If you like big routers and cannot lie…
Editor’s note: IGN is ramping tech and hardware reviews back up, one product category at a time. We’re kicking off with deep dives into some of the best-of-the best headsets, routers, GPUs, Mice, Monitors, and keyboards from the last few years.
The D-Link Spaceship router (See it on Amazon), as I call it, is D-Link’s top-of-the-line wireless router, both in terms of pricing ($200) and features. It’s been out since 2015, and was one of the first AC routers to ship with not just dual-band but tri-band functionality, so this bad boy offers three separate networks instead of just two.
It’s designed to serve large households with a lot of connected devices, which I think would be 15 or more (Xbox or PS4, a few laptops, some tablets, security cameras, smartphones, etc). It’s as high-end as it gets from D-Link, and the company told me it was their best router for gaming, so let’s dig in.
Design and Features
The model name for this particular router is DIR-890L/R and it’s only available in one color–candy apple red. It’s easily one of the most striking routers out there, and it’s also the largest router I’ve ever had the pleasure of manhandling as well. It measures a staggering 15” across by 9” deep and 5” tall and thankfully, despite its gargantuan size, it’s actually lighter than it looks. It sports six non-removable antennae
Since it’s an AC3200 router, it supports up to 3,200Mb/s of bandwidth across all three of its bands, though you’d never actually see those numbers in the real world. The breakdown is as follows: 600Mb/s on the 2.4GHz band for “N” devices, and then two 1,300Mb/s 5GHz networks for AC devices. Add it all up and you get 3,200, so despite companies making it sound like a router such as this is “faster” than an AC1900 router, in the real world it isn’t faster, it just has an extra network available but speeds are the same.
Since this is a router that’s been on the market for a while, it’s a pretty straightforward AC model, and is lacking the features that arrived recently in the “Wave 2” devices, including MU-MIMO. This is technology that allows the router to serve multiple clients simultaneously, though the catch is those clients need MU-MIMO wireless adapters, which aren’t commonplace just yet.
Still, it offers beamforming, which allows the router to figure out where devices are located and concentrate its streams toward them. It also features a cool technology called Smart Connect, which allows all three networks to exist under one SSID, or network name, thus simplifying the connection process. You don’t have to worry about what your device supports as the router does the work for you and connects you to the fastest network.
On the hardware side of things it has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB (one 3.0 and one 2.0), and a Wi-Fi Protected Setup button. Otherwise it’s a pretty straightforward router that provides 80211 AC/N/G/B/A wireless.
D-Link’s administration software is overall very easy to use and modern looking, striking a good balance between providing lots of information without being overwhelming or dumbed down too much. All the submenus are easy to navigate and they all have Advanced Settings that are just one click away, which I really like as opposed to having them in a totally separate area of the UI.
There are really only two areas of interest in the admin area; the Smart Connect settings and the Quality of Service tab. The Smart Connect feature, as I mentioned previously, lets you combine all your networks under one SSID to make the process of connecting newer and older devices easier. It can be confusing when you start mixing older devices with newer devices that support different bands, so this makes that process much simpler.
The other area of interest, particularly for gamers, is the router’s Quality of Service (QoS) settings, as for gamers this is critical. These settings will never increase your bandwidth, but they can reduce latency by prioritizing gaming packets, which can help. Sadly there’s no real way to test this feature, but I can report D-Link offers it. What you do is simply drag and drop boxes for different types of content, including Gaming, Streaming Media, etc. It’s a simple interface and I also find it funny that social networks are in there, since that doesn’t seem like something that needs a priority but… it’s there, nonetheless.
To test how the DIR-890L/R performs, I set up a server/client scenario with Netperf and two Windows 10 PCs, then measured the speed of the TCP connection between them. I measured at both 15 feet with line of sight, and at 30 feet with two walls between the computers. I ran the TCP test at least three times to make sure my results were consistent, and if they weren’t, I re-tested until they were, trying at different times of the day until I was satisfied. Though everyone’s environment is different, and you wouldn’t be able to exactly replicate my results, they are a good way to get a ballpark estimate of how the router performs. I also performed a “real world” 2GB file transfer test at 30 feet as well.
5GHz Band at 15 Feet
5GHz at 30 Feet
The spaceship was a bit slower than the other routers in my performance tests, which involved simple TCP transmission tests at both 15 feet and at 30 feet through two walls. At 15 feet it was able to send data at a speed of around 98MB/s, or 777Mb/s, which is decent but fourth out of five routers I tested by a smallish margin. At 30 feet with two walls in the way that rate dropped to 78MB/s, which again made it fourth fastest of the roundup.
2.4GHz Band at 15 Feet
2.4GHz Band at 30 Feet
Its performance on 2.4GHz band was respectable, landing about mid-pack but certainly on the higher end of the leader board. It’s certainly competitive with other offerings, but not the fastest nor the slowest, so just slightly better than average.
2GB File Transfer at 30 Feet
I also tested file transfer speed by connecting a USB hard drive to the router’s “shareport,” which is its USB 3.0 port, and then transferring a 2GB file from the 30 foot location. The DIR-890L/R took an ice age to do this, requiring over three minutes to complete the transfer. I repeated this test numerous times and the results were always the same. It was the slowest of the bunch by far.
The price of the D-Link DIR-890L/R has steadily been coming down over the last year. It used to regularly sell for around $300, but can now often be found for around $220, or as low as $180 on especially deep discount days.