D-Link’s sassy new “Limited Edition” 802.11N router has a swank OLED display, tantalizing performance, and plug-and-play installation, but is it worth the sky-high price tag? We put the router through its paces and found that though the OLED display is mostly a gimmick, it certainly offers a major speed boost over G networks (if you have a wireless N adapter, of course).
Features and Design
Ever since the earth cooled, home networking routers have looked all business, with very little attention paid to their aesthetic appeal. After all, most people just stick the router on a shelf somewhere and never think about it again. But, that’s all starting to change as routers are growing wings, sprouting faceplates, and starting to look, dare we say, “cool?” Linksys started this trend with its warship-looking Wireless N Gigabit Gaming Router.
*Editor’s note 8/17/07 – D-link refutes this claim and argues, "Linksys didn’t start this trend. D-Link did with the DGL-4300/4100 Gaming Router. This was the first router to sport blue LEDs, have Gigabit ports, use QoS to kill lag."
Now, D-Link has jumped into the fray with its DIR-660 Limited Edition Wireless N router. Though it’s still a bit plain-looking with its all-white exterior, this router’s pièce de résistance is its large OLED display. In case you didn’t know, OLED is the new hotness (at least compared to boring old LEDs), because OLED displays don’t require a backlight to operate and are just as bright, but use less power. Yeah, we know that doesn’t sound too exciting, but tell your buddies that your router has an OLED display and they will be jealous.
Even more important than its outward appearance is its performance. As its title implies, this is an 802.11N router, which promises an insane speed boost over the previous specs named 802.11B and 802.11G. It’s able to offer more wireless speed, because it employs a technology called MIMO, which stands for Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output, which is a fancy way of saying “multiple antennae.” Think RAID for wireless networks, where it’s able to combine the power of multiple signals into one super signal. For a quick primer, B speeds were 11Mbps, and G is 54Mbps, but N is anywhere from144Mbps to 250Mbps. It’s important to note that this router can broadcast at all the legacy speeds and works just fine with B and G adapters.
The front of the router has the typical lights for power and LAN connections, while the rear of the unit has four LAN ports, a USB port, and an AC power jack.
The DIR-660 can broadcast at B, G, N, or all three at once
It should be noted that the N spec is not officially ratified yet by the committee that does these ratifications. They are scheduled to meet in their star chamber in September 2008 to vote on the spec.
Security options include everything you could hope for, including legacy WEP if you want to run the router in B or G modes, and WPA for running it at N speed.
The router also includes a handy Flash-based setup guide and a trial version of Network Magic if you are new to home networking and don’t want to hassle with tweaking settings in Windows.
Use and Testing
When you first pull the router out of its anti-static bag, it’s pretty clear what you need to do to initiate the installation. There’s a bright orange tag that tells you to run the included CD before connecting anything.
When you run the CD, it walks you through the installation step by step via flash animations that show, for instance, you unplugging your broadband modem, plugging in the router, and so forth.
We followed all the instructions and everything worked perfectly. Though installing wireless networks should be this easy, it usually isn’t, so we give D-Link credit for making it so simple even our mom could do it. After several minutes, where the router found our connection and dished out IPs, we decided to take it for a test drive in both G and N speeds to see if we could discern a difference.
The Flash-based installation walkthrough is perfect and works very well
For testing, we used our recently reviewed Lenovo 3000 V200, which includes an Intel wireless adapter that is capable of B/G/N performance. We set up file sharing between the notebook and our desktop, enabled encryption, and then timed file transfers in both G mode and N mode. Below are the times we received for both speeds.
802.11G mode (minutes: seconds)
Transferring 800MB file: 6:12
Transferring 253MB file: 2:07
802.11N mode (minutes: seconds)
Transferring 800MB file: 3:20
Transferring 253MB file: 0:41
As you can see, there is a dramatic increase in performance when switching from G to N mode. It’s astonishing, really. And also, we weren’t even connected to the N router at the highest rate possible. According to Vista, our connection was running at 144Mbps, instead of the 250Mbps-300Mbps it is capable of running.
Suffice it to say, this performance leap is impressive and makes an N router (along with an N adapter, natch) a must-have for people who transfer files across a network on a frequent basis.
The 660 router delivers wireless speeds that are triple that of 802.11G
The OLED Display
Of course, the real star of the show here is the fancy OLED display, and though the idea of it sounds cool, the execution is much less so. The main problem is these displays are expensive, so the unit on the router is quite small, which makes it very difficult to read from a distance. And by a “distance,” we mean from a few feet away. For example, here is an image standing up with the router on the floor.
You have to be closer than a foot to make out the tiny letters dashing across the screen, and nobody wants to sit there and stare at their router to see what’s happening on their network.
If you do stare, you’ll see your IP information, what inbound packets the router is blocking, and other information. For example, if you unplug the WAN cable, it’ll tell you. It’s interesting — for about 30 seconds. After that initial viewing, most people will put the router on a shelf and never look at it again. Though we like the idea of such a display, in reality, it offers little actual value to the product. It basically looks cool, and that’s about it.
If you’re interested in what the firewall is doing, you can see it on the OLED display
One of the big advantages of 802.11N isn’t just increased performance, but a big boost in range as well. According to Wikipedia’s numbers, 802.11G is supposed to broadcast for 95 meters outdoors, with N boosting the signal up to 165 meters. We performed some real world tests, however, and were unable to discern any advantage at all when using N over G. We set the router to broadcast in both G and N speeds and then did the very scientific “walk far away from the router and watch the signal strength” test, and it was the same distance in either mode. Then, just for kicks, we plugged in an old Netgear G router and performed the same test to find that the Netgear router actually had better range than the D-Link router, even in N mode. To say this was disappointing is an understatement.
The DIR-660 is a mixed bag as far as routers go. Its wireless N speed is incredible, and literally blew us away when performing our file transfer tests. We have never seen wireless performance this good. However, this much speed comes at a cost, and though $199 USD is a lot to spend on a router, all high-end N routers cost this much. They are all this expensive, and no other router includes an OLED display. But then again, we found the display to be mostly a gimmick, not something that will provide long-term value. We were also disappointed with the wireless range provided by the router. Though we saw profound increases in speed when going from G to N, we did not see any improvement in range whatsoever.
If you’re looking for absolutely blazing network performance, the DIR-660 delivers. If the OLED was easier to read and the router provided better range, we’d wholeheartedly recommend it. As it is, however, these small issues prevent us from granting it a higher score.
• Sublimely easy setup and installation
• Incredible N performance
• Display is too small to read from a distance
• N range is no better than G