While groovy whole home Wi-Fi systems are grabbing the headlines in the networking world, traditional routers continue to dominate shelf space in your local, big-box electronics store. Back in November, I reviewed the D-Link AC5300 Ultra Wi-Fi Router (DIR-895L), a racy-looking, range-topping device that proved to be a real disappointment.
A few months on, it’s time to take a look at the $269.99 D-Link AC3150 Dual-Band Gigabit Router. It’s a device that shares much in common with its big-brother, but offers lower speeds at a lower device. The question is how well it performs against its peers, notably the $199 TP-Link Archer C3150 that Jim reviewed last week.
If you’re confused when trying to compare AC3150 and similar-looking AC3200 routers, then you’re in good company. Manufacturers have failed to do a good job in outlining the differences and benefits. Wireless bands is the area to focus on.
While aggregated, theoretical speeds sound similar across the two classes – 3150 Mbps plays 3200 Mbps – how the routers achieve that aggregate differs. AC3150 routers are dual-band devices. The D-Link DIR-885L/R supports speeds up to 1000 Mbps at 2.4 GHz and 2165 Mbps at 5 GHz.
AC3200 routers, however, are tri-band devices, transmitting three individual wireless networks (600 Mbps at 2.4 GHz and 1300 Mbps on each 5 GHz band). In short it means that – in theory – an AC3150 router can offer faster speeds on a single connection (a maximum up to 2165 Mbps) but tri-band AC3200 routers may be better suited to congested households with may wireless devices.
As for real world performance? We’ll get to that.
The D-Link DIR-885L/R is powered by a dual-core 1.4 GHz Broadcom BCM4709C0, with 256 MB RAM. It’s the same chipset that powers both D-Link’s AC5300 model as well as the competing (and much cheaper) TP-Link Archer C3150 router. The 4×4 device is equipped with four external antennas and the standard combination of four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a single WAN port. A USB 3.0 port is added for storage sharing.
In terms of features, you’ll find everything that’s expected of a mid-range router. A SmartConnect feature allows the router to automatically steer wireless to the best possible band, optimising performance. We’ve seen the feature implemented on a range of routers over the last twelve months and it definitely boosts performance. Elsewhere, you’ll find beamforming, for enhanced speed and range, MU-MIMO connectivity (via a firmware update) boosting speeds on compatible wireless clients, an integrated DLNA server and the usual traffic optimization and security features.
Notably, the router supports DD-WRT open source software, so if you decided that you needed more configuration options than is provided by D-Link’s own software, flash away. Otherwise, the D-Link AC3150 Ultra Wi-Fi Router offers a pretty straightforward specification, without too much standout.
What’s in the Box?
What does stand out, however, is the router design. The DIR-885L is clad in the same red. stealth-bomber aesthetic as the AC5300 model I reviewed last year. It’s clearly targeted at gamers and, to be succinct, even as a gamer I’m not a fan. But I’m sure there are families out there that like nothing better than a bright red, aggressive-looking slab of plastic dominating their living rooms. There must be, or why market this?
Aesthetics aside, the hardware feel reasonably well constructed, with minimal creaking or twisting under stress. The lower rear edge at the back of the router is a little sharp, but overall, it’s a decent build. The four antennas, which affix two at the rear and one either side near the front of the device, screw in easily and mostly hold their position. However, it doesn’t take much of a knock to move them and, like most screw-in antennas, they’re prone to falling over.
On this router, status indicators are positioned vertically, down the centre of the device. The front and sides are free of buttons and ports, so the angled face looks pretty clean.
Around the back, you’ll find the power input socket and a power toggle button, the aforementioned Gigabit Ethernet ports, USB 3.0 port, WPS and reset buttons plus a physical switch that changes the device mode between router and extender. Flip the router over and you’ll see two screw holes that can be used to wall mount the device. Thoughtfully, D-Link has included screws and anchors for mounting in the box, along with a single Ethernet cable to hook up the device to your modem.