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D-Link DIR-868L & DWA-182 Wireless AC Review

AkG

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With a reputation for building high performance, easy to use networking components that date all the way back to 1986, D-Link is considered by many to be one of the few safe consumer networking choices. No matter what your experience level or budget they most likely have a product that will fit your needs. Simply put D-Link consistently released good products at good prices and has done so for <i>decades</i>. The latest additions to their wireless consumer networking lineup are the DIR-868L router and DWA-182 USB adapter hope to continue this tradition.

Like many other manufactures D-Link has recognized the massive potential bandwidth offered by the 802.11AC draft specifications and are actively pursuing this new market. With that being said, the products we’re covering in this review are nearly polar opposites which meant for different niches but both are 802.11AC enabled and allow consumers to upgrade their infrastructure from previous 802.11 standards without a budget busting price tag.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/DIR_868L/chart.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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The interesting thing about the DIR-868L and DWA-182 is how they are two pieces of the same networking puzzle. D-Link’s router can easily replace an older unit while the USB adaptor can be added to any PC for a streamlined, high bandwidth wireless interface. For everything from NAS access to internet downloads, this combination seems to be affordable and highly capable.

Given its price tag of only $159 the DIR-868L 802.11AC router's specifications are rather impressive. Like 802.11AC draft routers costing over $200, D-Link has opted for a dual core Broadcom SoC which is paired up with Broadcom's wireless 4360 controller, offering simultaneous speeds of up to1300Mbits/sec on 802.11AC 5Ghz networks and 450MBits/s on 802.11N networks via a 3x3 antenna configuration. As with the competitions’ much more expensive offerings, this 'AC1750' router is also USB 3.0 enabled, allowing for greater attached storage performance.

The DWA-182 USB wireless network adapter is an interesting addition to D-Link's lineup to say the least. Not only is this new model an AC1300 adapter with speeds of 'up to' 866Mbits/sec on 802.11AC 5Ghz networks and 300MBits/s on 802.11N networks but all this power has been packed into a USB dongle not much larger than the typical USB flash drive. By comparison, most of the other adaptors we have seen are large, ungainly affairs.

While small, the DWA-182 still boasts an internal miniaturized 2x2 antenna array. It doesn’t even require a USB 3.0 port, making this one of the few USB 2.0 enabled 802.11AC adapters available on the market today, though D-Link has also released a USB 3.0 version. The impact of the narrower bus upon performance remains to be seen, but by using USB 2.0 this adapter will allow for boarder compatibility with older devices.

Value really is a major focus for the DWA-182 and DIR-868L. With a combined asking price that’s less than some other manufactures’ individual AC1750 routers, D-Link may be able to persuade many consumers that upgrading to Wireless AC doesn’t shouldn’t cost a fortune.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/DIR_868L/mfg_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the D-Link DIR-868L Router

A Closer Look at the D-Link DIR-868L Router



Like ASUS routers that we have reviewed in the past, the DIR-868L's accessory list doesn’t include all that much but it more than adequate considering this router’s more budget orientated price point. With that being said, there’s a well done installation booklet, an external power adapter and an installation CD so all the basic bases have been covered.


While the DIR-868L's internals are very similar to similar devices, D-Link haven't created a typical square form factor router. Instead, the design is reminiscent of Apple's recently released Mac Pro desktop with a cylindrical shape and high gloss finish. This was to ensure optimal antenna performance with less variance in reception 360 degrees around the router. This combination promises to provide performance which is rarely seen with designs that include an internal antenna array. Up until this point, most competing units have included multiple external high gain antennas but with D-Link’s unique layout, this just isn’t necessary.

Obviously you won’t be hanging this router on your wall but it’s not meant to be hidden away either. In its proper sitting position this design has a rather small footprint which makes it a perfect deskbound companion and it looks pretty good too.


