The D-Link AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi DIR-890L/R Router is easily the most eye-catching router I've seen, but the sci-fi looks aren't the only thing about it worth your attention. In my testing, it was fast and easy to use, with an exceptionally stable Wi-Fi signal. It also doubles as a capable network storage server when hosting an external hard drive.
Unfortunately, at $310 or AU$400 it's the most expensive router in its class without delivering any real advantages over it competitors. (A UK price has yet to be announced, but that converts to about £200.) In fact, its Wi-Fi range, features and configuration levels are even inferior.
Like all tri-band AC3200 routers, the DIR-890 is generally overkill for most users, but if you live in a relatively small home, have lots of Wi-Fi-compatible devices and want a powerful and easy to use device, you'll likely be happy with it. For those who want more configuration and features, however, I'd recommend the Asus RT-AC3200 instead.
Rocking a completely unique design, the D-Link DIR-890 looks like more like a drone than a router. Brilliant in race- red, it's the most attention-seeking networking device I've seen.
Measuring 15.2 by 9.7 by 4.7 inches (38.7 by 24.7 by 11.9cm) and sprouting six antenna, it's also huge as routers go. And unlike its peers, the DIR-890's antennas are not detachable. So, don't count on replacing them with high-gain or third-party antennas to increase your range.
Similar to the Asus RT-AC3200, the DIR-890 is powered by a Broadcom dual-core 1GHz processor. On the back are the usual amount of network ports (four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit Internet [WAN] port). It also has one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port that you can use to host a printer or an external hard drive. On the front, it has an array of lights running in a vertical line that show the status of the Internet connection, the Wi-Fi networks, and the two USB ports.
As a tri-band router, the D-Link DIR-890 has three separate built-in access points (APs): one 2.4GHz AP to support all 2.4GHz 802.11n/g/b Wi-Fi clients, which caps at 600Mbps; and two 5GHz APs to support 5GHz 802.11ac/n/a clients, capping at 1,300Mbps each. Combining all of them, the router has a total bandwidth of 3,200Mbps at any given time. Since a client can connect only one of those bands at a time, its top theoretical speed to a client remains 1,300Mbps at most, which is the same as an AC1900 router. (For better understanding of Wi-Fi standards, check out this handy feature.)
Keep in mind that the second 5GHz band is used only when there are multiple clients trying to connect to the router, which is extra helpful with clients of different Wi-Fi standards (802.11a, 802.11n or 802.11ac). In this case, fast clients will connect to one band with the other clients hooking up to the remaining bands, allowing each of them to run at their fastest speed without adversely affecting each other.
You can use the DIR-890 either as three separate Wi-Fi networks (one for each band) or combine all three into a single network in the Smart Connect mode. With the latter, which is also the default setting, the router will automatically connect each client to the optimal band.
The DIR-890 is very easy to use, coming pre-configured with a Wi-Fi network and password. All you have to do is plug it in and connect it to an Internet source, such as a DSL or cable modem. Then, after you connect a client to the network, run a Web browser to launch the wizard that will walk you through a few step to finish setup (if you like, you can change the Wi-Fi network name and password). After that you can get to this interface by pointing the browser to the router's default IP address (192.168.0.1) and you can find the setup wizard from the Settings menu of the Web interface.
The DIR-890 uses the new interface we first saw in the DIR-880L , which has its pros and cons. I like that the new interface is more polished and intuitive than on previous D-Link routers. Instead of the old granular menus, it now has just four category buttons: Home, Settings, Features and Management. Except for Home, which shows a visual network map, when you mouse over the buttons you'll see a drop-down menu with the sub-settings of the category.
This means from any part of the interface, you can quickly access any different part, without having to first exit the current section. The icons also do exactly what you think they will do. For example, on the network map, which is a great way to view your entire network, you can click on connected clients (each has its own type-representative icon) to interact with them. There's also a Quality of Service (QoS) feature that allows you to quickly drag and drop connected clients to a different slot for Internet access priority (Highest, High and Medium).
On the downside, though, the QoS is limited to putting only one client in the top priority spot, and you can't prioritize them based on other categories, such as the type of Internet traffic (download, surfing, voice over IP) or applications (games, media streaming and so on).
