dlink-890L-AC3200-review-device-3If the size and color are an indication of how a device would performance, there is little doubt that the D-LINK 890L/R ought to be one of the most powerful based on the sheer size of the device and blazing fast with its bright shiny bright red color.

D-Link has an history with odd looking shape design device if you can remember the Boxee Box design. I know that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but I really like the look of it.

Specifications

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
General
Device Interfaces802.11 a/g/n/ac wireless LAN 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN Port
Four 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN PortsTwo USB ports (one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0)
StandardsIEEE 802.11ac
Minimum System RequirementsWindows® 8.1, Windows® 8, Windows® 7 , or Mac OS® X (v10.7)4Ethernet Network Interface
Internet Explorer® 11, Mozilla® Firefox® v28, Google Chrome v33, or Safari v7Cable, DSL or Fiber Optics
For optimal performance, pair the DIR-890L with an AC adaptee
Functionality
Advanced FeaturesSmartConnectNetwork Address Translation (NAT)
Guest ZoneStateful Packet Inspection (SPI)
MyDlink SharePortTM web accessVPN Passthrough (PPTP/L2TP/IPsec)
Multi-language web setup wizardAdvanced QoS
Green EthernetQuick VPN – L2TP over IPsec
DLNA media server supportAdvanced AC SmartBeam
Remote ManagementBlock/unblock client network access
View current upload/download bandwidthManage wireless network details
View currently connected clients• Accessible through a web browser or iOS or Android mobile app
mydlinkR Lite Mobile App FeaturesView web browsing history per client
Mobile App SupportMyDlink lite
mydlink SharePortQRS Mobile v1.5
Wireless SecurityWPA & WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access)Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) PIN/PBC

Design and Features

The D-Link 890L is rated at a combined speed up to 3200 mbps, thanks to its tri-band capability, 1300 mpbs on each of the two 5 GHz bands and 600 mbps on the 2.4 GHz. You can’t miss the six antennas. I do prefer external antennas, although, these are not detachable.  Normally, I am not a big fan of glossy plastic, on laptops, but on the D-Link 890L/R, I don’t mind that too much since I am not going to handle the unit once it is setup.

The oversize case would actually help cooling the unit, keep in mind, there are three radios and a 1 GHz dual core, all passive cooled, under the hood.

View from the front, a column of LED provides the status about the features in used, power, WAN connection, WiFi mode (2.4 and 5 GHz) and USB drives connections. There are no LAN ports LED. In complete darkness, the LED are dimmed enough that they should not be an annoyance if the device happens to be setup in a bedroom.

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Size comparison with the, used to be, famous, Linksys WRT54G.

Switching to the back, notice how the air flow holes get bigger towards the top of the case.  From left to right, USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 port, factory reset switch, WPS, four gigabit LAN port, gigabit WAN port, ON/Off switch and power connector. I do like the On/Off switch, it makes power cycling the unit a little bit more graceful, compare to just yanking the power cable.

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Router Features

Aside of the physical cables installation an connection, getting online with the D-Link 890L is a two steps process, three, if the user wants to setup MyDlink mobile application service.

The D-Link 890L GUI is clean and simplistic. A couple annoyances though, first, settings changes require a 30 to 90 secs “reload”. It’s not an actual router reboot but the GUI is locked out during that time frame. Second, there are no contextual help about the features. If the user is familiar enough with the terminology, he can make do without, but in some instances, it would be nice to have some guidance. Third, in order to assign static IP, the workstation must be on.

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Some features are limited to 15 entries?

Most of the features expected from an high end router are present, but some limitations are head scratching. For instance, “Firewall”, “Port forwarding”, “Web filtering” and “static routes” rules are limited to 15 entries. While it should be enough for a home usage, personally I have seven port forwarding rules, I don’t see a reason for the limitations. If you are serious about Web filtering, look into using “OpenDNS” instead.

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Although the D-Link offers a VPN server, it is limited to only one account which does not support concurrent connection with the same credentials. Windows VPN client support natively L2TP over IPSec.

