of mobile phones with no problems whatsoever.

After attaching all of these devices, we began to stream some HD content via wired and WiFi.  Even when we had all of these devices connect, the DIR-868L showed no signs of abnormal strain and was able to produce our content without stutter or dropouts. The only time we saw some strange behavior is when we tried to stream Blu-ray content over wireless-N.  We didn’t have any problems streaming 1080p content over the gigabit Ethernet LAN and we don’t expect anyone to have a problem with streaming HD media.

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Recently, D-Link released a new firmware update which included a number of updates (including Enhanced web access, mydlink SharePort support, UPnP Security) as well as newly supported “Bridge Mode” for the router. While D-Link’s GUI has expanded its feature set in the GUI, I still like the look and feel of the Netgear R6300 Dual-Band wireless router better.  The DIR-868L GUI still feels a bit clustered trying to fit in a bunch of features in a limited set of windows.

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It is very nice that D-Link allows you to use your phone or tablet to initially set up your router and somewhat control your home network.  The new mydlink SharedPort is a free app that allows you to access and stream your favorite videos, music, photos and files from a connected USB drive wirelessly to your iOS or Android Tablet and Smartphone.  This is an excellent idea for those of you who have ever thought of accessing your multimedia while away from your home network.  We weren’t too successful with field-testing this feature. We were able to see the network via the app, but our video media didn’t play and our audio playback had mixed results.  I think there were definitely issues with what kind of multimedia we tried to stream.  Most of audio and video files that we have in our collection were encoded with high bit-rates and resolutions.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time to test this feature, but we love the fact that D-Link is leading the way in making your content available to your no matter where you are.  Hopefully, we will see more of these kinds of applications and that they work with a variety of multimedia files.

The previous lack of Bridge Mode for the DIR-868L was one of its biggest Achilles heels when comparing this router to its competitors.  Now that D-Link has included this feature to allow users to connect multiple devices to the DIR-868L in turn connecting via wireless to another router, the router can now be considered an industry leader.

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We really haven’t talked too much about the price of this router, but comparing against its rivals (Netgear, Cisco/Linksys, Buffalo, ASUS, and Western Digital), the $165.99 D-Link DIR-868L comes out looking rather impressive.  It is one of the least expensive AC1750 routers on the market, but still has an impressive features list.  Not only does it have class-leading wireless-AC speeds, the 868L works extremely well with “legacy” 802.11n devices.  This is very important since most households are not quite at the point where all of their WiFi devices are WiFi-AC.

The USB SharePort that D-Link has included works well for anyone not having a Network Attached Storage device on their network.  While it’s not the fasted when transferring data, the D-Link SharePort feature does allow the user to easily share data or a printer without the need to upgrade to a dedicated print server or costly NAS.

D-Link has even equipped the DIR-868L with a limited 1-year warranty.  You will be hard pressed to find a better router on the market today.

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Legit Bottom Line:

The D-Link DIR-868L is one of the best wireless-AC routers on the market today. It has tons of features and leads the way with its Wireless-AC performance.  It may look a bit strange, but the DIR-868L gets the job done!