Besides the lack of flexibility in how to mount the 868L, the real main issues we have with this design are twofold. The first is lack of an LED status array. As you can see the only two status indicators located on the 'front' are power and connectivity LEDs. Considering the amount of room D-Link had to work with this omission is quite odd and it there’s no quick way to get information about the router status and the state of its attached peripherals. All you will know is if the unit is on and if it is connected to the 'internet' - or at the very least its WAN is actively in communication with other devices. There is no way to tell if the DIR-868L is acting as a router for wired attached devices, if a USB storage array is working or even if the wireless network is functioning properly.


Rotating the tubular form 180 degrees reveals the small I/O panel on the 868L’s back. Like most vertically orientated routers the I/O panel is located near the bottom rather than the top, which helps keep the DIR-868L's center of gravity as low as possible.

From top to bottom the layout is as follows: a single USB 3.0 port, the four wired 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports, a single color coded (yellow) WAN port, the small power button and a power input port on the bottom. This area is rather cramped which makes accessing the WPS or power button quite difficult if all the various ports are populated. Once again with so much room there was no real need for this cramped affair.


The only obvious ventilation slits are directly above the I/O panel. However, the DIR-868L has a ring of recessed, hidden slits which will let hot air passively escape and should be more than adequate at keeping its internals cool.


Within this router is a relatively cramped area but one which is well utilized. Underneath the large heatsinks is a single 128MB RAM IC, 128GB of quick-access NAND, a dual core Broadcom BCM4708X SoC and Broadcom’s BCM4360 802.11AC network controller.

This 4360 Boradcom controller supports true 3 x 3 802.11AC configurations with full 80Mhz channel bandwidth capabilities. This combination of 450Mbit/sec on 802.11N and 1.3Gbit/sec via 80211.AC is where the ‘AC1750’ designation for the DIR-868L comes from.


While the 4360 controller is very common amongst 802.11AC routers, the BCM4708X SoC isn’t. Most manufactures go with the slower BCM4708 800MHz chip as it runs cooler (at the expense of performance) whereas the 'X' version runs a full 12.5% faster at 900MHz. This is still slower than NETGEAR's ‘NighHawk’ R7000 which uses the 1GHz BCM4709 controller, but D-Link’s middle ground approach may prove to have the more optimal blend of performance and heat output.

Of course, hardware is only part of the equation since firmware also plays a crucial role, not to mention the other end of the network connection has to be capable of capitalizing upon all the power this router has to offer. This is where devices such as the D-Link’s DWA-182 enter the equation.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the DWA-182 Network Adapter

A Closer Look at the DWA-182 Network Adapter



The DWA-182’s accessory list is straightforward with the usual installation pamphlet and driver CD D-Link alongside a base station.

One important thing to note is that D-Link sent us the A1 version of this adaptor, which uses a USB 2.0 interface. The C1 version on the other hand makes use of a USB 3.0 interface, thus speeding up its bandwidth potential.


As with any USB-based base station, this one plugs into a PC or Apple computer via the attached USB 2.0 cable, after which the DWA-182 itself can be plugged into the top port. In other words, this is a very useful low profile port replicator which allows for off-computer use that could potentially help network performance by boosting signal reception.

Even though this is a smaller than usual network adapter, off-computer usage will be preferred since it effectively removes most of the EM interference emanating from today’s PCs. However, the DWA-182’s signal strength may be lower than the USB 3.0-totting competition since it only uses a 2x2 antenna array and a USB 2.0 interface. This results in transmission strength of 500mvA versus the 900mvA from other adaptors.


While on-paper signal strength may be lower than the competition, the internal antenna array, USB 2.0 requirement, and overall small footprint make DWA-182 infinitely more adaptable. Unfortunately, D-Link has not included a small onboard ROM IC to store the drivers. Instead the drivers are on the included CD, meaning this is not a simple plug and play device.


Taking a close look at the glossy black plastic chassis reveals a small WPS button for quick and easy connectivity to encrypted networks. Once again D-Link obviously made ease of use a high priority with this model. Interestingly enough both sides have numerous cooling vents to allow for passive cooling and reducing weight. Considering this device weighs in at a mere 20.5 grams it is hard to argue with the results - even if these numerous cooling slits will give dust and debris direct access to the internals.


