First announced at CES 2009, D-Link's Xtreme N Storage "all-in-one" Router DIR-685 is the first wireless router that can also work as a network storage device and as a digital photo frame. However, we wish it were a $150 cheaper standalone router, as its $300 asking price is too high.
While the DIR-685's single-band Wireless-N function worked well, its network storage performance was slow and the router's tiny 3.1-inch LCD is too small to be used as a digital photo frame.
If you're looking for a good Wireless-N router with a few extras and don't mind the price, the DIR-685 is a good router to have. Otherwise, we'd recommended the true dual-band Linksys WRT610n or the D-Link DIR-855, which offer similar functionality (minus the photo frame) but cost about $100 less.
Design and ease of use
Featuring an internal antennae, the DIR-685 is compact for what it has to offer, measuring just 4.4 inches by 5.8 inches by 1.2 inches. On its back, the router has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, one WAN port, and two USB ports.
Unlike any previous router we've tested, the DIR-685 has a bay on the left side to host a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive of any capacity. The hard drive (not included) is used for the router's network storage functionality and stores photos to display on the router's front 3.1-inch LCD. Also, on its left side is a blue indicator light that shows the activity of the hard drive and works as a button that disconnects the hard drive. We found this button to be very sensitive and can be accidentally pressed when you just want to pick the router up.
We also found the router's LCD too small to be used as a photo frame since we had to get close to the 3.1-inch screen to see any detail. Other than displaying photos, the LCD can be used to change settings or information like the router's connection status, photo slide show options, statistics, and so on. You can navigate the menus using five "buttons" that require some getting used to as they are not physical buttons but printed symbols that respond--with intermittent lagging-- to a finger touch.
It was easy for us to get the DIR-685 up and running. The router comes with Quick Router Setup software on a CD that walks you through setting up the routers via a few simple steps. Also contained on the CD is the SharePort Utility that, once installed on a computer, gives the computer access to the router's USB ports as though they were its own ports.
Once the quick installation is finished, you can launch the router's Web interface by pointing a computer's Web browser to the 192.168.0.1 IP address. The Web interface is one of the most intuitive and responsive we've seen. It allows for accessing and managing the router's long list of networking features. We could also apply most of the changes to the changes to the routers' settings without having to restart it.
Common features: Unlike most of D-Link's recent models, including the DIR-825 or DIR-855, the DIR-685 is not a dual-band router. This means the router works only in the 2.4GHz frequency, which is shared with many other devices such as Bluetooth or cordless phones. Nonetheless, we find the new 5GHz feature to be more of an extra than a must as the majority of wireless clients, both existing and upcoming, operate in the 2.4GHz band.
The DIR-685 did inherit a few useful features from its predecessor, including D-Link's SharePort technology, Guest Zone--an intuitive and responsive Web-interfac--as well as a long list of networking features.
The SharePort technology allows the router's local USB ports to work as networked USB ports. It includes an application called SharePort Utility that you'll need to install on your networked computers. The software lets the computer recognize a USB device plugged into the router as if it were plugged directly into the computer's USB port. Unlike other USB-equipped routers that support only printers and external hard drives, SharePort lets the DIR-685 work with virtually any USB device over your network. Just like any USB port, however, the plugged-in device works only with one computer a time. To use it with another computer, first you need to use the SharePort Utility to disconnect it from the current host. We tried the DIR-685's USB port with a few devices including a Webcam and a few external hard drives and everything worked as intended.
The DIR-685's Guest Zone feature lets you create an additional separate wireless network to be used by guests or the open public. Any wireless client connected to these guest networks get access to the Internet, but not your local LAN resources, such as printer or computers. We are always happy to see this feature in wireless routers.
The DIR-685 offers numerous network features found in other Wireless-N routers from D-Link and a well-organized and intuitive Web interface. You can then set up manual port forwarding--where you map information coming to a certain port to another computer in the network--or use the router's preset settings for different applications and services such as instant messengers, BitTorrent, IP phone software, virtual servers, and so on. It also offers a comprehensive set of parental control tools including Network Filter, Access Control, Web site Filter, and Inbound Control. These tools let you control the network and limit access to the Internet by specific criteria; such as setting a computer to only allow access to instant-messenger services during a certain period of time. The router also lets you customize its firewall to allow some services but not others.