Saturday, August 22, 2015

D-Link - AC3200 Ultra Wireless-AC Wi-Fi Router vs Linksys EA8500 Max-Stream AC2600 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router (TWO MONSTER)

D-Link - AC3200 Ultra Wireless-AC Wi-Fi Router

By: Dong Ngo

The D-Link AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi DIR-890L/R Router is easily the most eye-catching router I've seen, but the sci-fi looks aren't the only thing about it worth your attention. In my testing, it was fast and easy to use, with an exceptionally stable Wi-Fi signal. It also doubles as a capable network storage server when hosting an external hard drive.
Unfortunately, at $310 or AU$400 it's the most expensive router in its class without delivering any real advantages over it competitors. (A UK price has yet to be announced, but that converts to about £200.) In fact, its Wi-Fi range, features and configuration levels are even inferior.
Like all tri-band AC3200 routers, the DIR-890 is generally overkill for most users, but if you live in a relatively small home, have lots of Wi-Fi-compatible devices and want a powerful and easy to use device, you'll likely be happy with it. For those who want more configuration and features, however, I'd recommend the Asus RT-AC3200 instead.

The DIR-890L/R looks more like a drone than a router.James Martin/CNET

Powerful hardware, radical design

Rocking a completely unique design, the D-Link DIR-890 looks like more like a drone than a router. Brilliant in race-car red, it's the most attention-seeking networking device I've seen.
Measuring 15.2 by 9.7 by 4.7 inches (38.7 by 24.7 by 11.9cm) and sprouting six antenna, it's also huge as routers go. And unlike its peers, the DIR-890's antennas are not detachable. So, don't count on replacing them with high-gain or third-party antennas to increase your range.
Similar to the Asus RT-AC3200, the DIR-890 is powered by a Broadcom dual-core 1GHz processor. On the back are the usual amount of network ports (four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit Internet [WAN] port). It also has one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port that you can use to host a printer or an external hard drive. On the front, it has an array of lights running in a vertical line that show the status of the Internet connection, the Wi-Fi networks, and the two USB ports.
As a tri-band router, the D-Link DIR-890 has three separate built-in access points (APs): one 2.4GHz AP to support all 2.4GHz 802.11n/g/b Wi-Fi clients, which caps at 600Mbps; and two 5GHz APs to support 5GHz 802.11ac/n/a clients, capping at 1,300Mbps each. Combining all of them, the router has a total bandwidth of 3,200Mbps at any given time. Since a client can connect only one of those bands at a time, its top theoretical speed to a client remains 1,300Mbps at most, which is the same as an AC1900 router. (For better understanding of Wi-Fi standards, check out this handy feature.)
Keep in mind that the second 5GHz band is used only when there are multiple clients trying to connect to the router, which is extra helpful with clients of different Wi-Fi standards (802.11a, 802.11n or 802.11ac). In this case, fast clients will connect to one band with the other clients hooking up to the remaining bands, allowing each of them to run at their fastest speed without adversely affecting each other.
You can use the DIR-890 either as three separate Wi-Fi networks (one for each band) or combine all three into a single network in the Smart Connect mode. With the latter, which is also the default setting, the router will automatically connect each client to the optimal band.

Despite its large physical size, the router has just the usual four LAN ports and one Internet (WAN) port.James Martin/CNET

Easy to use, limited Web interface

The DIR-890 is very easy to use, coming pre-configured with a Wi-Fi network and password. All you have to do is plug it in and connect it to an Internet source, such as a DSL or cable modem. Then, after you connect a client to the network, run a Web browser to launch the wizard that will walk you through a few step to finish setup (if you like, you can change the Wi-Fi network name and password). After that you can get to this interface by pointing the browser to the router's default IP address ( and you can find the setup wizard from the Settings menu of the Web interface.
The DIR-890 uses the new interface we first saw in the DIR-880L, which has its pros and cons. I like that the new interface is more polished and intuitive than on previous D-Link routers. Instead of the old granular menus, it now has just four category buttons: Home, Settings, Features and Management. Except for Home, which shows a visual network map, when you mouse over the buttons you'll see a drop-down menu with the sub-settings of the category.
This means from any part of the interface, you can quickly access any different part, without having to first exit the current section. The icons also do exactly what you think they will do. For example, on the network map, which is a great way to view your entire network, you can click on connected clients (each has its own type-representative icon) to interact with them. There's also a Quality of Service (QoS) feature that allows you to quickly drag and drop connected clients to a different slot for Internet access priority (Highest, High and Medium).

