Powerful hardware, familiar feature set, built-in Quick VPN server
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.