If you’re in the market for a dependable router with simple setup, administration, and simple network attached storage, the D-Link DIR-880L is a slender and far reaching workhorse that meets your needs.
What is the D-Link DIR-880L?
The D-Link DIR-880L (no catchy nickname, herein referred to simply as the 880L) is D-Link’s current top-of-the-line offering in the premium AC-enabled Wi-Fi router market.
It features AC1900 Wi-Fi (a Wi-Fi deployment scheme that combines advanced 802.11ac transfer speeds on both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz band), smart beam forming (which directs the Wi-Fi signal toward the connected Wi-Fi devices), and a host of expected features (like Quality of Service management) and extras like Network Attached Storage (NAS) functionality and a remote control app.
Physically, it’s neither particularly large no particularly small as far as routers go. It has a fairly wide footprint but a slender build and is certainly smaller than the spaceship-sized Netgear Nighthawk we previously reviewed.
Like the Nighthawk, we’re putting the 880L through the setup routine, testing, and analysis so you don’t have to.
Setting It Up
One of the things the 880L definitely has going for it is ease of setup. Before you even plug it in, the unpacking process itself alludes to how user-friendly the experience will be. The default Wi-Fi SSID and password is not only stuck on the protective film covering the body of the router, it’s also included on a sturdy laminate card (a card which features additional blank spots for you to write in whatever you change the settings to for easy future reference).
One small thing in the box that we were rather pleased with was the inclusion of a pair of screws and drywall anchors. Sure it only costs pennies to include them, and in the grand scheme of an expensive router purchase it’s trivial, but the fact that it included hardware for wall mounting so we didn’t have to go scrounge for it was a nice touch.
As always, before you dive into setting up a new router it’s wise to write down the settings on your old router to reduce the amount of time you spend fiddling with connected devices (changing the Wi-Fi SSID and password to your old one, for example, saves you from resetting every Wi-Fi device in your house).
Once you’re ready plug in the router and connect to it with an Ethernet linked computer. You can use a Wi-Fi device to configure the router, but Ethernet is superior in that you still maintain access to the router even if you muck up the Wi-Fi settings.
When you’re ready to go, navigate to http://192.168.0.1; you’ll be greeted with the setup screen seen above.
The first few steps are standard stuff: set up the Wi-Fi SSID and password, the admin password for the router, and confirm them.
The next step is to, optionally, sign up for the MyDLink service:
This service allows you to remotely access your router through the MyDlink web portal. Further, if you purchase other D-Link products like their cloud-enabled cameras and storage devices, you can also access them through the same portal.
If you wish to be able to reboot your router remotely, make small adjustments to it (like blocking device access or seeing who is on your network), or access media files on attached storage devices, you’ll need to activate the account.
After the initial setup you’ll see the main interface portal, as seen below, that displays basic router status as well as relevant address data.
At this point, with Wi-Fi and admin passwords properly applied, you’re ready to use the device. Setup was painless and probably the most straight forward of any setup routine we’ve seen on a router.
Test Driving Specialty Features
The 880L isn’t the most bells and whistles loaded router on the market but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t ship with a fair number of really useful features. Let’s take a look at several of the features that new users often overlook.
Guest Networks: If you’re not using the Guest Networks feature, you’re really missing out. It’s a perfect way to give Wi-Fi access to your house guests, to isolate them from your local network (if you desire), and to make it easy to change the password without messing with your own devices and their access to the network.
The 880L has both a 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz guest network as well as AP isolation (identified as “Home Network Access). If you want your guests to access local devices like printers or to play network games you’ll need to turn this setting off. Otherwise leave it on to restrict them to browsing the Internet but not accessing your home network.
Local MyDLink Sharing: The 880L supports both local and remote file sharing via USB devices. The physical setup is simple: plug in a USB drive into the router’s USB 3.0 port. Unfortunately for those of you with big media collections, you’ll need a HDD of 500GB or less (D-Link outright tells you that it has to be that size or smaller and anything larger fails to mount).
The software setup is a bit trickier and, like all routers with NAS features built in, a little finicky and kludgy.
Once you plug the device into the router you can enable a DLNA Media Server to stream content to DLNA-enabled devices (like smart TVs and game consoles), you can toggle on Windows File Sharing to access the files via a traditional network share, and you can enable a lightweight web server so you can access the files via web browser.
In addition, you can create up to 10 user accounts to designate which users have read/write access to what folders of the attached storage. While that’s great in theory, it’s frustrating in application because the system lacks any sort of nuanced permission system. You can’t, for example, create a user account wherein that user can read the /TV Shows/ and also read/write /Users/Steve/.
The user system itself is a step in the right direction (and better than what most routers provide) but it would be nice if it was just a touch more sophisticated.
Remote MyDLink Sharing: In addition to local sharing, you can also download apps to your iOS or Android device and access your USB-based media and content remotely.