The interface also has limited configuration options and lacks depth, for both settings and features, throughout. For example, you can only reserve or unreserve an IP address for a client (such as a computer) when that client is connected to the router, and there's no way to manually edit the reservation list. That makes it hard to not only know which IP address belongs to which computer, but also it's impossible for you to move an IP address of a crashed computer to another without resetting the router. Also, in my experience, I could only reserve the IP addresses for about 10 clients.
Still more settings are limited. You can only create only 15 port-forwarding rules and 15 Web filtering rules. The Web filtering rules work in a very rigid way -- you can either allow all users to access up to 15 websites (and nothing else) or block up to 15 websites. There's no way to block certain clients from certain websites during a certain time.
On the whole, the new interface is great for home users who want something simple and easy to use. Savvy users, however, will find it lacking.
Like the DIR-880L, the DIR-890 includes D-Link's cloud feature, which lets you manage your home network over the Internet, via the MyDLink portal. You first need to create a free account (unless you have an existing one), then add the router to that account. After that, you can easily view the status of the router as well as manage a handful of its settings using either a browser or the myDLink Lite mobile app.
The DIR-890 can also work as a VPN server. This means you can create a profile to securely access your home network when you're out and about. You do need a quick VPN client installed on the remote client, and knowledge of how to setup a Dynamic DNS to take advantage of this feature.
You can use the router's USB ports with any external hard drives formatted in either FAT32 or NTFS. In my trial, the router recognized the connected hard drive very quickly and was able to power all bus-powered portable drives I tried with it. Once a drive is mounted, you can set it to share all of its content to everybody in the network or share it securely via user accounts. You can also stream digital content stored on the drive with network media streamers. On top of that, you can share the content of the drive over the Internet using D-Link's cloud feature.
This storage feature, however, doesn't support Time Machine backup. This is a huge drawback for Mac users, especially considering other routers, such as the Asus RT-AC3200, support this.
In my testing, the DIR-890 was both the fastest and the slowest Wi-Fi router in its class -- depending on the range.
On the 5GHz band, where it offers 802.11ac performance, it topped the charts with a sustained speed of 602Mbps at a close range of 15 feet (4.6 meters). When I increased the range to 100 feet (30 meters), however, it scored just 161Mbps, the slowest among high-end 802.11ac routers.
On the 2.4GHz via 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, the router didn't do very well, registering 122Mbps and 34Mbps for close and long range, respectively. These were below average on the charts.
I suspect that the router's data rates degraded so much over long distance because it doesn't have very good range. In my experience, AC3200 routers generally don't the best range compared to other 802.11ac routers, but the D-Link's range fell short compared with its peers. In my testing, its affective range was about 150 feet (45 meters). Further out it was hard to connect to it and hold a steady connection.
To make up for this, the router had exceptionally good Wi-Fi stability. I put it though two stress tests, one with Smart Connect and the other without -- each lasted for three days and the router didn't disconnect once.
Note that I tested the DIR-890 at CNET's offices, where there are plenty of walls and many Wi-Fi devices, including those from adjacent buildings, that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live. I tested the router with its latest firmware (version 1.03).
When coupled with a portable drive, the DIR-890 also did very well, averaging more than 65MBps for reading and more than 35MBps for writing, via a Gigabit connection. These were among the fastest scores among routers with these features and more than fast enough for data sharing and media streaming. It's really too bad that the router doesn't support Time Machine backup.
The D-Link DIR-890 is without doubt a good high-end Wi-Fi router, having three things going for it: a great design, fast speeds (both Wi-Fi at close range and storage) and strong signal stability. Unfortunately, its range falls short, and the lack of configuration settings and features are disappointing. On top of that, it's just too expensive.
With that in mind, I'd recommend it only for non-tech savvy users who have multiple 5GHz clients, need to do lots of heavy tasks via Wi-Fi, and live in a relatively small home. If you fit this category and don't mind spending the dough, you'll be happy with it.
For most users, it's a better deal to get a regular AC1900 router, such as the Asus RT-AC68U , the Netgear R7000 , the Linksys WRT1900AC or one of those on this top 802.11ac router list. If you definitely need an AC3200 router and also want to customize your home network to the max, pick the Asus RT-AC3200 instead.