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D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685 review: D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685

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First announced at CES 2009, D-Link's Xtreme N Storage "all-in-one" Router DIR-685 is the first wireless router that can also work as a network storage device and as a digital photo frame. However, we wish it were a $150 cheaper standalone router, as its $300 asking price is too high.

OVR
7.0

D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685

The Good

The D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685 offers fast wireless performance, built-in network storage, photo frame, and a comprehensive set of networking features. Its Web interface is responsive and intuitive.

The Bad

The D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685 is a single-band router that's more expensive than most, if not all, true dual-band routers. Also, its front-panel LCD/photo frame is too small, the network storage performance is slow, and it doesn't include a hard drive.

The Bottom Line

The D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685 is a very good single-band Wireless-N router; however, its extra features hardly justify the price.

While the DIR-685's single-band Wireless-N function worked well, its network storage performance was slow and the router's tiny 3.1-inch LCD is too small to be used as a digital photo frame.

If you're looking for a good Wireless-N router with a few extras and don't mind the price, the DIR-685 is a good router to have. Otherwise, we'd recommended the true dual-band Linksys WRT610n or the D-Link DIR-855, which offer similar functionality (minus the photo frame) but cost about $100 less.

Design and ease of use
Featuring an internal antennae, the DIR-685 is compact for what it has to offer, measuring just 4.4 inches by 5.8 inches by 1.2 inches. On its back, the router has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, one WAN port, and two USB ports.

Unlike any previous router we've tested, the DIR-685 has a bay on the left side to host a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive of any capacity. The hard drive (not included) is used for the router's network storage functionality and stores photos to display on the router's front 3.1-inch LCD. Also, on its left side is a blue indicator light that shows the activity of the hard drive and works as a button that disconnects the hard drive. We found this button to be very sensitive and can be accidentally pressed when you just want to pick the router up.

We also found the router's LCD too small to be used as a photo frame since we had to get close to the 3.1-inch screen to see any detail. Other than displaying photos, the LCD can be used to change settings or information like the router's connection status, photo slide show options, statistics, and so on. You can navigate the menus using five "buttons" that require some getting used to as they are not physical buttons but printed symbols that respond--with intermittent lagging-- to a finger touch.

It was easy for us to get the DIR-685 up and running. The router comes with Quick Router Setup software on a CD that walks you through setting up the routers via a few simple steps. Also contained on the CD is the SharePort Utility that, once installed on a computer, gives the computer access to the router's USB ports as though they were its own ports.

Once the quick installation is finished, you can launch the router's Web interface by pointing a computer's Web browser to the 192.168.0.1 IP address. The Web interface is one of the most intuitive and responsive we've seen. It allows for accessing and managing the router's long list of networking features. We could also apply most of the changes to the changes to the routers' settings without having to restart it.

Features
Common features: Unlike most of D-Link's recent models, including the DIR-825 or DIR-855, the DIR-685 is not a dual-band router. This means the router works only in the 2.4GHz frequency, which is shared with many other devices such as Bluetooth or cordless phones. Nonetheless, we find the new 5GHz feature to be more of an extra than a must as the majority of wireless clients, both existing and upcoming, operate in the 2.4GHz band.

The DIR-685 did inherit a few useful features from its predecessor, including D-Link's SharePort technology, Guest Zone--an intuitive and responsive Web-interfac--as well as a long list of networking features.

The SharePort technology allows the router's local USB ports to work as networked USB ports. It includes an application called SharePort Utility that you'll need to install on your networked computers. The software lets the computer recognize a USB device plugged into the router as if it were plugged directly into the computer's USB port. Unlike other USB-equipped routers that support only printers and external hard drives, SharePort lets the DIR-685 work with virtually any USB device over your network. Just like any USB port, however, the plugged-in device works only with one computer a time. To use it with another computer, first you need to use the SharePort Utility to disconnect it from the current host. We tried the DIR-685's USB port with a few devices including a Webcam and a few external hard drives and everything worked as intended.

The DIR-685's Guest Zone feature lets you create an additional separate wireless network to be used by guests or the open public. Any wireless client connected to these guest networks get access to the Internet, but not your local LAN resources, such as printer or computers. We are always happy to see this feature in wireless routers.

