With all the excitement around networking newcomers like “whole home” mesh wireless systems and similar advances, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, for most households, an AC1900 router works just fine. 802.11ac has been around now for five years and dual-band AC1900-class routers, offering speeds up to 1300 Mbps at 5 GHz and 600 Mbps at 2.4 GHz, hit the sweet spot. Decent range at decent speeds with ever-decreasing price points.
I was quite surprised when D-Link sent over their DIR-880L Wireless AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router for review, as it’s been in the marketplace for quite some time. Available online for around $125 (hunt around for deals) it’s up against stalwarts like the TP-Link Archer C9/D9 (see our review), Synology’s impressive RT1900AC (review), Linksys WRT1900ACS (review) and a host of others in a competitive and packed router class.
Let’s take a quick look at whether AC1900 still has legs here in 2017.
Built around a 800 MHz dual-core Broadcom BCM4708A processor, with 256 MB RAM in support, the DIR-880L isn’t the most powerful AC1900 router around but it packs a decent punch. There’s nothing particularly flashy about its hardware features – a traditional 4 Gigabit LAN/1 WAN combo is on offer, with two USB ports (one USB 3.0 and a second USB 2.0) available for storage and printer sharing.
Three removable, external antennas ship with the device, which can stand flat on a desktop, or be wall mounted if required (with screws and anchors provided!).
From a design perspective, unlike some of D-Link’s latest efforts, the DIR-880L has the traditional, classic router style with a touch of gloss added to the top surface for effect. Those rear antennas are a little tall, spoiling the device’s proportions somewhat, but it’s no eyesore.
Using the D-Link DIR-880L
Like most routers, getting the D-Link router up and running is quick and easy, thanks to a simple, browser-based wizard. A mobile app is also available for setup, although my experience with it in a previous D-Link review wasn’t successful, so I skipped it this time around. You can also opt for a manual configuration if that serves your purpose.
As I’ve mentioned previously, D-Link’s management console is very easy to get along with, anchored around a network map which displays the devices connected to the network. Each device icon is clickable, allowing convenient access to settings such as IP address assignment, MAC address lookups, custom labels and so on. Alternatively, you’re free to explore the console using the top navigation bar, which allows you to drill down into basic and advanced features.
It would be wrong to expect an aging, $125 router to offer every modern networking bell and whistle, but the DIR-880L more than covers the basic feature set most householders will be looking for. More advanced users will be pleased to see support for features that you’d typically expect on higher-end routers, that set this model apart from budget competitors.
The device can be used in either a bridge mode or default router mode and support’s D-Link’s mydlink remote access portal, so you can connect to your home network while travelling. As you’d expect, common router features such as Guest Networking (with both bands available for separate guest networks), parental controls (including scheduled website filtering), USB storage sharing plus a neat QoS bandwith prioritization feature (which uses a great drag and drop interface) are included.
For more advanced users, you’ll find IPv6 support, Security Firewall/DMZ, Static Routing, Dynamic DNS, Logging and Device Statistics as well as VPN support.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the DIR-880L included band steering support (Smart Connect). This feature configures the router to transmit a single SSID and, when devices connect, the router automatically places them on the most appropriate band. When implemented correctly, Smart Connect ensures that fast devices aren’t throttled by slower or older wireless clients, optimising aggregate speeds. You’ll see how this boosts performance of the DIR-880L shortly.