Setting it up on the actual router isn’t difficult (it’s part of the same setup process as enabling local access) but remote access is a tad trickier. You’ll need to download the MyDLink SharePort app and configure it for both local (when you’re at home) and remote (when you’re away from home) access.
The app itself is about as bare bones simple as it could be in terms of interface and access (you pretty much pick a single file to look at/interact with either via general file browsing or via the sorted photo/music/document categories) but the setup is a bit opaque compared to the ease of setting up the router itself.
What’s the most puzzling is that DLink has an app specifically for their NAS units and an app specifically for their Routers-with-NAS-functionality that are totally different. Worse yet, the NAS software (MyDLink Access-NAS) is actually way better than the SharePort app with a cleaner interface and much easier configuration.
Quick VPN: The VPN, or Virtual Private Network, component of the router was a pleasant surprise. Most of the time you want the most advanced VPN functionality you can get your hands on, but if you’re an Android power user you might have run into a bit of a headache with cutting edge routers: they use VPN that, while advanced, isn’t supported by Android’s native VPN system.
The 880L features L2TP over IPSec, a VPN protocol that will work with Android and is more than strong enough for home use.
Features are all well and good, but realistically what the majority of us really care about is raw performance. How does the 880L perform compared to other routers in our stable of test subjects?
We’ll spoil it early for you: it doesn’t lead the pack but ultimately that doesn’t matter unless you’re running a very overloaded and very data-transfer intense network configuration.
That said, let’s break it down by categories.
Wi-Fi Coverage: The 880L has a broad reach. Across the yard, on the roof, behind the garage, the signal strength was consistently better than -70 dB no matter where on the property we roamed. Coverage was comparable to the competition the Netgear Nighthawk.
Even with all the plaster, brick, and other materials in the way the 880L has no problem reaching the laptops, tablets, and phones we dragged around with us. Anyone with property short of farm-sized should have no problem with lot-line to lot-line Wi-Fi coverage.
Data Transfer Rates: The data transfer rates on the 880L certainly weren’t the fasted we’ve seen but, outside of benchmarking, we can assure you that doesn’t have a whole lot of impact in day to day use.
The average Wi-Fi transfer rate through the 880L on the 2.4GHz band was around 110 Mb/s. The average transfer rate on the 5GHz band was around 300 Mb/s.
Although it didn’t beat the Netgear Nighthawk in read/write tests, practically speaking both units provide fast enough transfer that videos never stutter, files copy quickly, and outside of running bench marks (or trying to stream files to dozens of machine simultaneously) there’s no real way to tell the difference between fast performance and really fast performance when both speeds provide more bandwidth than most people require.
The Biggest Caveat: Last year when we reviewed the then-very-new Netgear Nighthawk we had to add a caveat to our performance benchmarks indicating that most consumers didn’t yet have the hardware to even take advantage of 802.11ac performance.
Sadly, nearly a year later, that caveat stands. The vast majority of portable electronics have just now got up to 802.11n and even products that have the physical hardware to handle 802.11ac (like the Xbox One) often only have firmware that handles 802.11n.
It’s not the end of the world but know that if you want to truly peg your network speeds over the wireless channels you’ll need to ensure that your devices are 802.11ac compliant or purchase and adapter for them that is.
Given that purchasing a router with 802.11ac capabilities is essentially a form of future proofing and will greatly extend the lifecycle of your router we didn’t consider this a negative in our earlier review, and we don’t consider it a negative in this review. We’re just hoping for further adoption of the faster standard sooner rather than later.
The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict
We’ve played with it, played games over it, streamed from it, and otherwise toyed around with it over the last few weeks. How does the 880L hold up?
- Setup is extremely straightforward and simple. Save for setting an administrative password there’s essentially nothing you actually need to do.
- Remote control panel software is quite convenient.
- Beefy antennas work fine as they are but can be upgraded if you want further reach.
- Indicator LEDs are very muted; just bright enough to do their job but not bright enough to illuminate a room. Can’t say enough good things about subtle LEDs.
- VPN service is Android friendly; very pleased with this.
- SharePort/MyDLink service works well enough for basic users/simple needs.
- If you’re purchasing other D-link hardware like their cameras and NAS units, it meshes seamlessly into the whole MyDLink stable of devices.
- The Wi-Fi performance is lackluster compared to similar models. In practical day-to-day browsing and usage it won’t be noticeable but you’re definitely not getting bleeding edge speeds.
- SharePort service overly limited and the app is kludgy.
- Lacks FTP server and other simple (and cross platform/app-agnostic) ways to share files. App-agnostic sharing is definitely preferable to specialty apps.
The 880L is not the bleeding edge of anything be it speeds or features but that shouldn’t outright disqualify it for consideration. If you’re looking for a stable router (we had no instability issues during the entire testing period) that has easy to manage remote access, more than adequate speed, and can handle the needs of your average household with ease, it’s a solid pick.
Further, if you’re the tech guy for your family the ease of remote administration and the companion phone app to facilitate it pretty much makes the 880L a shoe in for the families you help.