The D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000 is a step up from the recently reviewed DIR-827. This is the top model in D-Link's Amplifi HD Media router family, offering true dual-band (simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz) with each frequency band being capable of offering up to 450Mbps Wi-Fi speed. The DIR-827 is also a true dual-band router but each of its bands can handle only 300Mbps.
While there are several other N900 routers on the market, such as the Asus RT-N66U and the Linksys E4200v2, the DIR-857 is the first among its peers that also offers USB 3.0 and an SD card slot to host storage for the network.
In real-world testing the router offered stellar data rates on the 5GHz band. Its 2.4GHz band, however, was just about average among similarly configured routers. To make up for that, its HD Fuel feature -- a special Quality of Service feature that automatically prioritizes traffic for media streaming -- worked very well in my trials, making the router, at about $180, an excellent buy for those who stream a lot of HD video, either from the Internet or within the local network.
And for those who are not big on streaming, the router will still make a great choice, ranking among the best N900 routers on the market.
Design and ease of use
The DIR-857 looks exactly the same as the DIR-827, squarish and flat with a slightly tapered front. It also has a very sleek, shiny black top that collects fingerprints. The router's antennas are hidden inside the chassis, making it more compact than other routers of the same physical size with external antennas.
On the front the router has an SD card slot that can host a card of any capacity. After the DIR-827, the DIR-857 is the second router I've seen that comes with an SD card slot. This feature comes in very handy for those who want to quickly share data stored on an SD card, such as photos or movies that have just been shot by a digital camera. Near the SD card slot is the Wi-Fi Protected Setup button for quickly adding wireless clients to the network.
On top, the router has two blue LED lights that are only visible when lit up. These lights show the power status and the status of the Internet connection. On the back, the router has four LAN ports (or wired clients and one WAN port to connect to an Internet source. All of these ports are Gigabit Ethernet, offering good data rates. Near the network ports are an on/off switch and the USB 3.0 port.
For most users, setting up a home wireless network simply consists of naming the Wi-Fi network and picking a password for it, and the DIR-857, which offers two Wi-Fi networks for its two bands, has that covered. Setup software from the included CD walks you through all the steps from the beginning to the end, including unboxing the router, hooking it up to the power cord, connecting cables, and so on. Or, if you are comfortable with the simple task of hooking up the cables -- something that you almost can't make a mistake with since everything is very clear and all the ports are color-coded and labeled -- you just need to launch the browser from a connected computer and you'll be greeted with a quick wizard that helps you finish the rest via a few clicks.
Later on, when you want to access the router's other features, you can always get to its Web interface again by pointing a browser from a connected computer to 192.168.0.1. Unless you have made changes, per the default setting, the log-in password should be left blank.
The D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000 has exactly the same feature set as the DIR-827 with just one exception: it supports the 450Mbps (also known as three-stream or 3 by 3) Wireless-N standard, while the DIR-825 supports the popular dual-stream (or 2 by 2) standard that caps at 300Mbps.
Since both routers are true dual-band, this means the new DIR-857 has a total Wireless-N bandwidth cap of 900Mbps, making it a N900 router, while the DIR-827 is an N600 router with a total cap of 600Mbps.
True dual-band is getting ubiquitous, and that's a good thing. When you turn your Wi-Fi mobile device on in a urban neighborhood, chances are you'll find multiple viable wireless networks. Most of them are on the 2.4GHz frequency band, which is widely used by previous Wi-Fi standards (802.11g/b) and earlier versions of Wireless-N standard. That plus the fact that the 2.4GHz band is also used by other home appliances, such as cordless phones, means it's saturated with signal in densely populated areas, resulting in significantly lower performance. The 5GHz band is for now less crowded and thanks to the nature of higher frequencies, different devices using the same band tend to affect one another less. Generally, 5GHz is ideal for wireless HD media streaming.
The fact that the router supports both bands at the same time also means that it will work with any existing Wi-Fi client, be it a phone, laptop, printer, or tablet. Clients that support dual-band have the option of picking the band with higher performance to connect to.
Apart from two main Wi-Fi networks, one on each band, the DIR-857 also offers two Guest networks, one on each band. Guest networking is a feature pioneered by D-Link that offers isolated wireless networks in which clients have access to the Internet but not to one another or the local network. This helps improve the security of both the network's owner and guest users.
The router's interface is very similar to that of other D-Link routers, well-organized, responsive, and easy to work with, especially for those familiar with D-Link routers. New users might find it a little overwhelming because of the amount of settings and features that can be customized. However, they will get used to the new interface relatively fast thanks to the context-based help, which automatically appears on the right part of the page and explains what each item means.