Review: D-Link DIR-890L router

Going beyond AC2400, we now have AC3200 routers on the market, and the D-Link DIR-890 router is one of them. We previously did a short introduction of the router when it first launched. Today, we’ll be doing a short review on an actual unit of the D-Link DIR-890, together with a comparison to the ASUS AC87U. The AC87U is not a AC3200 router, but it’s the next best router we have on our hands for a comparison.

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First Impressions

The DIR-890L is big. If you thought the AC-87U was large, the DIR-890L is even bigger. It’s not significantly large, but expect it to take up lots of real estate on your desk. Like most other top end router on the market now, it’s packed with a dual-core Broadcom 1 GHz CPU (BCM4709A0) with 512 mb of ram. It’s tri-band, meaning there’s ONE 2.4Ghz access point, and TWO 5 Ghz access points. Combine all 3 together, and you can have a top speed of 3200 Mbs. That said, most of us won’t have the hardware to max out the wifi speed available. (Although in this case it’s a 3×3 transmission, as opposed to the 4×4 on the AC-87U).

Sorry for the mess and the dust in the photos
Sorry for the mess and the dust in the photos

The router looks great, unique design instead of your typical rectangular shape. The ports are all at the back which makes for a much neater arrangement. One quirk though. The DIR-890L had no indication lights for the ethernet connections.

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Network performance

The WIFI performance of the DIR-890L is just as poor as the AC-87U. Test was conducted in the exact same home environment. I don’t know what’s causing this, maybe it’s to do with the short antennas. To make things worse, the antennas cannot be manually replaced, which means you can’t improve on the wifi performance. Translated into our environment, it means you’re going to have a tough time getting a proper reception in the master bed room if the router is in the living room.

The router comes with Smart-Connect functionality. In theory, what this does is to allow you to have all your networks on a single SSID, and the router will automatically balance your devices out on the most appropriate radio network. In practice, I don’t forsee having so many wifi devices that it really matters. Smart Connect also helps to setup a single SSID across all three wireless bands. It is a friendly feature for other family members.

The weird thing was I was getting 500 Mbps on my internet connection via wired ethernet connection on the DIR-890L, as compared to 900 Mbps using the AC-87U, using the same hardware. Didn’t get to find out what was causing the problem though. I got the same result regardless of which firmware I was on.

User Interface

The user interface is very friendly, with most of the options being very intuitive. You won’t go around wondering where the function you wanted was. A large part of the user interface is in pictorial form, which makes it pretty much a see and click affair. On the other hand, some of the options were pretty simplistic, for such a high end device. For example, the QoS functionality consisted of placing your preferred device in priority. And you could only set a single device as the highest priority. Adaptive QoS by ASUS does it better. On one hand, I’m glad that the whole system was very easy to use, yet there’s a feeling of disconnect to have such high end router being limited in its functionality. Sophisticated users (the ones who would be buying this router) would be expecting more.


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The firmware doesn’t come with VLAN tagging though. So it’s unusable for those who use miotv. The review unit came with firmware version 1.02, and detected no new versions. But 1.06 was available on D-LINK’s website. I would recommend you check your router’s software regularly and update when you can. In fact, using version 1.02, the led indicators of the routers were not working properly. Only when I upgraded to 1.06 did they display the correct status.

DD-WRT

DD-WRT is available for the DIR-890L. DD-WRT is a third party developed firmware, with many enthusiasts features to tweak the router’s capability. Caution: This could affect your router’s warranty.

You can just directly flash the DD-WRT’s bin file directly from the web interface. Upload the firmware file, click upgrade and off you go. DD-WRT will give you expert functionalities you were missing, together with a very text based user interface. The interface is definitely not for the faint hearted, but you can do stuff like overclock your router, block off all ptp traffic, do a proper QoS. I’m not sure if the smart connect functionality still existed. Didn’t look like it to me. Anyway the whole process is very easy. However, if you’re using default settings, you’ll need to access the D-LINK interface through http://192.168.0.1 while the DD-WRT interface is through http://192.168.1.1

To restore the DIR-890L original firmware from DD-WRT, do the following:

  1. Set your computer’s ip manually to: 192.168.0.X (not 1) AND set your subnet mask to 255.255.255.0.
  2. Unplug the power cable to the router
  3. Press the reset button and plug in the power cable when the power led flashes orange release the reset. Access 192.168.0.1
  4. You’ll reach the D-link firmware recovery mode. Upload the original firmware and press upgrade
  5. Remember that the default password is empty

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Conclusion

This is a high end router, with wifi speeds that most of us won’t be taking advantage of. Unless we’re having a big wireless LAN party at home, it’s unlikely that we’ll be requiring the tri band functionality offered by the DIR-890L here. If you’re looking to future proof your network hardware, this is a reasonable choice. But you’re looking at quite a far future before you’re making use of all 3 bands properly. Singapore’s wireless environment is just too congested, and network strength should still be the top criteria that you’re looking for. On that note, the wireless network performance of the DIR-890L is comparable to the other top brands. You can’t change out the antennas, but the DD-WRT compatible firmware might be an appealing feature to the enthusiast techie.

tedfox

Zhaolin aka Tedfox owns both Nexus 7 (2012 and 2013), a Nexus 4, iNo Two, and the OnePlus One. He enjoys playing with the latest gadgets as well as software, - like Plex and Waze.

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