While we are unable to show you the internals, according to documentation D-Link is using a Broadcom BCM43526. This is a dual 802.11N and 802.11AC controller which relies upon two sending and two receiving spatial streams. What all this means is the DWA-182 is rated for a decent 866Mbits/sec on 802.11AC but only 300Mbits/sec on 802.11N networks.

Considering D-Link has opted for a USB 2.0 and not USB 3.0 interface, and USB 2.0 is only rated for a maximum theoretical transmission speed of 480Mbits/sec, 866MBits throughput on Wireless AC will be impossible. This is unfortunate as the BCM43526 is a proven controller that has powered many good adapters like the Asus USB-AC53, Belkin F9L1106 and Netgear A6200, but in this instance it will never be fully utilized. The C1 version eliminates this by adding USB 3.0 (with backwards USB 2.0 compatibility) for significantly broader capabilities.
 
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AkG

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Setup and Installation

Setup and Installation (DIR-868L)



It came as no surprise that the DIR-868L installation process was a quick and painless affair. Just plug in the router, attach the various cables, and either run the software which comes on the included CD or simply type 192.168.0.1 into your web browser. Either way will allow the router to walk you through the setup procedure which has been automated as much possible and requires very little user input.

On simple networks this will take about 60 seconds to complete if you want to use the default passwords and SSID for 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks. If you want to use custom options for either or both networks it will take a bit longer.


When the wizard is finished you will be left with two fully functioning networks and all that will be left to do is either start using your basic 802.11N and 802.11AC functionality or customizing the more advanced features.

If you do use more advanced features, configuring them should only take a few moments as D-Link has opted for their classic easy to use, easy to navigate and highly intuitive interface. We will get into the various features this router has to offer but the list is rather long and detailed.


Setup and Installation (DWA-182)


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/DIR_868L/usb/instal1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

To get the DWA-182 working, simply remove the end cap, plug it into a free USB 2.0 port (or USB 3.0 if you opt for the C1 version), and then run the included software and driver installation. Alternately, plug it into the included base station.


The included software consists of one very lightweight program: the Wireless Connection Manager which isn’t precisely needed since Windows 7’s (or Windows 8’s) built-in wireless controller works perfectly fine with the DWA-182. Using the program does grant the ability to see every wireless network which is in range and broadcasting, their MAC address, signal strength and even channel. It also allows you to use the DWA-182's Wi-Fi Protected Setup option without needing to physically push the WPS button on the 182's body.
 
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AkG

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DIR-868L Router Interface

DIR-868L Router Interface



D-Link's 'orange' UI has been used for many years now has gone unchanged with in iteration. While a tad old, D-Link has put a lot of time and effort into this interface and in the intervening years since its first release it have honed to a razor’s edge. Like with any good router this UI is powerful, user-friendly, and fairly intuitive. This means even consumers who have never used a D-Link unit will be able to access and control their router with a very minimal learning curve.

As you can see, the basic design philosophy takes a very website-centric approach which uses both a horizontal and vertical menu system. The top ribbon consists of major five sections while the vertical menu is a fluid affair that changes in parallel with the chosen section.

Since D-Link offers so many features and abilities this can seem a tad overwhelming at first, but it is laid out in an easy to grasp manner. For example, if you want to either set up or modify the basic 868L’s configuration, the Setup tab would be the first place to look. Meanwhile, the Advanced tab holds some of the more esoteric features which enthusiasts may be looking for and the administration tools are under the Tools tabs. Makes sense, right?

The Setup tab has seven subsections: Internet, Wireless, Network, Storage, Media Server, IPV6, and MyDLink. The Internet section deals with connecting to a Wide Area Network or the Internet. D-Link has thoughtfully included both a step wizard and a manual option. The former is for those times when you just need a basic setup to get connected, whereas the manual is for more experienced users who know exactly how they want their router to connect to the Internet.


