Introduction

External design and hardware

Firmware upgrade

Web-interface

Testing

Summary

Introduction

Our test lab already hosted routers that supported Smart Connect. This feature allows for the automatic redistribution of wireless clients between the supported wireless networks for improved efficiency in bandwidth usage. Read more below about this and a couple of other things that will pleasantly surprise users of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router.

External design and hardware

D-Link DIR-890L wireless router looks like a high-tech flying machine from the future that landed on the table just for a several seconds before taking off again. The device has the dimensions of 387х248х120mm and the weight of one kilo. The device needs an external power source with the following characteristics (included in the box) for functioning: 12V and 5А.

It's hard to understand where the top panel and side panels are because the device has a peculiar shape. It's worth mentioning that DIR-890L has six external non-detachable antennae that are installed on the case edges and rear panel.

The top panel edge has LEDs showing the power and Internet connectivity, wireless module activity, and USB port usage located on it.

The device is meant for both desk and wall mounting and that is why its bottom panel has not only the rubber legs but two tooling holes too. One will also be able to find a sticker with brief information about the device here. The biggest part of the bottom panel is a ventilation grate.

There are a ventilation grate and the brand logo located on the rear panel of the router. Apart from it, there are also four LAN and one WAN Gigabit Ethernet ports, power socket with ON/OFF button, Reset and WPS buttons, and two USB ports, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0.

Now let's have a look at the insides of the case.

All electronic stuffing of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router is one green textolite card which has all the essential elements located on both of its sides. The biggest part of the card surface is covered by detachable heatsinks. Unfortunately, all primary elements are covered with metal screens of smaller size.

Unfortunately, the only module accessible for inspection was the flash memory Macronix MX25L25635FMI-10G module with the size of 32 Mbytes.

Now let's pass on to reviewing of the software capabilities of DIR 890-L.

Firmware upgrade

In order to change the firmware version one needs to use Upgrade item in Management menu. Firmware upgrade may be carried out both in a manual and semi-automatic mode. Obviously, firmware upgrade in the semi-automatic mode is available only if the router is connected to the Internet. Upon manual firmware upgrade the administrator will need to download the firmware upgrade file beforehand and then upload it to the device.

Irrespective of the chosen firmware upgrade method, the process won't require any special skills from the administrator. The whole upgrade procedure takes about three minutes (not considering the firmware download time).

Apart from the original firmware, one can install alternative firmware on DIR-890L model; DD-WRT firmware is one of them. The administrator can change to DD-WRT firmware in two steps: at first upgrade the firmware to an interim release of DD-WRT using factory-to-ddwrt.bin file and then use dir890-webflash.bin file that contains the firmware full version.

After booting the router with the installed firmware interim release, the administrator will need to specify his/her username and password.

After that the administrator will be gained access to the web-interface of the interim firmware where s/he can select the language using Management tab in Administration menu. However, reviewing all other capabilities of the alternative firmware falls far beyond the scope of this article.

One will need to use Upgrade tab in Administration menu in order to change to the full version of DD-WRT firmware. The upgrade procedure is quite common.

The whole firmware upgrade process up to the full DD-WRT version takes less than ten minutes and does not require any technical proficiency from the administrator.

Switching back to the factory defaults is a bit more complicate: one will need to change the router to the recovery mode and use the web-server built-in in the bootloader to upload the right firmware upgrade file to the device. DIR-890L router can be switched to the recovery mode by holding down Reset button while the device is turning on and for 3-5 seconds after it. A router in the recovery mode can be spotted by the slowly flashing power LED on the front panel. At this moment only the bootloader is active. The active bootloader answers the echo requests from ICMP using IP packets with the value of TTL=100. Upon the booting has been finished completely, the packets will contain TTL=64. It's also worth mentioning that the bootloader is always assigned 192.168.0.1/24 address on a LAN interface.

That is where we bring a brief review of issues associated with the firmware upgrade process of the device to a conclusion and pass on to examining capabilities of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router web-interface.

Web-interface

Any modern web-browser may be used in order to access and manage the device web-interface. One will need to specify the administrator password to get access to it. The web-interface is available in ten languages. We believe that the possibility of choosing the web-interface language before actually logging in is very useful. However, the administrator won't be able to select another language after logging in. Apart from it, the fact that the login page contains certain information about the used firmware really surprised us. We think that this kind of information should be accessible only following the successful user authentication due to security reasons.

