802.11ac is the latest, fastest WiFi standard. And over the last year we’ve seen a lot of hardware really start embracing it. Now, any flagship phone (and many mid-range offerings) are coming with AC support as are numerous hardware devices such as laptops, tablets and IoT (internet of things) things. That said, there are an ever increasing number of AC routers to connect your AC devices to.
Today, we’re taking a look at D-Link’s DIR 880L AC router to see if it can manage to impress in the $150-$200 (~$169 retail) price range.
The router itself is more traditional in the sense that it isn’t crazy out there like D-Link’s own, higher end AC3200 and 5800 routers unveiled at CES. It doesn’t look like a spaceship and doesn’t have any unusual color patterns. IT’s black all around with blue status LEDs and three antennas sticking out of the back. Nestled alongside the antennas on the unit’s backside you’ll also find the WAN port, 4 LAN ports, and a USB (3) port.
One particular thing to note are the antennas. They’re 5 dB where as most other competing routers typically use 3 dB antennas (if they’re even external). For those of you looking for range, on paper at least, the 880L has what it takes.
Software & Mobile App
On the software front, D-Link provides customers with a decently laid out and versatile portal. The USB port will support attached storage or printers and in turn, share it out to other devices connected to it. Parental controls, port forwarding, access rules and more are all built-in which at this point we’d say is pretty standard fodder nowadays. While some products from Linksys offer more granular control over access/blocking, D-Link’s price point for the 880L strikes a nice balance between features and affordability for the more mainstream user.
One particularly nice feature is the ability to drag and drop PCs/devices into categories through the web portal. Normally you’re dealt a more traditional add/remove style list. The small change to how you administer something trivial like device groupings on the 880L’s software is a welcome, cool change.
If you have a mobile device, D-Link does have an official app available to make the most of the 880L’s features. However, one thing that is kind of irksome is that it is not a free app. After shelling out $100+ on a router, you also have to drop a couple bucks on an app to make the most out of the router. Not the most ideal approach in our book. Furthermore, the app you want to look for is “MY D-Link Lite” as the non-Lite app is old by mobile standards, with no updates in over 2 years. The naming snafu is a tad confusing at first but really a minor speed bump that once you get past it isn’t an issue.
Overall, the interface on the software side is clean, sleek and certainly more towards to the top of list as far as good control panels go.
The most important aspect of a router is just how fast and efficiently it can shuttle your 1’s and 0’s around. In our couple weeks of testing the router against different scenarios including smartphone downloads, Xbox One/PC gaming, and media streaming, there’s nothing alarmingly worrisome about the 880L’s performance. Of course, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy either. In speed tests comparing our in-house Linksys WRT1900AC (running a current build of OpenWRT) against the 880L, we found the Linksys to consistently register a strong dB signal on our devices on the order of 5-15% at any given location. But listed signal strength doesn’t necessarily correlate 100% of the time to faster speeds.
In terms of speeds, the differences weren’t really noticeable (real world) unless very large files were being transferred. And if you look into that statement, it’s telling that this cheaper router can keep up with our Linksys WRT 1900. Our harder speed test which includes a laptop 1 room away and up a floor, we got on average of ~300 Mbps. Which for 5 GHz AC and the obstacles in the way is pretty damn impressive. For comparison’s sake, our Linksys is in the same range (but from a different direction) and only amanged ~15-20 Mbps more at this location. Overall in the end, the Linksys generally had the edge in raw speeds. Considering it’s price, we can’t say we’re surprised. It’s what we expected actually. Though, we also did expect the gap between the Linksys WRT1900ac and D-Link 880L to be wider. That said, one could give props to the Linksys for matching and more often than not, slightly edging out the 880L with “only” 3 dB antennas vs. the 880L’s 5 dB ones.
A fantastic, affordable AC router
If you’re looking for a more affordable but top of the line (performance wise) AC router, D-Link has a very strong contender in the 880L. At ~$160 online, you’re getting a router that can hang with many routers easily $50+ more. While the software feature set might not be as fully flushed out as that of Linksys or Netgear, it does enough things decently enough that most mainstream buyers should be more than content. D-Link’s 880L is a great router if you’re looking to get into the higher end 802.11ac market but don’t want to pay the typical high end price.