I never thought that I’d see a Wi-Fi router that was both bigger and more ostentatious than the Netgear Nighthawk X6, but that day has come. The D-Link AC3200 (DIR-890L) is a giant glossy red triangular prism with six huge antennas sticking out of it, and promises tri-band Wi-Fi performance of up to 3200Mbps. This is one massive router, but it does what it says on the tin very well.
What Is It?
- Processor: Broadcom BCM43602, 1GHz
- RAM: 512MB
- Wi-Fi Speed: AC3200, 802.11n 600Mbps +
802.11ac 1300Mbps x 2
- Storage: 128MB ROM
The $399.95 D-Link DIR-890L is an enormous home Wi-Fi router running three bands across the 802.11a/b/g/n and super-fast 802.11ac standards, and is rated for a maximum theoretical simultaneous throughput of 3200Mbps. That’s 3.2 gigabits per second of raw networking grunt, and although you’re genuinely unlikely to actually need it under any kind of reasonable real world conditions, it’s good to have that kind of potential.
As you can very clearly see, the D-Link AC3200 is quite a striking piece of technology. Its glossy red triangular chassis is vaguely bug-like; I think I’m going to start calling the bulk of the DIR-890L its carapace. Those six antennas extending from its rear and angled sides aren’t at all skinny or spindly, though — on the contrary they’re very sturdy and chunky, but are sadly not removable to be replaced with high-gain alternatives.
Around the back of the router, you’ll find four 1000Mbps-capable Gigabit Ethernet networking ports, as well as an identical port dedicated to connecting your WAN device — the modem or other piece of hardware that actually connects your house or office to the ‘net. There’s also a single each of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, to which you can add storage or a printer. It’s important to note that this is not a modem router, as much as the sizeable price tag might suggest that it is. You’ll need to retain your existing Internet-connected modem or buy a good standalone unit.
Network routers are nothing without a good and easily configurable interface, and a setup procedure that makes it simple to get up and running. The D-Link DIR-890L has that second point in spades; after connecting to its default Wi-Fi (a connection card with the password is in the box, and also stuck to the router itself) you’re shuttled to the setup page and run through a five-step process of specifying your ‘net connection and customising Wi-Fi. Minute adjustment options, though, are less numerous.
What’s It Good At?
Transfer speeds from the D-Link DIR-890L are, under ideal conditions, nothing short of mind-blowing. I measured a maximum transmission rate of 705Mbps under close range 802.11ac, with numbers petering out slightly as range falls off. Some of its competitors are actually better at longer range, but sacrifice outright speed at the closest possible connection. Both AC and 802.11n are excellent at their maximum potential for single-device throughput, but the AC3200 really comes into play when you have multiple devices banging away at full power simultaneously.
D-Link DIR-890L: Performance
802.11ac, 2m: 89MBps 802.11ac, 10m: 78MBps 802.11ac, 15m: 52MBps
802.11n 5GHz, 2m: 45MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 10m: 45MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 15m: 33MBps
802.11n 2.4GHz, 2m: 38MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 10m: 37MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 15m: 28MBps
USB 3.0: 1GB: 65MBps 5GB: 47MBps
USB 2.0: 1GB: 21MBps 5GB: 20MBps
Similarly, the router’s storage interface is super-fast, which is great news for anyone planning to use its USB 3.0 connector to set up an impromptu networked storage device. I measured maximum read speeds of 65MBps on the USB 3.0 port using a Samsung solid state drive. USB 2.0 is, of course, rate limited by its connection standard; don’t bother if you’re intending to transfer 1080p video, and just connect a printer to that port instead.
D-Link’s giant manta ray of a Wi-Fi router is, actually, really good looking. I like the design, and it’s very well built at the same time. I know it’ll be polarising, and if you’re hiding it away in a cupboard it doesn’t even matter, but Wi-Fi routers do their best when they’re out in the open — and this is a router that would look happily out in the open. The DIR-890L will certainly be a talking point, if nothing else.
What’s It Not Good At?
Not having removable antennae means the D-Link DIR-890L is, in some ways, actually not very well suited to a particular kind of business use. Not being able to remove and replace those antennae with a sextuplet of higher- or lower-gain units means Wi-Fi coverage isn’t adjustable to suit a larger office. And if you accidentally break one off, it’s an expensive and lengthy trip back to D-Link for repair or replacement — with all the network setup woes that accompany that.
And that’s a pity, considering the DIR-890L actually doesn’t have anywhere near as extensive the Wi-Fi coverage as its enormous footprint might suggest. It definitely covers a large area with strong Wi-Fi, but it’s no more a long-range router than the original Netgear Nighthawk or the Linksys WRT-1900AC. That additional AC band doesn’t do anything for the range of its coverage, but just means you have more capacity within that shorter high-speed network.
More annoying in some ways is the fact that the D-Link Web interface doesn’t provide as granular a list of network settings as some of its direct competitors. The Linksys WRT-1900AC, for example, gives you a lot more adjustment than just high, medium and low Wi-Fi transmission power, and similarly there’s no option to select transmission bandwidth for the DIR-890L’s various Wi-Fi bands. This is a router made for the high-end novice or intermediate users — the ones that know they need a lot of power, but don’t want the finicky features to get there.
It’s also hard to get around how expensive a router this is. $400 is a huge amount of money, especially considering you’re paying a $100 to $150 premium for the DIR-890L’s second 802.11ac band in the same manner of the Netgear Nighthawk X6 — it’s extra capacity that you’ll only use if you have a house packed to the gills with next-gen 802.11ac devices and if you’re using a lot of the bandwidth on offer.
Should You Buy It?
If you need the absolute best in 802.11ac and 802.11n Wi-Fi performance for your small or large home, or even a moderately sized small business office, then the $399.95 D-Link DIR-890L will fill that role very nicely. It’s definitely skewed to home rather than business users, with a design and user Web interface that is more funky and simplistic than straight-laced and innately configurable. But that doesn’t mean it’s weak.
For transfers and general use, the AC3200 absolutely blazes along. Under ideal testing settings it is the fastest Wi-Fi router that I’ve ever tested, and that’s impressive considering the already excessively fast transfer rates that its competitors from Netgear and Linksys and Asus can handle. Whether you’re using any recent device on the 802.11n band, or any newer device on the 802.11ac band, you can be assured of ridiculously quick speeds.
It is absolutely an expensive device, though. $400 is a lot of money for a router, even if it’s one as massively powerful as the DIR-890L. It also begs the question as to whether you actually need this much overhead — if you’re streaming 4K Netflix, or if you’re transferring massive files routinely across your household or business, I can absolutely see the need for a Wi-Fi network this robust. For most average users, maybe not.
But especially if you can write the expense of the D-Link DIR-890L off as an exercise in future-proofing your home for the next few years, then it’s a worthwhile device. It’s very easy to set up, albeit only if you already have a dedicated ADSL, cable or NBN modem in your house — if you don’t, that’s an additional cost you’ll need to factor in. But even with that said, you can buy the D-Link AC3200 and rest assured your home network will stand the test of time.