D-Link DIR-868L 802.11ac Wi-Fi router review: Fast and surprisingly inexpensive
At a Glance
Don’t judge D-Link’s DIR-868L by its surprisingly low price tag. At the time of my review, it was street-priced a full $70 lower than the Asus RT-AC68U, even though it outperformed its competitor in several of my benchmark tests. Asus has a number of features the D-Link can’t match—but still, that’s a lot of cash.
Both routers are dual-band models that deliver throughput up to 450 mbps on their 2.4- and 5GHz 802.11n networks, and up to 1300 mbps on their 5GHz 802.11ac networks. Unlike Asus, D-Link hides the router antennas inside its cylindrical enclosure. D-Link allows you to create a guest networks on both the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands, and you may set these networks to be active only during a predetermined schedule.
The Asus is the better choice for small businesses, but consumers are unlikely to miss having dual WAN and 3G/4G connectivity options. But like most high-end routers, the DIR-868L does provide VPN, FTP, and SAMBA servers.
Most consumers will be more interested in this router’s UPnP, DLNA, and iTunes servers. But they might be disappointed that D-Link makes them choose between sharing USB storage or a USB printer on the network: The DIR-868L has only one USB port (at least it’s USB 3.0). The DIR-868L also doesn’t have an onboard BitTorrent client.
D-Link has a good Quality of Service engine, but it’s not nearly as easy to configure as Buffalo’s router. The DIR-868L offers very little in the way of parental controls. You can limit access to approved sites, limit web access according to a date and time schedule, or block access from services such as peer-to-peer utilities, but that’s about it. And if you impose any of those limits, it impacts your entire network, not just the computers your kids might be using. If parental controls are your number-one priority, and you don’t mind limiting yourself to an 802.11n network, no router I’ve seen beats PowerCloud’s Skydog, even though that router is limited to 802.11n.
Wireless networking performance
You can configure the DIR-878L to operate as a router or (thanks to a recent firmware release) a wireless client bridge. It doesn’t offer TurboQAM on its 802.11n network, but that’s not a big loss. As a router, it delivered great performances in most scenarios, but it delivers very poor range as a 2.4GHz 802.11n network.
Each of the routers performed well when paired with a matching router configured as an 802.11ac bridge, but the D-Link DIR-868L performed especially well at close range (when the client was nine feet away) and when the client was in my home theater (an acoustically isolated room 35 feet away).
When I paired the DIR-868L with the Linksys WUMC710 802.11ac Wi-Fi bridge, it took a fourth-place finish once again. Its slowest performance came when the client was in my acoustically isolated home theater.
The D-Link placed fourth when I paired it with a Linksys WUSB6300 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter. But that finish isn’t as bad as it sounds, because the router significantly underperformed only when the client was in my home theater.
The DIR-868L’s 5GHz 802.11n network performed much better—in fact, it delivered the highest performance of all six of the routers I tested. It also had no problem maintaining a strong connection to the client when the client was in my home theater and in my home office.
The crappy range of the DIR-868L’s 2.4GHz 802.11n network will give you pause if you know you’ll be connecting legacy hardware to your network. It couldn’t maintain any connection to the client when the client was in my home theater or in my home office. If you don’t anticipate the need to support legacy devices to a wireless network, on the other hand, this won’t amount to a hill of beans.
D-Link’s router was one of the slowest at transferring files from a PC to a connected USB 3.0 hard drive. And since the DIR-868L has only one USB port, you can use it to share storage or a printer, but not both.
The bottom line
With a street price of just $150, D-Link’s DIR-868L delivers an outstanding price/performance ratio. It comes a very close second to the much-more expensive Asus RT-AC68U, although it doesn’t offer nearly as many features. And this isn’t the router to buy if you want to share both a printer and storage on your network, or if you need to support 2.4GHz 802.11n clients.
After you've finished reading the rest of these reviews, check out 12 of the new routers announced at CES 2014.