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Quality of Service Feature

QoS feature is a way to prioritize network traffic when the link is maxed out and applications are competing for bandwidth. It can happen with the WAN or Internet link, especially with the up-link since it tends to be lower than the download link. Real Time applications, VoIP, gaming, require low latency, which means packets have to get out as fast as possible. The QoS feature, reserves a portion of the bandwidth available based on, either IP, MAC address or ports. Keep in mind the QoS feature only apply from the clients to the router. QoS does not guarantee a “fast lane” from your computer straight to the gaming server for instance. Once the packets leave your router and they are subject to the network health to the destination server.

The 890L QoS feature is only limited to IPs.  It would be a bit more technical to configure but ports based QoS  would allow a better prioritization of the network traffic. To make it user friendly, built a list of applications/services, which is really port based under the hood, so the user can pick and choose.

The latest firmware v1.06 allow manual or auto detection WAN link speed. It is important to be provide accurate values for the up and down link. Over or under provisioned would negate the QoS feature.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-QOS

Basic NAS features.

The SharePort feature is limited to ten users. Nine, really, because the default “Admin” account uses one slot. There is no “user group”, I guess the permissions are basics enough that there is no need for it. Permission is set per share per user. In other words, if two drives are shared then *one* user would need two accounts to access both drives.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-sharedport

If you happen to use this feature, the files are accessible via the MyDlink shareport mobile app.

WiFi Features

Tri-Band Router

As a tri-band router, the D-Link DIR-890L is equipped with a total three built-in access points. One 2.4GHz 802.11 n/g/b and two 5 GHz 802.11 ac/n/a that would pretty much cover all types of WiFi.

  • 2.4 GHz channels range from 1 to 11
  • Primary 5 GHz channels range from 36, 40 44 and 48.
  • Secondary 5 GHz channels range from 149, 153, 157, 161, 165.

Higher frequencies provide a slight higher throughput.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-dlink-smart-connect

Credits: D-Link

There are several options to utilize the three bands.

1- Enable “Smart Connect”, which is the default setup,  will assign one unique SSID to all three bands. As far as the WiFi client, and the end user, is concerned there is only one WiFi name.

This may not be the most optimized arrangement but it is the most convenient and easy to use setup. The connection looks like a round-robin pattern where the clients are equally spread among all three bands regardless of the client capability. My Samsung Note 3, which is AC capable, was connected to the 2.4 GHz AP, WiFi N-mode. When the “Smart Connect” mode is enabled, all three APs are in mixed-mode for a maximum compatibility. The WiFi client is also in a mixed-mode for the same reason. Normally, the user will decide which AP, based on the best available WiFi mode.

With “Smart Connect”  the router “decides” and my guess is it is round-robin based. One way to work around that would be to configure the WiFi client to connect to a specific WiFi mode, for instance, “AC Only” or “N-Only”

2- Dedicate one AP as a “guest” Access Point.  The “guest” network will be isolated from the LAN and its resources.

3- Setup each band to cover a specific WiFi mode(s). For instance, one 5 GHz for “AC only”, the other 5 GHz as “N only” and the 2.4 GHz as mixed mode n/g/b.

4- Setup user groups, for example, “Parents”, “Kids” and “Others” and assign one AP per group with different credentials.

Beam forming.

Higher WiFi throughput is achieved because of beam forming. The way it works, instead of broadcasting the WiFi signal in all directions, the radio focuses the transmission towards the WiFi client, increasing throughput and range.

The technology does not require to client to support it. However, when only the Access Point is beam forming capable, only the down link, from the AP to the WiFi client, will see the increase performance.

WiFi Statistics

WiFi statistic is available but I question its usefulness. Both 5 GHz stats are merged into one graph. There are no averages, such as “Hour”, “Day”, Week”, no min/max throughput and no “Upload” and “Download” usage per date range.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-statistics

 Software

MyDlink provides a remote management of your router. The feature is convenient and does not replace a direct remote management. What I do like, is the option to turn ON and OFF the “remote management” from the app. On my current router, remote management is always on, which could present a potential security risk. With the D-Link app I could just turn it ON/OFF on an “on demand” basis. Since the app displays the current WAN or public IP, I can work around not having a Dynamic DNS (how to setup Dynamic DNS) to remotely access the router or the services on the network.

