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D-Link AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi DIR-890L/R Router review: Race-car looks are reflected in speed and price

Cloud-enabled, built-in VPN, but no Time Machine support

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.

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The cloud feature allows you to remotely control the router when you're out and about. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

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.

Performance

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.

CNET Labs 802.11ac (5GHz) Wi-Fi performance

D-Link DIR-890L/R
601.7
160.9
Linksys EA9200
577.8
242.7
T-Mobile CellSpot
570.6
340
D-Link DIR-880L
525.6
212.8
Asus RT-AC68U
521.4
336
Linksys WRT1900AC
520.67
340.7
Asus RT-AC3200
513.7
289
Linksys E8350
511.1
304.6
Asus RT-AC87U
504.4
278.6
Netgear R8000
482.2
241.6
Netgear R7000
432.1
295.4
Netgear R7500
381.7
242.4
Asus RT-AC66U
339.2
178.5
D-Link DIR-868L
271
221
Amp Wireless RTA15
205.5
165.5

Legend:

Close range
Long range

Note:

Measured in megabits per second


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.

CNET Labs's 2.4GHz Wi-Fi performance

T-Mobile CellSpot
249.56
214.34
Asus RT-AC3200
235.7
66.4
Linksys EA9200
226.2
40.9
Asus RT-AC68U
225
211.4
Netgear R7500
188.8
119.3
Asus RT-AC87U
170.7
56
Linksys WRT1900AC
168.3
50.34
D-Link DIR-880L
160.8
89.5
Linksys E8350
139.4
68.3
Netgear R8000
134.4
57.6
D-Link DIR-890L/R
121.8
34.4
Netgear R7000
117.4
63.2
Amp Wireless RTA15
74.6
35.2
D-Link DIR-868L
63.3
55.6
Asus RT-AC66U
36.8
15.2

Legend:

Close range
Long range

Note:

Measured in megabits per second

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).

CNET Labs' router network storage performance

Linksys WRT1900AC
75.9
105.24
Linksys E8350
37.8
85.47
Netgear R8000
42.6
71.76
Netgear R7500
33.9
65.86
D-Link DIR-890L/R
35.5
65.23
Netgear R7000
38.6
60.1
Asus RT-AC68U
41.2
53.86
Linksys EA9200
25.6
48.57
D-Link DIR-880L
27.4
44
Asus RT-AC87U
27.2
32.31
Asus RT-AC3200
27.5
28.79
Apple Time Capsule
25.8
28.67
D-Link DIR-827
8.5
15.8
D-Link DIR-868L
12.5
12.81
Asus RT-AC66U
16.7
9.6

Legend:

Write
Read

Note:

Measured in megabytes per second

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.

Conclusion

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.

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