D-Link DIR-880L: A good, basic 802.11ac Wi-Fi router

IF YOU’RE A FAN of D-Link’s connected-home product line, the D-Link DIR-880L fao.pcworld.com/dir880ll is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi router to buy.

It’s also a good choice if you’re merely seeking a new router that’s easy to set up and manage, with or without a PC.

It’s priced about $30 less than either the Asus RT-AC68U or the Linksys WRT1900AC. Like both of those routers, this is a dual-band model that supports 802.11b/g/n clients on its 2.4GHz frequency band (802.11n clients at speeds up to 600 megabits per second) and 802.11a/ac clients on its 5GHz band (802.11ac clients at speeds up to 1300 mbps). Add 600 to 1300, and you get the oh-so-popular AC1900 marketing label, which D-Link applies to this model. You can set up a guest network on either or both bands.

The low-profile enclosure sports three oversize antennas that you can remove and upgrade. LEDs on top indicate the status of the router’s power, Internet connection, 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks, and USB ports. A USB 3.0 port resides on the left, and a USB 2.0 port, a power button, a WAN port, and the usual four-port gigabit ethernet switch sit in the back. If you don’t like this router’s desktop footprint, you can hang it on the wall.

The firmware provides basic, consumer-oriented features, including beamforming, VPN support using L2TP over IPSec, and a Quality of Service engine that prioritizes lag-sensitive traffic such as online games, VoIP calls, and video streaming. You can also manually assign higher priority to individual clients.

You’ll find support for advanced configurations such as port forwarding and assigning clients to static routes, but the DIR-880L limits you to 15 instances in each case. Parental controls are even more restricted: You can set schedules for when individual clients—or the router itself—are allowed online, or you can block websites.

The DIR-880L is easy to set up in a Web browser. If you’d prefer to use a tablet or smartphone, D-Link’s QRS Mobile app is available for Android and iOS. The router comes preconfigured with a password to guard its wireless networks. The admin user interface is not password protected, but fortunately the setup wizard prompts you to create a password for that purpose. Register for D-Link’s free Mydlink service, and you can access and manage this router from the cloud.

The router’s USB ports can share a printer, a scanner, or a storage device (any combination of two) over your network. I didn’t evaluate the router’s performance on that score. The DIR-880L is DLNA
compatible, but it doesn’t have an iTunes server.

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In performance tests, the DIR-880L was much slower on the 2.4GHz frequency band than the Asus and Linksys routers at close range (with an 802.lln client in the same room as the router, separated by 9 feet). It was slightly faster than the Linksys model, however, when the client was in my kitchen (20 feet from the router, separated by one wall with plywood cabinets). And it was much faster on this band than both competing routers when I tested it in my home theater (client 35 feet from the router) and my home office (client 65 feet from the router).

D-Link’s router trailed both the Asus and the Linksys with an 802.11ac client (for the test, I plugged an Asus USB-AC56 Wi-Fi adapter into the client’s USB port) in three of my four test locations. TCP throughput of 328 megabits per second at close range is nothing to sneeze at, but the WRT1900AC delivered 439 mbps here and the Asus managed 418 mbps. The DIR-880L will probably stream high-definition video to most rooms in the typical home, but it wasn’t nearly as fast as the competition on this band in my longer-distance tests.

I’ve found that the best way to get maximum performance from an 802.11ac router is to deploy two of them: one as a Wi-Fi router and the other as a Wi-Fi bridge that you hardwire to one or more clients. You can configure a second DIR-880L as a bridge, but I couldn’t test the product’s performance in such a scenario because D-Link sent only one router.

The D-Link DIR-880L doesn’t deliver state-of-the-art performance, but it isn’t slow. Although this router won’t excite router geeks, it isn’t a bad choice for mainstream users.

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