The router's interface includes a helpful interactive network map.Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

On the downside, though, the QoS is limited to putting only one client in the top priority spot, and you can't prioritize them based on other categories, such as the type of Internet traffic (download, surfing, voice over IP) or applications (games, media streaming and so on).
The interface also has limited configuration options and lacks depth, for both settings and features, throughout. For example, you can only reserve or unreserve an IP address for a client (such as a computer) when that client is connected to the router, and there's no way to manually edit the reservation list. That makes it hard to not only know which IP address belongs to which computer, but also it's impossible for you to move an IP address of a crashed computer to another without resetting the router. Also, in my experience, I could only reserve the IP addresses for about 10 clients.
Still more settings are limited. You can only create only 15 port-forwarding rules and 15 Web filtering rules. The Web filtering rules work in a very rigid way -- you can either allow all users to access up to 15 websites (and nothing else) or block up to 15 websites. There's no way to block certain clients from certain websites during a certain time.
On the whole, the new interface is great for home users who want something simple and easy to use. Savvy users, however, will find it lacking.

Cloud-enabled, built-in VPN, but no Time Machine support

Like the DIR-880L, the DIR-890 includes D-Link's cloud feature, which lets you manage your home network over the Internet, via the MyDLink portal. You first need to create a free account (unless you have an existing one), then add the router to that account. After that, you can easily view the status of the router as well as manage a handful of its settings using either a browser or the myDLink Lite mobile app.
The DIR-890 can also work as a VPN server. This means you can create a profile to securely access your home network when you're out and about. You do need a quick VPN client installed on the remote client, and knowledge of how to setup a Dynamic DNS to take advantage of this feature.
You can use the router's USB ports with any external hard drives formatted in either FAT32 or NTFS. In my trial, the router recognized the connected hard drive very quickly and was able to power all bus-powered portable drives I tried with it. Once a drive is mounted, you can set it to share all of its content to everybody in the network or share it securely via user accounts. You can also stream digital content stored on the drive with network media streamers. On top of that, you can share the content of the drive over the Internet using D-Link's cloud feature.
This storage feature, however, doesn't support Time Machine backup. This is a huge drawback for Mac users, especially considering other routers, such as the Asus RT-AC3200, support this.
In my testing, the DIR-890 was both the fastest and the slowest Wi-Fi router in its class -- depending on the range.
On the 5GHz band, where it offers 802.11ac performance, it topped the charts with a sustained speed of 602Mbps at a close range of 15 feet (4.6 meters). When I increased the range to 100 feet (30 meters), however, it scored just 161Mbps, the slowest among high-end 802.11ac routers


The D-Link DIR-890 is without doubt a good high-end Wi-Fi router, having three things going for it: a great design, fast speeds (both Wi-Fi at close range and storage) and strong signal stability. Unfortunately, its range falls short, and the lack of configuration settings and features are disappointing. On top of that, it's just too expensive.
With that in mind, I'd recommend it only for non-tech savvy users who have multiple 5GHz clients, need to do lots of heavy tasks via Wi-Fi, and live in a relatively small home. If you fit this category and don't mind spending the dough, you'll be happy with it.
For most users, it's a better deal to get a regular AC1900 router, such as the Asus RT-AC68U, theNetgear R7000, the Linksys WRT1900AC or one of those on this top 802.11ac router list. If you definitely need an AC3200 router and also want to customize your home network to the max, pick the Asus RT-AC3200 instead.

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The Linksys EA8500 Max-Stream AC2600 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router


The Linksys EA8500 Max-Stream AC2600 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router is the first router to useQualcomm MU/EFX Wi-Fi technology, which promises better performance for a crowded mixed network. And in my testing, it delivered.
The speedy router proved especially good when hosting a network that consisted of mixed 5GHz Wi-Fi clients, enabling each device to connect at its top speed. In addition, it also had excellent Wi-Fi coverage and stable Wi-Fi signals. Best of all, when coupled with external hard drive, the EA8500 delivered the network storage data rate by far the fastest to date among routers, rivaling that of even high-end dedicated NAS servers.
On the down side, the EA8500's Wi-Fi performance on the 2.4GHz band is below average and it network storage feature doesn't support Time Machine backup. Furthermore, at $280 (£177, AU$350, converted) it's one of the most expensive routers on the market. The the Asus RT-AC68U, for example, costs just around $200 and will offer similar Wi-Fi experience, without great storage and mixed Wi-Fi performance.
All things considered, though, this is a great router for homes with many clients of mixed Wi-Fi grades. And if you're also looking for a quick solution to share data and host media for local streaming, the EA8500 is as good as it gets.
For the alternatives that might meet your need and budget better, however, check out CNET's list ofbest home routers.