The DIR-685 offers numerous network features found in other Wireless-N routers from D-Link and a well-organized and intuitive Web interface. You can then set up manual port forwarding--where you map information coming to a certain port to another computer in the network--or use the router's preset settings for different applications and services such as instant messengers, BitTorrent, IP phone software, virtual servers, and so on. It also offers a comprehensive set of parental control tools including Network Filter, Access Control, Web site Filter, and Inbound Control. These tools let you control the network and limit access to the Internet by specific criteria; such as setting a computer to only allow access to instant-messenger services during a certain period of time. The router also lets you customize its firewall to allow some services but not others.

For security, the router features virtually all encryption standards found in wireless routers including all the variations of WEP and WPA. It also supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup, a feature that allows for quickly adding wireless clients to the network without having to manually type in the encryption key. The DIR-685's "all-in-one" notion includes two more extra features: the built-in network storage capability and its LCD photo frame.

Extra features: We like the router's network storage feature as it is one of the most comprehensive among routers that offer it. To use this feature, you'll need to purchase a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive and insert it into the router's drive bay. You then will be prompted to format the hard drive via the router's LCD onscreen menu. We tried an 80GB Samsung hard drive and it took about two minutes for the formatting to complete.

After that, we could access the router's storage just like we would access another networked computer. The router fully supports the SMB standard, which means you can just browse for it using Windows Explorer. By default, there are no restrictions and the storage can be fully accessed by anyone; however, you can apply restrictions to this via user accounts you can create from within the Web interface--a standard way to apply storage restriction found in most NAS servers.

The router's network storage also offers advanced NAS functions including support for iTunes and UPnP media streaming. It even supports BitTorrent downloads, which means the router can download files by itself without having to leave any computer on. We tried out all of these features and they worked well. What didn't seem to work well was the photo frame. While it was easy to navigate and associate the photo frame feature with a folder on the internal hard drive, the frame itself is just too small to be noticed. We feel most people would have no idea it's a photo frame even when there are photos displayed on it. We found that the LCD is more of a gimmick than a fully thought out feature.

Performance
We were happy with the DIR-685's wireless performance but disappointed with network storage performance.

The router's wireless performance was among the fastest single-band Wireless-N routers we've reviewed. In our throughput test, the router registered 51.7Mbps, just a bit slower than the 55.4Mbps of the top performing Belkin N+. At this speed, the DIR-685 can transfer 500MB of data in about 77 seconds.

The DIR-685 topped our charts on the range test with 46Mbps and on mixed mode, where it was set to work with both Wireless-N and legacy wireless clients, and it was also the fastest one at 40.6Mbps.

It was a different story with the DIR-685's NAS performance. We compared the DIR-685 with NAS servers we've reviewed and the DIR-685 was by far the slowest at only 46.6Mbps on the write test and 76.5Mbps on the read test. These were even slower than the scores of the Apple Time Capsule, which were 81.2Mbps and 114.2Mbps for write and read tests, respectively.

Nonetheless, if you just want to use the photo frame and casual document sharing, the router's network storage would suffice. For heavy media streaming purpose between multiple clients simultaneously, however, we wouldn't recommend the DIR-685's network storage at all.

CNET Labs NAS performance tests (via Gigabit Ethernet connection, in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  
Synology DS209+ (RAID 1)
322.3 
240 
Apple Time Capsule
114.2 
81.2 
Maxtor CentralAxis (Single Volume)
55.5 
54.6 

CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance tests (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Mixed Mode  
Range  
Throughput  
D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685 (2.4GHz)
43.2 
46 
51.7 
Linksys WRT320N (2.4GHz)
40.8 
32.6 
45.3 
D-Link DIR-825 (2.4GHz)
55.04 
40.4 
57.44 
Belkin N+ Wireless Router (2.4GHz)
36.16 
29.44 
55.44 
Linksys WRT400N (2.4GHz)
38.2 
37.4 
40.1 
Linksys WRT610n (2.4GHz)
27.04 
28.8 
35.76 
Apple Time Capsule (2.4GHz)
20 
20.3 
32.2 

Overall, the DIR-685 performed well in our tests. It could hold up a stable connection from up to 300 feet away in our testing environment. It also passed our 48 hour stress test, where the router was set to perform continuously heavy data transferring between clients, without any hiccup. However, we did notice when the network storage function was at work, the router's Web interface and its LCD's menu would take a long time (a second or two) to respond.

Service and support
As with all of its new routers, D-Link backs the DIR-685 with a one-year warranty, which is standard for wireless routers these days. At the company's Web site, you will find a wealth of support information including firmware, manual downloads, FAQs, and a searchable knowledgebase. You can also seek help through the company's toll-free technical support phone line, which is available 24-7.

OVR
7.0

D-Link Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Support 7