D-Link DIR-868L Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud Router review: Stellar Wi-Fi marred by inflexibility, mediocre apps

Underwhelming mobile apps
The D-Link Light mobile apps offer the same limited access to the router's settings. You can basically view its status, change its Wi-Fi network name and password, block/unblock and connected clients, and remotely reboot the router. And that's about it. The app worked well in my trial and was quite responsive, even when the mobile device was connected to the Internet via a 3G connection.

The SharePort Mobile media streaming app can organize content into different category for quick access. It could use a heavy dose of improvement to be really useful, however.
The SharePort Mobile media streaming app can organize content into different category for quick access. It could use a heavy dose of improvement to be really useful, however. Dong Ngo/CNET

The second app available for the router is D-Link SharePort mobile, which, in a nutshell, allows you to stream content (photos, music, videos, and so on) stored on the external hard drive connected to the router's USB port, on mobile devices. This app needs a lot of improvement, though.

First of all, setting it up to work remotely via the Internet is a challenge for most users. This is because it doesn't share the same MyDlink portal as the other apps. Instead, you'll need to setup a DynDNS service or manually input the router's current WAN IP address for it to work. Locally, when the mobile device is connected to the router's Wi-Fi, the app worked better. You need an user account, or the router's default admin account to get the app connected to the content.

Secondly, if you have a sizable library, the app takes a long time to display a type of content, such as photos, in a list format. This happens every time you want to access the content. And when you have picked one to view and want to go back to pick another, the app refreshes the list again, which takes the same amount of time as the initial display. It would be a lot less annoying if it could retain the original list without refreshing each time you want to view it again.

And finally, the app supports a limited number of video file formats -- it can't play back the popular AVI or MKV formats, for instance -- and it doesn't work in the background. This means you can't stream music while doing something else with the mobile device, such as surfing the Web.

In all, the router's mobile apps, while functional, need some major updates to truly add value to the router. For now they are just some fun options.

Performance
Unlike the mobile apps, the DIR-868L doesn't need much improvement in terms of performance. I tested the router's 802.11ac performance with a third-party 802.11ac media bridge at a short distance (15 feet), and it registered 271Mbps, about average among 802.11ac-enabled routers. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, it scored 221Mbps, topping the charts.

CNET Labs 802.11ac performance score (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range
Throughput
D-Link DIR-868L
221
271
Netgear R6300
208
331.32
Asus RT-AC66U
178.5
339.2
D-Link DIR-865L
135.2
199.2

When used with 802.11n (Wireless-N) clients, which are currently the most popular on the market, the router also did very well. On the 5GHz band, it registered 178Mbps and 161Mbps for short and long range, respectively. On the 2.4GHz band, it averaged 63Mbps and 56Mbps, for short and long range, respectively. These scores put it among the top performers.

What's good about the DIR-868L is the fact that its data rates don't degrade heavily as the range increases. This means you don't need to be really close to the router to enjoy the high speeds. You don't want to be too far, either. Though in my trial, the router was able to broadcast signal to up to 300 feet on both bands, the effective range is 150 feet or less. This is common for most routers of its type.

The router also passed my 48-hour stress test without disconnecting once, proving that it can offer a stable Wi-Fi signal on both bands.

CNET Labs 5GHz Wireless-N performance score (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range
Throughput
Linksys EA4500
176.8
186.8
D-Link DIR-857
172.4
214.6
Asus RT-AC66U
166.6
208.2
D-Link DIR-868L
161.5
178
Asus RT-N66U
155.3
181.8
Netgear R6300
144.8
178.8
Belkin N900 DB
138.2
189.6
D-Link DIR-865L
121.6
147.6
Trendnet TEW-692GR
105.8
116.1
Cisco Linksys EA6500
105.7
124.6
Netgear WNDR4500
92.7
152.8

CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance score (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range
Throughput
D-Link DIR-868L
55.6
63.3
Asus RT-N66U
45.5
55
Linksys EA4500
41.6
62.4
Netgear R6300
41.6
51.2
Trendnet TEW-692GR
31.3
77.8
Netgear WNDR4500
31.1
45.3
D-Link DIR-857
29.6
47.8
Belkin N750 DB
26.6
50
Netgear WNDR4000
23.9
67.8
D-Link DIR-865L
22.1
36
Asus RT-AC66U
15.2
36.8

When coupled with an external hard drive, the DIR-868L also offered excellent network storage data speed. Via a gigabit wired connection, with USB 3.0 function turned off, the router offered about 12MBps of network storage performance, for both writing and reading. When I enabled USB 3.0 functionality, which resulted in shorter range on the 2.4GHz band, the network storage speed didn't seem to improve much. This was expected, however, since , 12MBps is notably slower than the real-world speed of a USB 2.0 external hard drive (some 30MBps). This means there's basically no benefit in enabling USB 3.0 functionality with the DIR-868L.

Nonetheless, 12MBps was among the fastest among all routers that offers this feature, and fast enough for general network-based storage needs.

CNET Labs NAS performance scores (Via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, measured in megabytes per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read
Write
Asus RT-AC66U
9.6
16.7
Asus RT-N66U
11
16.5
D-Link DIR-868L
12.81
12.5
Asus RT-56U
13
11.9
Belkin N900 DB
17.6
9.1
D-Link DIR-827
15.8
8.5
Belkin N750 DB
6.9
2.7

Conclusion
As an advanced home router, the DIR-868L Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud Router is a huge improvement over the previous DIR-865L router. D-Link did a good job focusing on what is important in the Wi-Fi router: the data rates and the quality of Wi-Fi signal, though at the expense of extra features and flexibility. The latter, however, can be improved over time and possibly added via firmware updates. While there sure is room for improvement, in its current state, DIR-868L is already one of the best straight-up 802.11ac-enabled routers on the market.

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