The Wireless section deals with configuration and tweaking the 2.4GHz 802.11N and 5GHz 802.11AC wireless networks.

D-Link’s Networking section is straightforward as well and allows for full control over the wired network configuration and DHCP server settings. D-Link covers all the basics including an easy to use 'DHCP Reservation List' which makes hard setting an attached devices IP address as simple as a few mouse clicks.


As its name suggests, the Storage section is a one-stop shop for modifying usage conditions and configuration of any attached USB devices. This includes creating a basic single drive network attached storage device. If you want to do more than adjust the basics, accessing the Tools section is required as the Storage section is more a brief setup and configuration page rather than a full blown options menu.

The Media page deals with turning on DLNA and iTunes servers, but in a very odd twist also deals with USB port configuration. Turning USB 3.0 on can interfere and degrade wireless coverage so unless you plan on using the 868L as a storage server we would recommend leaving this to its default of disabled.


IPv6 is more for future proofing than anything else and deals with configuring the router to use and understand IPv6 routing protocols. As with the Internet subsection, D-Link has included manual and wizard modes.

The last feature allows you to use D-Link's own cloud service which they have called MYDLINK. If such features interest you it would be wise to register them. For everyone else, you can safely ignore this page.


The Advanced options section is a veritable wealth of options which range from port forwarding to WPS to setting up a guest network. Once again, this area is exceedingly well done and includes pretty much everything we expect from a current generation router.


Due to the amount of options D-Link, has broken the firewall related settings into multiple parts. The Firewall page mainly focuses on turning on the firewall and what how aggressive its settings are. Additional configurations can be implemented for specific websites, inbound rules, outbound (network), application, or even IPv6 settings. As a whole, the level of detail and fine tuning is rather impressive and is sure to delight advanced users. Unfortunately this level of customization may be a touch overwhelming for beginners but the more time and effort you spend, the better the results will be.
 
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AkG

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DIR-868L Router Interface pg.2

DIR-868L Router Interface pg.2



The Advanced Wireless page allows for full control over each individual networks along with how much transmission power the router can use. While more options other than 'high/medium/low' would have been welcome, this feature can improve signal strength in areas that are weak or reduce inference between the router and other devices.

The Routing section deals with the creation and hard setting of routing lists for how requests should get from point A to B whereas the port forwarding allows incoming port requests to forwarded to different ports. You can also schedule when the ports will be open and forwarded and when they will be closed.


Like all advanced routers the DIR-868L allows for creation of 'guest' networks, allowing secondary users to connect to the router while walling off the rest of your Network. We were impressed to see this router allows for individual creation of 2.4 and 5GHz networks as well as custom SSIDs and security modes. In a very nice touch, you can also create a schedule for when the networks are active.


The Tools section would be better labeled as Administration Tools as it mainly deals with the function and wellbeing of the router itself. Besides the usual host of options such as backing up the router settings, changing the time, and basic troubleshooting tools, the most interesting addition was the Schedules page. This subsection deals with the creation of scheduling rules. No matter if you are creating a custom schedule in WAN, Wireless, Virtual Server, Port Forwarding, Applications, or Network Filters, when you want to create a new schedule the system will forward you to this page. This is a touch unrefined way of doing things, but it does work and does allow for very fine tuned custom scheduling rules.


As with all D-Link routers the Status page is a grab bag of options which simply do not fit into any other category. Here you will find everything from an overview of the router (including the ability to disconnect and reconnect to your WAN) to reading or clearing the various logs being recorded. It is also where you can find statistics about how many packets the 868L has dealt with as well as what devices are connected, the network which they are connected to and what their signal strength is.


With so many subsections and options available to consumers things can get confusing so D-Link has thoughtfully included a very in-depth Help section. Since the help section itself is so long, D-Link has even broken it up into its own subsections, with each option corresponding to the main menu divisions within the router itself. For example, if you have a question about Port Forwarding it will be found under the Advanced Help topic in the Port Forwarding Section.

