HTG Reviews the D-Link DIR-510L: The World’s First 802.11ac Travel Wi-Fi Router

Large form factors and multiple external antennas are fine for a beefy home router but they’re quite impractical when you’re on the go. Today we’re taking a look at the DIR-510L, a travel router that packs in zippy 802.11ac speeds in a package smaller than a TV remote.

What Is the D-Link DIR-510L?

The D-Link DIR-510L (herein referred to as the 510L for brevity) is a travel (or micro) router intended for use by travelers, mobile professionals, and anyone who needs router functionality when they’re far from the comfort of their full size router back at home or in the office.

The 510L is part router, part battery pack, and part NAS. The unit can run for a period of time on its own battery reserves (or use those battery reserves to charge your phone or tablet via the 4000mAh internal battery). It can function as a router or a hot spot (pulling data from an Ethernet-based connection, extending an existing Wi-Fi network, or simply linking local devices together).

The strongest selling point for the 510L isn’t the versatility (as there are quite a few travel routers on the market now with similar battery+filesharing) but the 802.11ac speed. Further the multiple USB ports make it possible to enable features either not found on most other travel routers or which are limited because many travel routers have only one USB port. The two ports on the 510L, for example, allow you to mount a USB drive as a NAS drive with one port and plug in a USB 3G/4G modem in the second spot effectively turning your travel router into a cellular router with NAS functionality.

Let’s take a look at how to set it up and whether or not such a tiny route can make good on the promised 802.11ac speeds.

How Do I Use It?

Setup on the DIR-510L is pretty straight forward thanks to D-Links new and streamlined router user interface. The DIR-510L has a nearly identical interface to the previously reviewed DIR-880L router and DAP-1520 Wi-Fi extender.

The device has three primary states, all set by a physical switch on top of the unit. Using the switch you can select on, off, and charger to turn the router/hotspot on, turn the entire unit off, or use the unit exclusively as a battery pack, respectively. The only mode that requires any configuration is the router (and related Wi-Fi modes) so let’s turn our attention to that.

The 510L ships with no security features enabled and as such it’s very wise to do all your initial configuration before you actually need the device. It’s not that the configuration process is particularly arduous, mind you, but when you’ve just come off a long flight and you’re coming in late to your hotel room the last thing you want to do is fiddle around with the configuration.

When you turn the 510L on for the first time you’ll see a new Wi-Fi access point named DIR510L, unsurprisingly. Connect to that Wi-Fi access point, open a web browser, and connect to http://dlinkrouter.local. When prompted for the administrative password, just click login and skip it (as there is no password yet).

Immediately after logging in you’ll see the easy-to-read status screen.

See the caution sign next to the router name? Click the router icon, and you’ll get immediate and useful feedback as to why that sign is there: the router it totally unsecured. In the navigation bar, click Management -> Admin to set an administrative password for the router. After you’ve logged back in with the new password, click Settings -> Wi-Fi to set passwords for both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. You’ll lose your Wi-Fi connection to the device and then be prompted to enter it again to regain connectivity to the router.

With the 510L locked down it’s time to take a look at the auxiliary features you’ll definitely want to take advantage of. Even if you have no use for some of the features, like file sharing, you really should take advantage of the handy profile system.

Located at Settings -> Internet Profiles, the profile system makes it super simple to set up and tweak multiple profiles. Every time you connect to a new network (via the Ethernet port, a USB cellular adapter, or to a Wi-Fi access point) a new profile is automatically created. Within the Internet Profiles menu you can tweak the settings and easily switch between the profiles. This is significantly easier than manually adjusting all the settings (as is required by every other travel router we’ve tested).

In addition to the Internet Profiles feature, the 510L comes packed with all the features you’d expect from a bigger home or office router including file sharing, guest networks, and remote access and configuration. In fact the 510L has most of the features found in the higher-end D-Link routers like the previously reviewed D-Link DIR-880L. Check out that review for a full tour of the Guest Networks and local file sharing features.

How Does It Perform?

The 510L is a zippy little router, no doubt about it. Among the portable routers we’ve formally and informally tested it’s the fasted to date. While we test full size routers at distances up to (and often times beyond) 300 feet, we test travel routers under conditions that are more appropriate to their actual function and real world use.

For the 510L speed tests we conducted tests at a distance of 10-45 feet (the distances you would typically be in while using the device is a hotel room and a large conference room) while simultaneously running multiple full size routers in the general vicinity of the 510L to mimic the kind of interference you’d likely experience in the aforementioned real-world locations.

The router gave consistently solid performance on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. While we’ve grown used to seeing lackluster 2.4GHz performance on dual-band routers, average throughput on the 2.4GHz connection was 78 Mbps and the average throughput on the 5GHz connection was 88 Mbps. If you’re curious how the two performance levels are so close given the significant disparity between the capability of the two bands (and we certainly were) our theory is that the Ethernet connection serves as a limiting agent. The unit only has a 10/100, not gigabit, Ethernet port. That said, we don’t find the hardware to problematic as, outside of benchmark testing, most people aren’t going to be completely saturating the Ethernet connection and will never notice the limitation.

Overall the performance was quite speedy and the router outpaced every other travel router we’ve tested (as you’d expect given that this is the first 802.11ac router on the market and that we’ve put on the old testing bench).

The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict

After testing the DIR-510L in a variety of environments over the last few weeks, what do we have to say about it? Let’s break it down.

The Good

  • Setup is extremely easy; the router user interface is intuitive and changes are simple to make.
  • Internal battery has enough juice to run device in router-mode for approximately four hours
  • Supports 3G/4G network connections, Wi-Fi access point connections, and Ethernet.
  • Very strong performance on all bands.
  • Shares nearly all features with larger full-size D-Link routers.

The Bad

  • USB ports on the unit limited to 1A. Don’t expect the kind of speedy portable device recharging you’d get with a 2A wall charger.
  • At $74.99 the unit is 3-4 times more expensive than other travel routers.
  • Long candy-bar form factor is larger than most travel routers.

The Verdict

No doubt about it, the D-Link DIR-510L is a fantastic travel router. The firmware is stable, the throughput is strong and consistent, and the features are numerous (and on par with a full-size router for the most part). If you need the speed of an 802.11ac router away from home and you’re willing to shell out a hundred bucks to get it, the DIR-510L is a perfect fit.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.