A lot of electronics make their way through the AskDaveTaylor offices and probably 2/3 of them include some sort of Internet connectivity through one or another flavor of 802.11 wireless connectivity, better known as “wifi”. From TVs to TV interfaces, toys to computers, tablets to wireless speakers, if I could see all the data flying back and forth, it’d be a thick web of information and would make it darn hard to move around.
That’s why the router in the office is of critical importance: if it’s misconfigured or can’t keep up with the varied data traffic, things start to slow down, and when you’re streaming video or even audio, slowing down means hiccups that are darn annoying, ranging from sporadic pauses to buffer video to things just freezing up or failing. Even with regular data traffic, a high-speed tube coming into the office (hey, at least I didn’t refer to it as an offramp on the information superhighway!) doesn’t guarantee that the Web will be snappy on a new Windows 8 Ultrabook.
With its unusual design and terrific specs, I was therefore quite interested in the chance to plug in the new D-Link AC1750 router (its full name is a mouthful: AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud Router DIR-868L) and give it a whirl.
It’s hard to quantify the results with stats and specs, but the experience of 802.11AC is that the network is noticably faster. Even my guinea pig daughter, when she connected to it for the first time, said “wow, definitely faster than before”. The complication really comes around the many different flavors of 802.11 networking that are now available.
Referencing a handy Wikipedia article, here’s how they all compare: 802.11b was released in 1999 and go up to 11 Mbit/s (note that we’re talking Mega-bit, not Mega-byte), 802.11g came out in 2003 and goes up to 54Mb/s. 802.11n is from 2009 and jumps performance up to 150Mb/s, while the latest, 802.11ac, a draft protocol first released in December 2012 can go up to 300Mb/s (or even higher, depending on bandwidth). If you don’t have 802.11ac on your device, of course, you’ll probably be using 802.11n.
However you slice this confusing mess, each newer release is faster than the previous, so ac is faster than n, n is faster than g, and g is faster than the original 802.11b protocol. (actually, there was an 802.11a protocol spec’d out, but since ‘b’ was released at the same time, ‘a’ kinda got lost in the shuffle).
My Apple MacBook Pro with retina display, just over a year old, doesn’t have ‘ac’ yet (unsurprisingly), but even with 802.11n, it’s faster using the AC1750 router.
But configuration is a big piece of the usability of a router too, so let’s have a look at the steps involved in getting the D-Link unit online.
As is common, you hook up the router, choose it as your wifi connection, then actually do all the configuration via a Web browser on your computer. The interface looks like this:
To be candid, I found the D-Link Web interface to be very 90’s in feel and am surprised with all the great industrial design in the hardware that they don’t have a more slick appearance to the Web config utility. You’ll see what I mean.
The screen above shows the necessary steps, and to get started click on “Next”…
That’s not good. It’s a Comcast cable connection but “Guide me” worked fine…
As you can see, the D-Link Cloud Router is quite capable of working with just about every possible way you could connect it to the Internet proper. For most of us, however, it’s just going to be DHCP, where you get your IP address dynamically each time you connect to the “upstream” system.
Interestingly, the default wi-fi security includes randomly chosen passwords, which actually generates some hard-to-guess security. Note also that as with all modern routers, the AC1750 offers both a 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz band for your network connections:
What’s the difference between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz? Speed and interference. Since 2.4Ghz is the older bandwidth for 802.11, it works with ‘b”, “g” and “n”, offering wider range but greater interference. 5Ghz has a shorter range, but more channels and much lesser interference. It only works with “n” and “ac”, however, so if you’ve older devices like I do, they’ll only see the 2.4Ghz network. If you can use the 5Ghz network, you should.
The next step in configuring your new router is probably the most important, because you really do not want to leave it without an administrative password:
Almost done with the basic configuration.
Why does a router need to know your timezone? Because you can set up time-based filters for limiting late night access or even changing the priority of different types of data traffic at different times of day. And Mazatlan? Ah, if only.
That’s it. Now you’ll need to confirm your settings and you’re done:
That’s all there is to the task. The D-Link has subsequently performed like a champ and unlike the previous router, I haven’t had to restart it to get it to accept new connections.
According to D-Link, the AC1750 offers performance optimized for streaming HD video, and up to 450Mb/s at 2.4Ghz and 1300MB/s at 5Ghz, along with four gigabit Ethernet connections on the back and a USB port that lets you plug in drives and share data across your local network. And the design? If you can figure out where to put the tube-shaped unit, it’s really quite attractive.
Finally, in a world of $50 low-end routers, the D-Link AC1750 is at the top end of the small office or home networking component pricing scale with a suggested retail price of $169. But if performance is critical and you want a router that’ll handle your biggest data bandwidth challenges with ease, I have to say that I’m quite impressed with the AC1750. In a landscape populated by dull grey boxes, it’s refreshing to find some new thinking in industrial design and top-notch performance combined.