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The Linksys EA8500 comes with four large detachable antennas.Josh Miller/CNET

New Wi-Fi technology

The Qualcomm MU/EFX 802.11AC Wi-Fi chip features Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) technology, designed to handle Wi-Fi bandwidth efficiently, hence capable of delivering betters data rate to multiple connected clients at a time.
Specifically, existing 802.11AC routers (or Wi-Fi access points) employ the original MIMO technology (aka single-user MIMO) and that means they treat all Wi-Fi clients the same, regardless of their Wi-Fi power. Since a router typically has more Wi-Fi power than a client, in a particular wireless connection, the router is hardly used at full capacity. For example, a three-stream 802.11ac router, such as the Linksys WRT1900AC, has a max Wi-Fi rate of 1,300Mbps, but the iPhone 6 has a max Wi-Fi rate of just 433Mbps (single stream). (Read more about Wi-Fi standards.) When the two are connected, the router still uses the entire 1,300Mbps transmission to the phone, wasting 867Mbps. This is similar to going to a coffee shop to get a small cup of coffee and the only option is the extra large.
With MU-MIMO, multiple simultaneous transmissions of different Wi-Fi tiers are sent to multiple devices at the same time, enabling them to connect at the speed each client needs. In other words, having a MU-MIMO Wi-Fi network is like having multiple wireless routers of different Wi-Fi tiers. Each of these "routers" is dedicated to each tier of devices in the network so that multiple devices can connect at the same time without slowing down one another. This is similar to having multiple coffee attendants in the shop who gives out all different cup sizes of coffee so that customers can get the exact amount of drink they need, faster.
At least this is what MU-MIMO promises to offer. In reality, in order for MU-MIMO to work at its best, the technology needs to be supported by both the router and the connected clients. And since most existing clients on the market don't support MU-MIMO, for now, you will not see MU-MIMO in its full benefit though it did help noticeably in my testing.

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The router has the usual number of network ports: one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0/eSATA port.Josh Miller/CNET

Powerful hardware

Other than the support for MU-MIMO, the EA8500 itself is a powerful router offering up to 1733Mbps on the 5Ghz band and up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. The router is powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, 128MB Flash storage and 512MB DDR3 RAM memory, the most souped up hardware specs I've seen to date. On top of that, it has four Gigabit LAN ports, one Gigabit WAN (Internet) port, one USB 3.0 port and one USB2.0/eSATA combo port.
Design-wise, the EA8500 looks very similar to the EA8350 that came out last October, with four detachable antennas. These antennas are much larger and longer, however, promising better coverage. The EA8500 doesn't have any indicator lights, other than the power status light on top that shapes into the Linksys logo. While home users won't mind this omission, savvy users will likely miss the ability to troubleshoot the network by looking at little LEDs.
The new router is designed to stay flat on a surface, but it can also be wall-mounted, though it doesn't include any mounting screws.

Ease to setup, optional remote management

The EA8500 share the same Smart Wi-Fi firmware as the rest in Linksys' Smart Wi-Fi family, including the recently-reviewed WRT1200AC and the once-flagship WRT1900AC. This means it's very easy to set up, and use.
If you just want to use the new router right out of the box, there are default settings printed on its underside. All you have to do is connect its WAN (Internet) port to an Internet source (such as a cable modem) and plug it into power, and you're done. If you want to further customize (and you really do), you'll need to access the router's Web interface.

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The Network Map is a good place to view your entire network.Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Locally, you can access the router by pointing a browser from a connecter computer to the router's IP address, the default is, and the default password to log in is admin. As you log in, the router will prompt you to opt for the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi remote management option. To do this you need to enter the credentials of a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account (free registration available and then associate the router with this account by typing in its admin password. After that one-time process, instead of using the default IP locally you can always go to, log in with your account and manage the router, from anywhere in the world.
Locally or remotely, the Web interface is exactly the same, well-organized and responsive. Those opted to use a Smart Wi-Fi account can also use Linksys Smart Wi-Fi mobile app (Android and iOS) to manage the router's settings and features, using their mobile device. The mobile app allows access to only a handful of the router's settings and features, however, and can't replace the Web interface entirely.
Keep in mind that as for any vendor-assisted remote management service, using Linksys Smart Wi-Fi means that you might expose your privacy to the vendor since Linksys can potentially know all of your online activities.

