Last month we reviewed the D-Link DIR-657, a router filled with proprietary tricks to get around the ever more limiting factors of 802.11n WiFi. It didn't work and felt like the final proof that you can't teach an old standard new tricks. Turns out we gave up a few weeks too soon...
With the 'DIR-645' D-Link is back for more and this time it comes wielding yet another new technology, 'SmartBeam'. Whereas most proprietary router technology focuses on prioritising important traffic over a network, SmartBeam is different. It uses no less than six multidirectional antennas which don't throw out wireless signal as a scattergun approach, but instead track and lock onto connected devices focusing beams in their direction. Think Top Gun minus the testosterone... and planes... and missiles.
D-Link claims SmartBeam is a genuine breakthrough in addressing the range and (by association) speed problems of 802.11n, boasting "strong and stable Internet connection in every corner of your house". The company must be confident too since it hasn't included any of its previous bandwidth optimising technologies, including 'HD Fuel' seen in the DIR-657. D-Link has also gone against the grain by opting not to make the DIR-645 dual band. Consequently the shorter range, higher performance 5GHz band is excluded in order to focus all six antennas on maximising the travel of 2.4GHz.
This isn't the only risk D-Link has taken. The DIR-645 also looks like no conventional router and its piano black cylindrical design is akin to a Pringles tube designed by Dark Vader. That said this is a compliment. D-Link is unclear on whether the cylindrical shape has any bearing on wireless performance, but it looks striking and the circular base has greater stability than traditional sideways balanced rectangular routers which require a separate clip on base just to stay upright. Style and practicality one, legacy nil.
There is nothing legacy about the rest of the router either. Four gigabit Ethernet ports, plus one for Internet are located on the back along with a Shareport compatible USB port allowing any USB device (such as a printer or external HDD) to be accessed across the network. On the front clear icons, starting from the top, indicate an Internet connection and wireless status with a power button on the bottom. Second from the bottom is a one touch secure connection setup button, an area the DIR-645 has well covered with WEP 64/128-bit, WPA/WPA2 and WPS included. In addition the router is DLNA-certified and IPv6 ready - the new protocol which makes room for a further 340 undecillion Internet addresses.
On paper the DIR-645 looks strong, but then again so did the DIR-657. The difference is with SmartBeam aboard the DIR-645 remains strong in practice...
Setting up the DIR-645 is a breeze. It has two quick start options: the first is to insert the bundled CD and follow step-by-step instructions, the second is to plug the router into a computer, switch it on, type 192.168.0.1 into your browser and follow the step-by-step instructions from there. Both are straightforward and you can be browsing within minutes.