Each topic is also hot linkable so you do not need to scroll through the entire help file to get the help you need. Brilliant stuff!
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing wireless devices is not as easy as you would think. Yes you can simply connect to it and push a bunch of file across the network while timing it but this only tells half of the story and does not explain <i>why</i> speeds can vary. To obtain a more clear picture of how good – or bad – a networking device is, more is needed in the form of a multi-step testing approach.

The first step consists of accurately measuring signal strength. A good strong signal is a prerequisite of high performance. If a device can barely send or receive a signal, the speeds will be very low as both devices will opt for a slower connection speed to compensate.

To test signal strength we use inSSIDer, a program which can graph signal strength of all wireless signals being received by the computer’s wireless NIC.

The second step consists of synthetic bandwidth testing to show the potential performance of a given wireless configuration. For this test we have chosen Lan Speed Test. This free program can test both transmission and reception performance and do so in an easy to use and highly repeatable way. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

The last step is real world testing. This test consists of 10GB worth of small file and large file mixture which will be pushed from one wireless connected computer to a second computer connected via wired Ethernet. Testing will be done via MS RichCopy. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

If the device supports wired transmission, wired Ethernet to wired Ethernet real world performance will also be included using the same 10GB of data used for the wireless test.

If a given wireless device is labeled as “entertainment” or marketed as being entertainment centric, a secondary real world test will be included in the form of using the device for wireless HD media streaming. This test will be a pass/fail affair.

To test all sections, we have further created four unique and distinct scenarios in which all testing will be done. The first test is labeled “Zone 1” and it consists of a twelve foot ‘line of sight’ distance between the router and the wireless NIC with no walls or obstructions between the two. This replicates having the router in one end of a small room and the wireless device at the other. It is unlikely to be encountered all that often but it will test a best case scenario performance of the device being tested.

The second test consists of an eighteen foot separation with a single interior non-load bearing wall separating a wireless device and the router. We have labeled this “Zone 2” as it is much more common and is still a very optimal setup for a wireless home networking. This test replicates you having your wireless device in an adjoining room to the router.

The third test is labeled “Zone 3” and consists of having the router in the corner of the basement with the wireless device trying to connect in the second story room at the extreme diagonal end from the routers location. This is still a fairly common occurrence in home networks with numerous walls, floors, pipes, wires, etc. and even other electronic devices in the intervening distance. This is not an optimal configuration but a very common one none the less. This will test the abilities of both the router and wireless NIC to connect and communicate with each other.

The fourth test is labeled “Zone 4” and is an extreme test. While the router is still in the basement we have paced off 400 feet from it outside the testing facility. This replaces those times a person is outdoors and wishes to use his home network to connect to the Internet or other devices connected to the home network. With fewer walls but much greater distances this test is extremely demanding and many will not be able to successfully complete it. Thus it will separate the truly good from the merely adequate devices.

For all tests, four runs will be completed and only the averages of all four will be shown.

When possible both 5Ghz as well as 2.4GHz Bands will be used for all tests with each getting their own separate results.

All tests will carried out via a “clear” network in order to maximize repeatability and minimize factors outside of our control.

Unless otherwise noted an Asus RT-AC68U router was used to test all network adapters.
Unless otherwise noted an Asus PCE-AC68 PCIE adapter was used to test all routers.

For information purposes here is the theoretical maximum each network connection is capable of:

10Mbits/s = 1,250 KBytes/s
100Mbit/s = 12,500 KBytes/s
150Mbit/s = 18,750 KBytes/s
300Mbit/s = 37,500 KBytes/s
450Mbit/s = 56,250 KBytes/s
1000Mbit/s = 125,000 KBytes/s
1300Mbit/s = 162,500 KBytes/s

Processor: Core i5 4670K
Motherboard: MSI Z87 MPower Max
Memory: 32GB G.Skill TridentX 2133
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 in SLI
Hard Drive: Seagate 600 Pro 400GB SSD, Intel 910 800GB PCI-E SSD
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNova 1000P2
Case: Cooler Master Storm Trooper