Upon successful authentication the administrator will find him/herself on the home page of the device. Over here one can check the Internet connectivity, review the list of the connected clients and devices fitted with a USB interface, and overview certain information about the router operation.

We wouldn't call the functionality of DIR-890L, a flagship device by D-Link, really wide. All settings are located in three menus: Settings, Features, and Management. Let's have a closer look at every menu.

One can use a special wizard for performing the initial setup of the router. It's located in Wizard manual item in Settings menu.

Management of access to the WAN is done using tabs in Internet item. The administrator can choose the device operation mode over here too: router or access point. Apart from connection to the web using the current version of IP, IPv4, the router supports connections via IPv6 too.

Wireless item is used for management of the wireless network. Over here the user enable and disable Smart-Connect feature and manage wireless guest networks.

Network item is used for management of local network parameters.

Access to the data stored on an external data carrier with USB interface can be gained using various protocols. These settings are available in SharePort item, Settings menu.

In order to manage the router remotely using a tablet or smartphone one will need to sign up in mydlink service and use their app. The applicable settings are available in the same-named menu item.

One can manage traffic prioritization using QoS Engine item, Features menu.

Firewall Settings item is used for forwarding or blocking certain types of traffic.

Port Forwarding item is used in case if a server located in the local network must be accessed from the Internet.

Website Filter item is used to deny access to certain resources in the Internet to the local network users.

Management of static routes is done using Static Routes item. One can specify routes both for IPv4 and IPv6. However, it's worth mentioning that upon creation of an IPv4 route the user will only be able to use the WAN port as the output interface.

Dynamic DNS item will come in handy in case if the service provider offers its users real but dynamic addresses.

D-Link DIR-890L wireless router can also perform functions of a VPN server; one can manage the corresponding settings in Quick VPN item in Features menu. However, it's worth noticing that only one type of tunnel connections, L2TP over IPSec, is supported.

Time sync parameters are located in Time item in Management menu. One can manage feature scheduling in this item, too.

The log information can be sent to a remote server using Syslog and SMTP protocols, the respective settings are located in System Log item. It's strange but we couldn't review these data locally.

Management of user authentication and equipment configuration parameters is done using Admin and System items.

Statistics item offers the user information about the current utilization of wired and wireless interfaces of the router.

That's where we proceed to completion of the review of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router web-interface capabilities and pass directly on to testing it.

Testing

The first testing procedure we usually begin our testing section with is estimating the booting time of the device, which is a time interval starting with the moment when the power is on until the first echo reply is received through ICMP. D-Link DIR-890L wireless router boots in 53 seconds. We believe that the result is decent.

The second test, which is no less traditional, was a security scanning procedure carried out using Positive Technologies XSpider 7.8 utility. On the whole, there were 13 open ports discovered. The most interesting data are presented below.

 

Before getting straight down to performance tests we would like to mention the key specifications of the test stand we used.

Component PC Notebook
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VI Extreme ASUS M60J
CPU Intel Core i7 4790K 4 GHz Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6 GHz
RAM DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 32 Gbytes DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 16 Gbytes
NIC Intel PRO/1000 PT
ASUS PCE-AC68
Atheros AR8131
OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus

At first we decided to find out how DIR-890L handles performing of NAT/PAT translations. As it was expected, we received decent routing speeds.

For those users who live in the ex-Soviet bloc countries it's still important to have a router that performs well upon operation with various VPN connections that the service providers use to provide access to the Internet. The diagram presented below shows the performance of DIR-890L operating with PPTP.

The model under review also has a built-in VPN server that uses L2TP over IPSec protocol. However, it would be fair to mention that various firmware meant for devices used in Russia and other countries only have support of limited cryptoalgorithm versions. This makes it impossible to get connected to the device of a common VPN client built-in in the modern Microsoft Windows OSes without performing a deep reconfiguration of the OS. Since our test lab website is read not only by the users from Russia, we asked the vendor to provide us with the firmware that has the full support of cryptography. Results of the measurements of D-Link DIR-890L performance with an established L2TP over IPSec connection are presented below. The received speeds cannot be considered high. It also came as a surprise to us that the built-in VPN server doesn't support any other protocols like PPTP or OpenVPN.

