After the disastrous DIR-865L, D-Link now almost gets it right.
The new DIR-868L Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud router is fast, stable, and offers wide Wi-Fi coverage. It also supports USB 3.0.
It's far from perfect, however, mostly because of the ill-conceived mobile apps, and the fact that the router can't work as a media bridge or a standalone access point.
If you're setting up a new home network or want to replace your existing Wi-Fi router, the DIR-868L is excellent buy at the current street price of some $170. Just don't expect it to be more than an excellent Wi-Fi router. For those than can do more than routing, check out those on this list of other 802.11ac-enabled routers on the market.
Straightforward design and easy to set up
The DIR-868L abandons the squarish shape of the DIR-865L routers and goes back to the vertical cylindrical design, first available in the DIR-645. It looks more like a computer speaker or a Thermos than a router.
On the front the router has two round green LEDs that show power and Internet statuses. There are no other status lights for the network ports, which some users might miss. On the back, it has four gigabit LAN ports (for Ethernet-ready clients), one gigabit WAN port (to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem), and a USB 3.0 port to host a USB device, such as a printer or an external hard drive. Also on the back, there's a power on/off button and a WPS button, which initiates a 2-minute window during which other WPS-enabled devices can enter the router's Wi-Fi network.
Setting up the DIR-868L is about the typical example of setting up a home router, as shown in this How To post. Basically, you plug the router into an outlet, connect its WAN port to an Internet source with an network cable (one is included with the router). Use another cable to connect a computer to one of the router's LAN ports. If you don't have a second cable, you can also use a Wi-Fi client (such as a computer or a tablet) and connected to the router's default Wi-Fi networks. The router comes with a label with this information printed on it.
Now, you have two options. You can download D-Link's QRS Mobile app and use a smartphone or tablet to finish the rest of the of setup process. Or, from the connected computer, launch a browser and you will be greeted with a Web-based setup wizard that walks you through the process via a few simple steps. You can always go back to the router's Web interface by pointing a browser from a connected computer to its default IP address, which is 192.168.0.1. The default log-in information, unless you have changed it, is admin for the username with the password being left blank.
Technically, after the setup wizard, you don't have to do anything else to use the router, and this is the case for homes. If you want to further customize your home network or take advantage of the router's other features, the Web interface accommodates all of that.
Common high-end features with cloud integration, but no bridge or AP-only role
The DIR-868L seems very similar to the previous DIR-865L, both use Wi-Fi chips from Broadcom. The new router is a true dual-band router with support for the three-stream setup for the 802.1n (Wireless-N) and 802.11ac Wi-Fi standards. This means it offers up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz frequency. On the 5GHz band, it offers up to 450Mbps when used with Wireless-N clients, and up to 1.3Gbps when used with 802.11ac clients. The router supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of their Wi-Fi standards. (Read more about different Wi-Fi standards here.)
The DIR-868L, however, uses the second-generation Broadcom chip and now sports SmartBeam technology, designed to enhance the router's Wi-Fi performance and coverage.On the other hand, the new router now lacks the ability to work as a media bridge or as an access point only. This means it can't be used as an 802.11ac client to add Ethernet-ready devices to a Wi-Fi network, nor can it be used as a switch with built-in access point to work with an existing network. That said, the DIR-868L should only be used as the first gateway of a home or business network. All of the other 802.11ac routers I've reviewed offer better flexibility.
As an advanced Wi-Fi router, the DIR-868L supports all common features found in high-end routers, including guest networking (with two networks, one for each band), IPv6, port forwarding, QoS, firewall, and so on. Additionally, the router offers features that have been collectively available in other D-Link routers, including a well-organized Web interface, an extensive Web-filtering engine, and support for a storage device for data sharing and media-streaming needs via a connected USB external hard drive.
The DIR-868L's USB port can be used with any external hard drives formatted in either FAT32 or NTFS, and in my trials, it was able to power all bus-powered portable drives. You can then easily share the entire connected drive the everybody in the network or securely share its content via user accounts. You can also stream digital content stored on the drive with network media streamers. Note that by default, the USB port works in 2.0 mode, you can use the Web interface to enable the USB 3.0 speed but this will translate in to shorter range on the router's 2.4GHz frequency band.
Similar to other cloud routers from D-Link, including the DIR-865L and the DIR-605L, the DIR-868L enables users to manage their home network via the Internet, using the MyDlink portal. You first need to create a free account (unless you have an existing one) then add the router to that account by entering the username and password in the MyDlink Settings section of its Web interface's setup. After that, you can easily view the status of the router as well as manage some of its settings.
While the cloud-based feature can come in handy, it's rather limited since it doesn't offer the same amount of access to the router as the Web interface. On top of that, advanced user can easily set up the router with a free DynDSN service to access its Web interface on the go, without the need of the MyDlink portal. However, the cloud-based feature can also be accessed via a mobile app, called D-Link Light, available for both iOS and Android devices.