D-Link DIR-645 Amplifi Whole Home Router 1000 review: D-Link DIR-645 Amplifi Whole Home Router 1000
The D-Link Amplifi Whole Home Router 1000, model DIR-645 is quite a different beast compared with D-Link's previous router, the DIR-657, both in terms of design and performance. The new router comes in a completely different physical design and is also one of the routers that offers the longest range. Unfortunately, it supports only the 2.4Ghz band and the regular dual-stream Wi-Fi standard that caps at 300Mbps. More and more wireless routers now support true dual-band (both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz) and the new 450Mbps wireless speed.
To make up for that, the DIR-645 offers Gigabit Ethernet, a SharePort Plus USB port that turns any USB device into one that works with all computers in the network, and other nifty features, such as OpenDNS-based parental control, guest networking, and support for IPv6.
At the street price of around $90, the DIR-645 will make an excellent router for homes that need a reliable and fast network that provides excellent Wi-Fi coverage. Those who want to stream high-def content from within the local network, however, might also want to check out dual-band routers that also support the 5Ghz band, such as the Linksys E3200 or the Asus RT-56u.
Setup and design
The DIR-645 has a completely new design with a sleek black housing and internal antennae. The router comes in a round, vertical shape, looking more like a computer speaker than a network device. Measuring 4.6 inches by 7.6 inches by 1.2 inches, it's actually not a small package but still manages to have very compact footprint, thanks to its cylindrical design. It's also very light at just 0.7 pound.
The router's front has two round, green LEDs that show the status of the connection the Internet and the Wi-Fi network and two buttons for the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPC) and the on/off button. These LEDs and buttons are stacked on top of one another in a vertical line to go with the router's design.
Also stacked in a vertical line are the router's five Gigabit network ports, including 4 LAN and one WAN, as well as one USB port on the back. The USB port supports D-Link's SharePort Plus technology. As with the DIR-657, this port, when coupled with D-Link's SharePort utility software, allows any USB device connected to the router to work with all computers in the local network, as if it were directly connected to them. Apart from hosting a USB device, the USB port can also be used with a USB thumb drive to create a Windows Connect Now (WCN) disk that allows you to transfer the router's encryption key from the router to a Windows computer, sparing you from having to remember it.
The DIR-645 comes with a CD that contains the aforementioned SharePort Utility and desktop setup software. Following the software's onscreen instructions, anybody who can use the mouse can get the router running in a matter of less than 10 minutes. Alternatively, advanced users can use the router's Web-based interface to further customize and take advantage of the router's features.
Despite the different physical shape, the DIR-645 offers the same networking features as the DIR-657 that was released a few months ago. All of these features can be accessed via the router's Web interface. You can get there by pointing any connected computer's browser to the router's default IP, which is 192.168.0.1. The interface is similar to those of other D-Link routers made in the last few years. Nonetheless, it's well-organized, responsive, and self-explanatory.
Other than guest networking, which allows for creating separate wireless networks for guests, which has been available all of D-Link's wireless N routers, the DIR-645 now supports IPv6--the new Internet protocol that replaces the old IPv4 that's been running out of addresses, OpenDNS-based parental control, and an enhanced SharePort plus technology for its USB port.
The OpenDNS-based parental control feature allows users to manage Web filtering from anywhere over the Internet. It's very easy to set this up via the router's Web interface. Here you can choose among different levels of parental control and have the option to use OpenDNS to manage it. To use the router with OpenDNS, first you'll need to sign up for a free OpenDNS account. After that, from within the router's Web interface, pick to use OpenDNS as the method to manage the parental control feature; you will then be asked to associate the router with the OpenDNS account via a few mouse clicks and that's it; the cloud-based Web-filtering feature is ready. The router can now be managed from anywhere in the world when you log in to your OpenDNS account at OpenDNS.com.
If you don't want to opt for an OpenDNS account, you can also manage the router's access to the Internet within the router's Web interface by using its Web-filtering feature. This feature's tools include Network Filter, Access Control, Website Filter, and Inbound Control. These tools allow to you control the network and limit access to the Internet by specific criteria, such as preventing a particular computer from accessing an adult Web site or only allowing it to run instant messenger programs during a certain period of time. When hosting an external hard drive, the router can also work as a streaming server, making digital content, including music, photos, and videos, stored on the connected hard drive available to network DLNA-compliant media streamers and iTunes. You can also share documents with multiple computers the way you do with NAS servers. You can't restrict access the hard drive, however, meaning that everyone will have full read and write access to all data stored on the hard drive.
Similar to D-Link's USB-equipped routers, the DIR-645's USB port works with the included SharePort utility software to support any USB device. The software allows the computer to recognize a USB device plugged into the router as if it were plugged directly into the computer's USB port. This is a nifty feature that spares you from having to move the device around since most USB devices are generally designed to work with the only the computer it's plugged in. With certain USB devices, such as a printer or external hard drive, SharePort Plus even allows multiple computers to access the connected USB device at the same time.
The DIR-645 also has an easily customizable QoS feature that helps you prioritize your Internet and network traffic for different services. This is especially helpful for gamers or those who use VoIP services, such as Internet-based phone or video conferencing.
Generally, like with most D-Link routers, I love the way the DIR-645 Web interface is organized and functions. While it's not sleek, it's very clear and intuitive and helps savvy users to quickly set up and customize advanced networking features with ease.
The DIR-645 offered very good range in my testing, up to around 300 feet away at CNET's test facility, which is not exactly optimized for range. Needless to say, it's better to use the router within a shorter range if you want better throughput performance and minimized lag time. In my testing, the router offered its best at 150 feet or less. Further, it's only good for casual Internet surfing.
The reason is because it operates only in the 2.4Ghz band, which is very popular and tends to be interfered with by other networks and other devices, such as Bluetooth or even cordless phones. In my testing, the DIR-645 offered peak throughput speed of around 60Mbps at a close 15-foot range. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, this dropped to about 40Mbps. These numbers weren't the best but generally above average among single-band routers that I've reviewed.
While the router's throughput performance was within my expectations, its signal stability wasn't the best. When set in N-only mode, which means the router works at its top speed but allows only 802.11n wireless clients to connect to it, forgoing all other legacy clients, it would disconnect after 6 to 8 hours of heavy operation. In this case, sometimes I needed to restart the router to get connected again. However, when set to work in mixed mode, supporting all N and legacy clients, its stability was much better and it was able to pass the 24-hour stress test without any hiccups. Hopefully this will be fixed via new firmware. Note that by default the router is set to work in mixed mode, so most home users will be unlikely to run into the issue with the N-only mode that I experienced.
Since the router can work as a simple NAS server when coupled with an external hard drive, I tried this feature out and found the performance, via a Gigabit network connection, comparable to that of other routers with built-in network storage capability. It averaged about 6MBps for both writing and reading, fast enough for light document sharing and media streaming. If you want to stream high-def content, it's recommended that you get a dedicated NAS server.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
Similar to the DIR-657 and DIR-655, D-Link backs the DIR-645 with a one-year warranty, which is short but standard for most home routers. At the company's Web site, you will find a wealth of support information including downloads, FAQs, and a searchable knowledge base. You can also seek help through the company's toll-free technical support phone line, which is available 24-7.
The D-Link Amplifi Whole Home Router 1000 DIR-645 could make an excellent router if its signal stability were better in N-only mode. At its current state, it's still a very good router for homes that need a fast wired network, good set of networking features, and excellent Wi-Fi coverage.