Familiar set of features

If you've used a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi router before, there's no learning curve with the EA8500. It shares the same interface as well as features as any Smart Wi-Fi routers released in the last five years. The Interface is organized with a list of items on the left and widgets in the main page. Each menu item or widget will take you to a feature or setting of the router.
The router has a Network Map that displays all connected clients sorted by connection type (wireless or wired) or device types (computers, mobile devices, printers, and others), each with its own icon. By clicking on an icon, you can quickly add or remove a connected client to an IP reservation/blocking pool, or view more information on it.

The second big feature is the Media Prioritization, which allows you to drag and drop connected clients between the High priority and Normal priority lists. (The former will have priority access to the Internet.) There's also a handy Internet Speed test (available only locally) and a simple Parental Control feature that allows you to block certain connected clients' access to the Internet or just to certain Web sites. You can also schedule the time when the blocking is in effect.
The router's USB and eSATA ports can be used to connect to external storage devices of any capacity. When a drive is plugged in, you can share its content with other network devices, either via regular file-sharing protocol or through streaming. By default, all clients in your home network can access all the content stored on a connected drive, but you can also turn on secure sharing by creating user accounts. The router supports UPnP and DNLA streaming standards, meaning content stored on the connected drive can be played back by network media streamers, set top boxes and game consoles.
Other than that, the Linksys EA8500 offers all the other common features and settings found in most new routers, such as IPv6, DynDNS, port-forwarding, WPA/WPA2 Wi-Fi encryption methods, and so on.

Minor shortcomings

Similar to its siblings in the Smart Wi-Fi family, the Linksys EA8500 has a few minor shortcomings.

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A 1x1 client is shown connected to the EA8500 at its top speed.Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET
First the interface doesn't allow for deep customizations of the Wi-Fi networks. For example, on the 5GHz band, you can change its network mode setting to Auto, N-only, A-only or A/N, but you can't make it work in AC-only mode. You can't pick a frequency higher than 40MHz, either. While this is not a big deal, and the Auto setting will work out in most cases, savvy users will miss the ability to customize the Wi-Fi networks to their own preferences; for example, making the 5GHz work only with AC clients to get the best performance.
Secondly, the router's Speed Test is grossly inaccurate and in my testing showed much lower numbers than the actual Internet speed I had at the time of testing.
Finally, the router's network storage feature doesn't support Time Machine backup. This significantly reduces its usefulness to Mac users. Note that many routers from Asus and Netgear feature Time Machine backup when hosting an external hard drive.

A new type of excellent Wi-Fi performance

Like with most 802.11AC routers, the strength of the EA8500 is on the 5GHz band -- 802.11AC doesn't operate on the 2.4GHz band -- and it was fast in my testing.
At a close range of 15 feet, it registered a sustained real-world speed of more than 430Mbps. When I increased the range to 100 feet, it averaged some 270Mbps. Note that this was the performance measured when the router was working with just one three-stream (3x3) client. And that didn't show what the EA8500 could do best.
The EA8500 was most impressive when used with multiple clients (I used five clients in my testing) of different Wi-Fi tiers, including single-stream (1x1), dual-stream (2x2) and three-stream, at the same time. First of all, I noticed that in this case, most clients were consistently indicated to be connected to the router at their max speeds, which were 1.3Gbps, 867Mbps and 433Mbps for 3x3, 2x2 and 1x1 clients, respectively. This was new; with all other 802.11ac routers, the clients' indicated connection speeds always fluctuated a great deal. Secondly, the real-world speed of each client when the router was hosting all of them was, for the most part, the same as when the router was working with just one of them. Furthermore, the clients took a very short time to connect to the router.
This clearly was the indication that MU-MIMO indeed improved the overall performance of a mixed network. Note that of five devices I used with the router for testing, only three of them featured a Wi-Fi adapter that also supported MU-MIMO.


The EA8500 replaces the WRT1900AC as Linksys' best router to date, not because it's offers faster connection to an individual client but because it's more efficient and delivers better overall performance for the entire network. On top of that, its speed when hosting a storage device is currently second to none among routers.
Similar to the case of the WRT1900AC, the EA8500 is very expensive at launch, which is the router's biggest obstacle for success; at $280, it's cost-prohibitive to most users. That said, it's a better idea to wait for a while for its price to go down, especially since chances are you don't have MU-MIMO clients at home yet, anyway. Note that there will be other MU-MIMO routers coming soon to the market later this year, meaning you will have more options, at least in terms of cost.
For most homes, a good AC1900 router, such as the WRT1900AC itself, the Netgear R7000 and theAsus RT-AC68U, which are a lot cheaper and will take care of your networking needs just fine. If you already have one of those, chances are you won't experience a noticeable difference upgrading to the EA8500. While the EA8500 brings Wi-Fi performance to a new level in some particular scenarios, it's not a must-have.

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