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