Apart from support of the current version of IP, IPv4, the wireless router under review also has support of the newer protocol version, IPv6. The diagram below shows the device performance upon operation with this protocol.

One of the most anticipated tests is, we dare say, measuring the performance of the wireless segment. At first we found out what speeds the users of a 2.4 GHz wireless network should expect to see. These speed values cannot be considered high, which is probably associated with DIR-890L detecting other wireless networks during the tests and decreasing the channel bandwidth from 40 MHz down to 20 MHz. It's not possible to specify the fixed channel bandwidth of 40 MHz using the device web-interface. Currently 2.4 GHz frequency range is heavily loaded in big cities and that's why we believe that clients who prefer quality of service would gradually switch to 5 GHz wireless range.

The diagrams presented below show results of the performance measurements of the wireless network within the frequency range of 5 GHz. We used two wireless clients in order to measure user data transfer speeds in the above-mentioned range: ASUS PCE-AC68 and a NIC that comes together with ASUS Maximum V Extreme motherboard.

Receiving the highest possible performance upon using the second client was not our aim. Actually, we wanted to see the extent of mutual influence between the high-speed client and the low-speed client. At first we connected the wireless clients to different wireless networks operating in 5 GHz frequency range; naturally, we disabled Smart-Connect feature beforehand. After that we made the same measurements when both of the clients were connected to the same wireless network.

As one can see on the diagram with the total of transfer speeds of two clients above, the mutual influence of the clients is extremely high. This is why we would like to recommend the users of D-Link DIR-890L to connect high-speed and low-speed clients to different wireless networks. Smart Connect feature lets dynamically distribute clients between the wireless networks. And though we didn't find any settings associated with this feature in the device web-interface, we decided to measure the user data transfer speeds using two wireless clients with enabled Smart-Connect feature that are getting connected to DIR-890L.

The results turned out not too good, but the speeds were higher than in the case where both clients used the same network. According to our data, one of the clients used 2.4 GHz frequency range and the other one used 5 GHz range. Unfortunately, the router software doesn't provide any tools for monitoring of the connected wireless clients and it's impossible to find out what frequency range is used by what client without special-purpose equipment or software.

Neither did we keep away from the possibility to connect external USB data carriers. Unfortunately, D-Link DIR-890L only supports two file systems: NTFS and FAT32. The diagrams below show results of the measurements of access speeds to the data stored on external data carriers connected to the USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. In this test we used Intel NASPT 1.7.1 utility and our external 256 GB Transcend TS256GESD400K SSD.

That's where we draw the testing chapter to a close and move on to summing it all up. The last thing we'd like to mention is the results of a quite traditional test for us, measuring the device case temperature. The router case temperature didn't grow higher than 43°С or 109,4° F upon the ambient temperature of 24°С or 75,2° F.

Summary

We were left with mixed feelings after reviewing D-Link DIR-890L wireless router. On one hand, the device is fitted with a powerful hardware platform and supports three wireless frequency ranges, but on the other hand the current firmware version makes it impossible to unleash the device potential fully. We hope that the vendor deals with the issues we discovered in the next firmware version.

Among the strength areas of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router are the following.

  • Support of three independent radios in two frequency ranges (tri-band)
  • Ability to create wireless guest networks
  • Availability of Smart-Connect feature
  • High performance CPU
  • Support of wireless guest networks
  • USB ports
  • Support of IPv6
  • Good access speeds to the data which are stored on an external HDD
  • Availability of a built-in VPN server (L2TP over IPSec)

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention certain drawbacks we have discovered.

  • Low performance in 2.4 GHz frequency range
  • Absence of certain important features in the web-interface
  • Low performance of the built-in VPN server
  • Absence of support of EXT2/3/4 file systems
  • High price

Our test lab team couldn't come to the shared conclusion about whether the peculiar device case design is a positive or negative quality and that's why we didn't include the efforts of D-Link's designers in either of the lists above.

As of when this article was being written, the average price for a D-Link DIR-890L in Moscow online shops was 19770 roubles.

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