D-Link's second 802.11ac-enabled router, the DIR-868L is a huge improvement over the first one, the DIR-865L, though it's still not perfect.
After the disastrous
The new DIR-868L Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud router is fast, stable, and offers wide Wi-Fi coverage. It also supports USB 3.0.
It's far from perfect, however, mostly because of the ill-conceived mobile apps, and the fact that the router can't work as a media bridge or a standalone access point.
If you're setting up a new home network or want to replace your existing Wi-Fi router, the DIR-868L is an excellent buy at the current street price of some $170. Just don't expect it to be more than an excellent Wi-Fi router. For those than can do more than routing, check out those on this list of other 802.11ac-enabled routers on the market.
Straightforward design and easy to set up
The DIR-868L abandons the squarish shape of the DIR-865L routers and goes back to the vertical cylindrical design, first available in the
On the front the router has two round green LEDs that show power and Internet statuses. There are no other status lights for the network ports, which some users might miss. On the back, it has four gigabit LAN ports (for Ethernet-ready clients), one gigabit WAN port (to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem), and a USB 3.0 port to host a USB device, such as a printer or an external hard drive. Also on the back, there's a power on/off button and a WPS button, which initiates a 2-minute window during which other WPS-enabled devices can enter the router's Wi-Fi network.
Setting up the DIR-868L is about the typical example of setting up a home router, as shown in this How To post. Basically, you plug the router into an outlet, connect its WAN port to an Internet source with an network cable (one is included with the router). Use another cable to connect a computer to one of the router's LAN ports. If you don't have a second cable, you can also use a Wi-Fi client (such as a computer or a tablet) and connected to the router's default Wi-Fi networks. The router comes with a label with this information printed on it.
Now, you have two options. You can download D-Link's QRS Mobile app and use a smartphone or tablet to finish the rest of the of setup process. Or, from the connected computer, launch a browser and you will be greeted with a Web-based setup wizard that walks you through the process via a few simple steps. You can always go back to the router's Web interface by pointing a browser from a connected computer to its default IP address, which is 192.168.0.1. The default log-in information, unless you have changed it, is admin for the username with the password being left blank.
Technically, after the setup wizard, you don't have to do anything else to use the router, and this is the case for homes. If you want to further customize your home network or take advantage of the router's other features, the Web interface accommodates all of that.
Common high-end features with cloud integration, but no bridge or AP-only role
The DIR-868L seems very similar to the previous DIR-865L, both use Wi-Fi chips from Broadcom. The new router is a true dual-band router with support for the three-stream setup for the 802.1n (Wireless-N) and 802.11ac Wi-Fi standards. This means it offers up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz frequency. On the 5GHz band, it offers up to 450Mbps when used with Wireless-N clients, and up to 1.3Gbps when used with 802.11ac clients. The router supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of their Wi-Fi standards. (Read more about different Wi-Fi standards here.)
The DIR-868L, however, uses the second-generation Broadcom chip and now sports SmartBeam technology, designed to enhance the router's Wi-Fi performance and coverage.On the other hand, the new router now lacks the ability to work as a media bridge or as an access point only. This means it can't be used as an 802.11ac client to add Ethernet-ready devices to a Wi-Fi network, nor can it be used as a switch with built-in access point to work with an existing network. That said, the DIR-868L should only be used as the first gateway of a home or business network. All of the other 802.11ac routers I've reviewed offer better flexibility.
As an advanced Wi-Fi router, the DIR-868L supports all common features found in high-end routers, including guest networking (with two networks, one for each band), IPv6, port forwarding, QoS, firewall, and so on. Additionally, the router offers features that have been collectively available in other D-Link routers, including a well-organized Web interface, an extensive Web-filtering engine, and support for a storage device for data sharing and media-streaming needs via a connected USB external hard drive.
The DIR-868L's USB port can be used with any external hard drives formatted in either FAT32 or NTFS, and in my trials, it was able to power all bus-powered portable drives. You can then easily share the entire connected drive the everybody in the network or securely share its content via user accounts. You can also stream digital content stored on the drive with network media streamers. Note that by default, the USB port works in 2.0 mode, you can use the Web interface to enable the USB 3.0 speed but this will translate in to shorter range on the router's 2.4GHz frequency band.
Similar to other cloud routers from D-Link, including the DIR-865L and the
While the cloud-based feature can come in handy, it's rather limited since it doesn't offer the same amount of access to the router as the Web interface. On top of that, advanced user can easily set up the router with a free DynDSN service to access its Web interface on the go, without the need of the MyDlink portal. However, the cloud-based feature can also be accessed via a mobile app, called D-Link Light, available for both iOS and Android devices.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.