Other than that, it offers some useful management and notifications options, enable/disable WiFi, WiFi password reset, reboot the device. It also lists active clients on the network which can be disabled directly from the D-Link app.

Mobile App

Alternatively, the D-Link cloud remote management is also accessible from the browser via D-Link web portal. The web version offers the same options as the mobile app.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-myDlink

Clients on the local network can be blocked directly from the D-Link cloud management.

Testing Protocol

Before we dive into the numbers, I would like to summarize what to expect from the benchmarks and how they relate to the real life network usage.

Network performance breaks down into, bandwidth and throughput. There are other factors involved such as jitter and/or latency.

Real time applications like gaming or video conference do not have huge bandwidth requirements but do rely on a low latency network. Whereas, Bittorrent, streaming are less sensitive to latency, as long as it is reasonable, perform better when they have access to a big pipe.

What is “Bandwidth”?

Bandwidth is the maximum amount of raw data across a network. There is an “Up Link” and a “Down Link”, they could have different value.

Up link traffic flows from the host (a computer on your network) to a remote computer.

Down link traffic flows from the remote computer (Netflix, Game servers) to your host.

Network link speed are defined by the network type:

WAN (Wide Area Network) link, the bandwidth capacity is provided by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) depending on the plan. For instance, my internet plan with Comcast offers 50 mbps up, 10 mbps down.

LAN (Local Area Network) link (or wired connections), the bandwidth capacity is determined by your network interface card and your router/switch(es). For instance, gigabit router/switch AND gigabit NIC give you access to a gigabit network.

WiFi link or WLAN, the bandwidth capacity is determined by the slowness connection link between the WiFi client AND the access point (or router). For instance, a WiFi client N mode and a AC access point will connect at N mode. To take full advantage of the AC link, would require an AC 3 x3 access point AND a WiFi client 3 x 3 AC capable.

To summarize, the network link speed is determined by the slowest link speed between the remote host and the local host and the throughput is at best equal to the bandwidth.

What is “Throughput”?

Throughput is the actual amount of data transferred and/or received between a remote and a host computer independently from the bandwidth. On a healthy LAN gigabit network, it is expected to actually get gigabit performance, i.e. close to one gigabit of data per second.

Testmy.net or speedtest.net are good places to start if you want to make sure that you are getting the throughput you are paying for from your ISP. Keep in mind that the speed result is only relevant from your computer to the remote server.

WiFi throughput are always a fraction of their link speed, also called PHY. In the example below, at five feet away, an AC 3×3 client connected at the maximum link speed of 1300 mbps with the D-LINK 890L. However the actual throughput average around 300 mbps.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-phy

The left “Y” represents the throughput (mbps). The right “Y” displays the speed link (mbps). The “X” axis are the dBm values.

Speed Requirements

Below are the most common internet streaming services speed requirements.

  • Netflix: 3 Mbps
  • Youtube (1080p): 4.5 Mbps
  • ESPN Highest bitrate: 3 Mbps
  • Hulu (SD): 1.5 Mbps
  • Amazon: 3.5 Mbps
  • Skype HD video call: 1.5 Mbps up / 1.5 down Mbps
  • Spotify Standard Quality: 0.16 Mpbs

To put things in perspective, based on my internet plan with 50 mbps down, I should be able to run up to 16 different Netflix streams.

Router  Performance Testing scenarios.

My house is a two story, 1700 sqft and about 45′ x 30′ (inside measurements), I provided the floor plan below.

Software used: Tamsoft, inSSIDer.

The Access Point is only as good as the clients. That is why I wanted to use as many WiFi clients available to me as possible.

WiFi Clients used:

  • USB Edimax AC 1200 (2×2),
  • Surface Pro 2, 5Ghz N and 2.4Ghz N mode
  • Buffalo Wireless Bridge AC WLI-H4-1300 (3×3) wireless bridge.

That gave me 5 types of client WiFi to work with.

Wireless Brigde: (#1) AC1200 mode, 5Ghz, 3×3.

USB Edimax: (#2) AC900 mode, 5Ghz, (#3) N-300 mode, 5G and (#4) N-300 mode, 2.4Ghz dual channel.

Surface Pro 2 builtin (#5) WiFi: N-300, 5Ghz.

wifi-floorplan

House is about 1700 sqft, 2 stories, about 45′ x 30′ (inside measurements).