<i>Special thanks to NCIX for their support and supplying the i5 4670 CPU.
Special thanks to G.Skill for their support and supplying the TridentX Ram.
Special thanks to NVIDIA for their support and supplying the GTX 780s.
Special thanks to EVGA for their support and supplying the SuperNova PSU.
Special thanks to Cooler Master for their support and supplying the CM Storm Trooper </i>
 

AkG

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Signal Strength / Attached Storage Testing

Signal Strength


<i>A good strong signal is a prerequisite of high performance wireless networking. If a device can barely send or receive a signal, the speeds will be very low as both devices will opt for a slower connection speed to compensate. To test signal strength we use inSSIDer, a program which can graph signal strength of all wireless signals being received by the computer’s wireless NIC.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/DIR_868L/sig_24.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/DIR_868L/sig_50.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

We were pleasantly surprised by the level performance the D-Link DIR 868L router displayed in our signal strength tests. While there is a noticeable drop-off in signal strength as distance from the router increases, the overall results are still rather surprising given the internal antenna array design. Obviously, the oddly shaped form factor and intelligent beam forming is working hard to mitigate the distance issues. For most consumers this router will provide more than enough signal strength to blanket an entire home and then some.

This level of performance is doubly impressive when the rather mainstream asking price is taken into account. D-Link seems to have the makings of a great value 802.11AC router here.

The DWA-182 USB adapter on the other hand didn't quite live up to expectations and the results are quite poor when compared against similar devices. The combination of small internal antenna array and low transmission power is simply too much for the Broadcom BCM43526 controller to overcome. Some of this may be overcome via the C1 USB 3.0 revision but that's not what D-Link sampled this time around.


Attached Storage Testing


<i>While USB has indeed be a mainstay of Asus routers for as long as we can remember, the AC68U is the first high performance router that also provides USB 3.0 and not just USB 2.0 ports. As most consumers know USB 3.0 brings numerous enhancements to the table including higher bandwidth potential and increase power over USB capabilities. As we have seen many times in the past reality sometimes can wildly differ than theory and there are numerous ‘USB 3.0’ devices which actually perform at the same levels as their previous USB 2 counterparts.

To see exactly how much capabilities USB 3.0 adds to the Asus RT-AC68U router we devised a very simple test. Using an empty Seagate GoFlex Slim 320GB device we connected it to the USB 3 a port of the router. We then configured it as a network drive and using MS RichCopy measured the performance via wired, 2.4HGz wireless and 5GHz wireless. Once testing was complete we repeat this process but using the USB 2.0 port. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/DIR_868L/usb.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Consumers certainly would not guess this router's lower asking price based on the its storage performance. Opting for the 'X' variant of the Broadcom 4708 controller certainly has tangible benefits as both its USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 performance are the highest we have tested to date. Considering most of this router's other components are very similar to others in the chart, the only possible explanation is the faster processor boosting performance. The end result is that the USB 3.0 port is a value adding feature that makes the DIR-868L's price even more impressive.
 
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AkG

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Synthetic / Real World Testing

Synthetic tests


For synthetic performance testing to show the potential performance of a given wireless configuration. For this test we have chosen Lan Speed Test. This free program can test both transmission and reception performance and do so in an easy to use and highly repeatable way. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.




Even with its oddball design and internal antenna array the level of performance offered by the D-Link 868L is impressive. It is only at longer distances that its internal antennas become a minor shortcoming as at normal distances both its 802.11N 2.4GHz and 802.11AC 5GHz performance is very good, bordering on excellent. The very fact that this is a sub-$150 router and it is competitive against $200 routers is astonishing.

The DWA-182 on the other hand boasts performance that can -at best - be considered mediocre. Remember, it only costs $10 less than USB 3.0-based adapters which means it is a rather poor value. Granted, the USB 3.0 version should nullify many of the shortcomings.


