Dual-band, OLED, Gigabit, Draft-N, 5GHz, NAS, QOS. The flagship wireless router from D-Link has all of the buzz words in its spec sheet, but is it any good?
I’ve been spending some time performing some real-world testing with the DIR-855 to see if it can provide me with the coverage and speed to satisfy my broadband and multimedia streaming lifestyle. This was my chance to really push the wireless technology available today to their extremes. So many routers have passed through the TechCast studio in the last two years with each and everyone failing to meet my limitless connectivity demands. Can D-Link step up to the plate and bat one out the field, or will it buckle the under pressure like the rest?
Lets take a look at the spec sheet and see what D-Link are promising for this £150+ wireless router. The first thing they’ve done right is included support for the draft-N standard on both frequencies – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The latter provides more stable connections at faster speeds and over greater distances. The 855 supports the use of both frequencies at the same time as well, which routers of the past haven’t been able to do. This meant that if you had any older wireless devices that run on 2.4GHz, you’d have to use this frequency for all devices exclusively. Not so with the 855, feel free to mix any type of wireless networking.
Around the back you’ve got four Gigabit Ethernet ports. That’s another point for doing something right on the spec sheet. Consumer level routers have typically been using 100Mbps Ethernet chips. Whilst there’s nothing slow about 100Mbps Ethernet, Gigabit makes a whole of world of difference when you look at Network Area Storage (NAS) or media streaming, which this router happens to have support for. This means when you come to buy an external hard drive, you can pay a little bit more and get an Ethernet connection which will plug straight in to a router and allow you to access its contents across your home network and in some cases over the internet. With that kind of setup, you’ve got yourself a home server for a multitude of uses, whether it to be for entertainment, backup or remote working.
There’s not many routers out there that have any kind of interface other than some flashing LED’s. D-Link has included an OLED panel that provides you with all the info about your network, the router, the devices its connected to and more. There’s not much more that you’ll want to know that you can’t find in one of these menus and it’s operated entirely from two buttons. There is of course access to the built-in control panel which will either scare you away or give you hours of configuration-heaven. I’ve seen some complex routers before, but this one really goes the extra mile to include every type of control or configuration you could possibly ask for. Fortunately for those who just want to get connected to the internet, there is a quick setup wizard.
QOS stands for Quality of Service and it probably applies more to multi-user environments such as the family home as it helps to prioritise data according to their importance. For example, you can prioritise VOIP traffic over video streaming to ensure that your voice calls over the internet aren’t interrupted. This is just one example of the many options that you can setup using the built-in control panel.
Another trick of the 855 is the inclusion of a guest mode feature. This would be the first time I’ve come across this feature on a router aimed at the consumer market. Guest mode is a separate wireless connection for friends and family that visit and want to get online. When using guest mode, they can’t access the rest of your network, so your machines remain safe from any prying eyes. Definitely a useful feature that will come in handy when you have guests over.
Beyond the everyday real-world usage scenarios, I put the 855 through some timed tests to see just how it quick it is. The first test involved transferring data from a laptop (with Gigabit Ethernet card) connected by cable to the router. Within the same room I then accessed the connected laptop and streamed a 1080p HD QuickTime video over the 5GHz spectrum. This worked flawlessly without any interrupts or break up of picture. With the video playing, I moved throughout the house but didn’t encounter any interrupts to the video. Second test was to do a 1020MB file transfer from the wired laptop connected to the router to my wireless laptop. The file managed to get across in 112 seconds in the same room, increasing to 119 seconds in the upstairs. This translates to roughly 90Mbps – 100Mbps for the 112 second result. It falls massively short of the 600Mbps promise of the N standard, but 90Mbps+ is an impressive figure and certainly the fastest I’ve ever achieved over wireless. Most will probably realise that these claims are based on perfect world conditions in a laboratory, an environment that none of us live or work in.
D-Link have come up with something very special with the DIR-855. It delivers on the promise of good coverage across the house and speeds capable of streaming full High Definition video. What more can one ask for? If that’s not enough, then there’s also the multitude of features that this router is packed with that will keep the even the most network savvy happy. All of this is great, but it comes at a hefty price of £150+. If you’re looking for these kind of features and controls that the DIR-855 includes, then it’s unrivalled. However, if you’re just looking for a draft-N router, then there are cheaper alternatives that will do the job just as well.