I picked 4 locations throughout the house. At each location, I measured the throughput from all 4 WiFi clients to the D-LINK 890L.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-tamsoft-sample

Tamsoft output sample of the throughput between the Buffalo wireless bridge and the D-Link 890L.
Left: Location #1, AC wireless bridge (3×3). Right: Location #2, N 5 Ghz WiFi, Surface Pro 2.

Performance

WiFi Performance

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-location-performance

Downstream WiFi performance by locations (higher is better).

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Downstream WiFi performance by clients (higher is better).

As a final WiFi test, I connected all of my WiFi capable clients to the D-Link 890L, total of twelve clients, and streamed random 1080p YouTube videos. I checked the videos back and forth between all the clients and did not see any indications that the router was overwhelmed. Per D-Link recommendation each AP should support about 15 WiFi clients.

Based on how the industry calculates the device performance (3200 mbps), the highest throughput obtained on each radio totaled to 659 Mbps at 5′ distance.

5 GHz #1 lower freq.5 GHz #2 higher freq.2.4 GHz freq. (Ch 6)TOTAL
260.23 Mbps296.11 Mbps102.69 Mbps659.03 Mbps

USB Ports Performance

I tested both USB ports, 2.0 and 3.0. A 1GB (1024 MB) file was created via Diskbench. I did a R/W from the USB drives to the Surface Pro 2 to get a baseline. Then both USB drives were plugged into the router and shared out. From there, the same file was used for R/W from the Surface Pro 2 to the shared storage via WiFi from the location #1.

The purpose of the test is, as long as the shared USB throughput comes close to the local throughput then we know that the router performs to its potential. I don’t expect a perfect match because of the WiFi overhead.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-usb2-to-sp2-rw

USB 2.0 Performance. Top and bottom left are read/write throughput from USB storage to Surface Pro 2. Top and bottom right are read/write throughput from the router shared storage to Surface Pro 2.

While USB 2.0 R/W speed are comparable between WiFi and local, USB 3.0 read performance, see below, suffers a 50% drop speed. As a reference, mechanical drive read throughput is about 80 Mbps. Depending on your application, 55 Mbps is still plenty for streaming.

dlink-890L-AC3200-review-sp2-usb3-rw

USB 3.0 Performance. Top and bottom left are read/write throughput from USB storage to Surface Pro 2. Top and bottom right are read/write throughput from the router shared storage to Surface Pro 2.

Conclusion

To summarize, for its basic purposes, meaning, as a router and WiFi access point, the D-Link 890L is more than capable to handle a home or small business normal “needs”. That is a nice way to say that the device is overkill for, at least, two reasons.

"...AS A ROUTER AND WIFI ACCESS POINT, THE D-LINK 890L IS MORE THAN CAPABLE TO HANDLE A HOME OR SMALL BUSINESS NORMAL NEEDS"

First, most mobile clients do not support AC, and second, when they do, they are not 1300 mbps capable.

Second,  mobile WiFi clients are mostly used for Internet browsing, which the bandwidth is in the two digits (Comcast “Performance” plan, 50 down/10 up mbps) compared to four digits for the WiFi bandwidth, 1300 mbps up and down.

Also, for a price of $289 (AMZ as of June 2015), I would have liked a little bit more of “bells and whistles”. I can think of, a more detailed network usage statistics, a BitTorrent client, a FTP client, “Time Machine Backup”, some kind of backup applications, more QoS feature options, no limits on Port Forwarding, and Web Filters. Fortunately, and this is a big plus for the router, it supports the DD-WRT open source firmware.

DD-WRT support.

Flashing the D-Link 890L to the 3rd party DD-WRT is not more difficult than upgrading the firmware. It’s a matter of getting the .BIN file and run the firmware update from the D-Link 890L router.
Doing so, although I have not tested it myself, I would think that the “Smart Connect” and the mobile app would not be supported.

DD-WRT firmware could be a very good mod for the D-Link 890L. One of the best 3rd party router firmware running on a very capable and powerful hardware.

Filed in Computers >Featured >Reviews. Read more about d link, networking, routers and wifi.

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