Real World Tests


For real world testing we have taken 10GB worth of small file and large file mixture and pushed from one wireless connected computer to a second computer connected via wired Ethernet. Testing will be done via MS RichCopy. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.


If the device supports wired transmission, wired Ethernet to wired Ethernet real world performance will also be included using the same 10GB of data used for the wireless test.





The more we tested the DIR-868L router the more we understood the brilliance of its design. It may not be the fastest, nor longest reaching router but its combination of good looks, very good performance, and amazing price makes for a very persuasive argument!

The polar opposite of the 868L is where you will find the DWA-182 adapter. While it is certainly compact and easy to use, the performance it offers is simply not good enough to warrant the asking price. Make sure you buy the USB 3.0 C1 version rather than its predecessor being tested here.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

DIR-868L Router Conclusion


D-Link’s DIR-868L had a lot of hopes and high expectations buoying its launch and it delivered the goods in every way possible. From value to performance to ease of use, it topped our charts and exceeded preconceived notions about the term “value” within the Wireless AC router marketplace.

The first stop on our whirlwind conclusion has to be at one of the DIR-868L’s defining aspects: its unique design. Instead of using a typical (and ugly) industrial, utilitarian design, D-Link went with a high gloss, cylindrical exterior and integrated antennas. As a result, this router doesn’t look like a 1980s-era device with rabbit ears and fits perfectly alongside a modern computer system, be it Apple or PC-based. Sometimes taking a form over function approach has its downsides but in this case, D-Link successfully combined both to create a truly astonishing router than boasts great looks and class-leading performance.

The tubular design gives the DIR-868L’s antennas a full 360 degrees of coverage, optimizing signal range without the need to fine-tune antenna positioning. While the wireless performance at extreme ranges is lower than we would have liked to see, it was still very impressive considering this is a mainstream-orientated model. Sure, it couldn’t keep up with ASUS' pricy AC68 flagship but it was never meant to and yet routinely came close to doing precisely that. When compared against similarly priced models like the Asus RT-AC56 or even RT-AC66U routers, the D-Link DIR-868L represents a serious step up. This is especially true for consumers who are more interested in 802.11N performance and consider the AC spectrum to be more future proofing than a necessity.

Raw performance is only part of the router equation as there are many, many routers that are next to unusable due to their atrocious user interfaces. This is the area where D-Link built its reputation on and the DIR-868L is no exception. Its interface is both powerful enough for advanced users while being blissfully intuitive for beginners. Truth be told, D-Link’s reference defaults are nearly flawless so unless someone wants to really fine tune their network, the interface likely won’t be used.

With all of that being said, the real star of this show is the DIR-868L’s price. It undercuts the competition by a significant amount while offering similar performance, a sexy chassis and plenty of expansion capabilities. If you are looking to get into the Wireless AC game or just pick up an affordable router with plenty of future-proofing already built in, look no further than this one.

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DWA-182 Network Adapter Conclusion


We really struggled with this conclusion since D-Link’s DWA-182 has plenty of potential. It is compact, well designed and above all else is extremely easy to set up. These are all hallmarks of a great wireless adapter but it ultimately fell short of expectations due to one reason: a USB 2.0 connection.

Now before we go on, there’s bit of house cleaning that needs to happen. To be perfectly transparent, D-Link has released a new revision of the DWA-182 in so-called C1 guise that adds USB 3.0 for increased adapter to host bandwidth, nullifying many the concerns expressed in this conclusion. However, older “A-edition” adapters are still on sale and, as we have confirmed with retailers, they may be mixed into stocks of the newer version. Not only is this concerning but it also means you’ll have to check your purchase carefully since the product number hasn’t changed alongside the connectivity upgrade.

The main issue with the DWA-182 sample we received is that USB 2.0 interface which tends to stifle the internal hardware’s true potential. This bottleneck leads to performance that’s substantially slower than solutions which are only $10 more expensive. Sure, Wireless N speeds were acceptable but you’ll be buying this adapter for AC bandwidth which simply isn’t achievable in its USB 2.0 guise.
 
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