CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
The D-Link DIR-880L is the latest to join a growing crowd of high-end AC1900 routers, and it might be the best D-Link has to offer home users to date.
In my testing, the DIR-880L proved to be a great router with excellent range, fast Wi-Fi data rates and stable signal. My biggest complaint is that its USB 3.0 port takes a long time to mount a plugged-in external hard drive. The new and polished Web interface also poses a learning curve for those used to working with D-Link's previous routers.
All things considered, the DIR-880L is the newest member of the best 802.11ac routers on the market, totally worth its competitive price of $190 in the US, £135 in the UK, and AU$300 in Australia.
The DIR-880L eschews the cylindrical design found in recent D-Link routers, such as the DIR-868L . Instead it comes in the traditional squarish shape with tapering front. The router has three detachable antennas that go on its back, which isn't ideal since they may be in the way when you want to access the routers' ports, which are also on the back. The router is designed to stay flat on a surface but is also wall-mountable.
The router comes with four Gigabit LAN port (for wired clients) and one Gigabit WAN port (to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem). There's also the power port, a recessed reset button and an on/off button and a USB 2.0 port. The router has another USB 3.0 port placed on its left side. You can use these USB ports to host a printer (preferably USB 2.0) and a storage device (USB 3.0).
On the front, the router has an array of LED lights which show the status of the ports as well as that of the Internet and Wi-Fi connections.
The DIR-880L is ready to use right out of the box thanks to its pre-configured Wi-Fi network, with the information printed on a label attached to its top. Using that information, all you need to do is plug the router into power, connect its Internet (WAN) port into your broadband modem and you're set.
If you want to further customize the router's features, including change the names of the Wi-Fi networks to your liking, you need to access the router's Web interface. To do this, from a connected computer, point the browser to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.0.1.
The first time you launch the interface, you'll be greeted by a short wizard that walks you through a few steps, including making a password for the interface itself, which will be required next time you need to access it.
The DIR-880L comes with a new and much more polished interface than previous D-Link routers. Aesthetically, this is quite pleasant, but practically there will be a learning curve for D-Link fans. It's an improvement for those getting this router as their very first D-Link though.
The interface is now organized completely differently from previous D-Links. Instead of the granular menus, it now has four category buttons on top, including Home, Settings, Features and Management. Except for Home, which shows a visual network map, when any other buttons are clicked or hovered over they show a drop-down menu that contain the sub-settings of the category.
This new way of organizing items makes it faster to access different settings, since you can jump from one to another very quickly, without having to first exit the current section. But if you're used to the old interface and know exactly where things are, the new one will be a little hard to figure out.
On the plus side, the new interface does make certain tasks much easier. The visual network map, for example, is a great way to view your network, and allows you to click on a connected client -- each has its own type-representative icon -- to perform a few tasks on that client, such as assigning a permanent IP address blocking it from accessing the network.
The Quality of Control feature now allows you to quickly drag and drop connected clients different slot for Internet access priority (Highest, High, and Medium), and spares you from having to manually customize the settings.
I noticed, however, that the new interface now lacks depth in terms of customization. On the Wi-Fi setting, for example, there's no option to use either TPIK or AES in the Wireless Security mode. Or, in the Dynamic DNS feature, you only have the choice of either the dyndns.com service or entering the server manually. Previously, in older D-Link routers, there were more pre-loaded options for what Dynamic DNS you want to use. Overall, this is not a big problem -- in fact, for home most users, these changes actually will make life easier for you. And for a savvy user, in the end, the DIR-880L allows you to set up the network exactly how you want it.
The DIR-880l is a true dual-band 802.11ac router, capable of offering up to 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz frequency band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz frequency band, simultaneously. For this reason it's qualified as an AC1900 router. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) To get the fastest speed out of the router, you will need to use clients that support the same standard, but they will work with all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of their Wi-Fi standards.
Other than that, the new router comes with a similar set of features found in previous D-Link 802.11ac routers. Examples include guest networking (with two networks, one for each band), IPv6, port forwarding, QoS, firewall, Web-filtering and so on.
And just like the DIR-868L, it also comes with D-Link's cloud feature which enables users to manage their 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, which is part of the initial setup wizard you can re-run anytime from the Settings. 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-880L's USB ports 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. I noted, however, the USB 3.0 port took a long time (5 minutes or more) to mount an external hard drive. Most of the time, the fastest way for the drive to be recognized was to restart the router.
Once a drive is mounted, you can easily share the entire connected drive with 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. On top of that, you can share the content of the drive over the Internet using D-Link's cloud feature.
Uniquely among D-Links, the DIR-880L includes a quick VPN server support. 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.
I stacked the DIR-880L against other AC1900 routers I've reviewed and it did very well. In fact, on the 5GHz band, it was the fastest, though not by much, at close distance with the sustained speed of 526Mbps. When I increased the distance to 100 feet (30 metres), however, it now scored 213Mbps, just about average.
On the 2.4GHz band, the router was also quite impressive with 168Mbps at the close range -- in the top three of the chart. At a longer distance, it registered 90Mbps to be the second fastest on the charts.
Overall, as a Wi-Fi router, the DIR-880L wasn't consistently the fastest, but it was easily one of the fastest I've reviewed. The router also passed my 48-hour stress test, where it was set to work with multiple Wi-Fi clients of different standards and frequency bands. During this time, it worked flawlessly and didn't disconnect once.
I was also very pleased with the DIR-880L's range. At CNET's offices, it showed the effective range of some 200 feet (60 metres), which is among the longest I've seen. Further out, the clients were still able to connect to the router but the connections weren't always stable.
Note that at CNET's offices there are 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 also tested the DIR-880L with a portable drive connected to its USB 3.0 port. The router worked with drives that are larger than 1GB -- I only had those of 2TB or less -- and via a wired gigabit connection registered the sustained real-world speed of 44MBps (or 352Mbps) for reading and 27MBps (or 216Mbps) for writing.
While these weren't the fastest I've seen, they were fast enough for most home network storage needs. This means if casual data sharing and light media streaming are what you need in the home, you can just get the DIR-880L and a large external hard drive instead of a dedicated NAS server. Most NAS servers offer much faster data speeds, and many more features than data sharing and media streaming, however.
The DIR-880L is an excellent addition to the selection of high-end 802.11ac routers on the market. I believe even long-time D-Link users will grow to like it after spending some time getting used to the new interface.
Note that the router is not for average users who just want to share a connection to the Internet. But if you're looking to build a robust home network with an affordable way to add file sharing and media streaming at a later date, this is an excellent buy. While $190 is not cheap, The DIR-880L is actually much more affordable than than other competing routers.