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D-Link Wireless N HD Media Router 1000 (DIR-657) review

Gordon Kelly

By

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

Pros

  • Stylish design
  • Smart bandwidth prioritisation
  • Easy to setup

Cons

  • Limited to single band
  • Poor streaming performance
  • Overpriced

Key Features

  • 802.11n
  • Manufacturer: D-Link
  • Review Price: £89.99

It is a tough job making wireless routers in 2011. The limits of 802.11n (available commercially in 'Draft' form since 2007) mean manufacturers have been limited to the same core wireless speed standard for nearly five years. As such it is not only hard to differentiate products from the competition, but also to convince users they need to upgrade in the first place.

Taking another stab at both arguments is D-Link with its 'DIR-657 Wireless N HD Media Router 1000', a router which claims to address the biggest challenge facing wireless today: reliably streaming multimedia content around the home. The key differentiator here is D-Link's proprietary 'HD Fuel' bandwidth prioritization technology which the company claims will identify and prioritise multimedia and gaming packet data to ensure faster and more consistent performance.

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It sounds good in theory and D-Link hasn't skimped in other areas as it attempts to win you over. The DIR-657 is DLNA-certified, comes with SharePort allowing any USB device (such as a printer or external HDD) to be accessed across the network, and also packs an SD card slot enabling easy sharing of camera and video recorder content. On the security side of things you'll find WPA2/128-bit AES data encryption, support for CAPTCHA and D-Link's now commonplace one button WPS security setup. Meanwhile adding a little future proofing, the DIR-657 is IPV6 ready – the new protocol which will make room for another 340 undecillion Internet addresses. Of more immediate use D-Link has also outfitted the DIR-657 with four Gigabit LAN ports.

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Despite all this D-Link has taken risks. Surprisingly the DIR-657 uses just a single wireless band (2.4GHz) rather than the two (2.4GHz and 5GHz) typically seen in high spec routers. 5GHz isn't supported by every wireless device, but it offers faster performance (albeit at shorter range) than 2.4GHz and allows a router to broadcast two networks with independent bandwidth – ideal for separating someone in a household streaming media from another hogging bandwidth with web surfing and Internet downloads.

In addition D-Link has used its 'N 300' specification (offering speeds up to a theoretical maximum of 300Mps) when it has also long offered an 'N 450' spec. Obviously theoretical speeds remain pie in the sky compared to real world performance, but for such a multimedia focused product it seems strange D-Link hasn't opted to equip it with every possible advantage. Consequently our enthusiasm for the DIR-657 was somewhat muted and for all its headlining features we found that caution to be well advised.

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Whether using mixed mode (802.11b/g/n) or locking the router specifically to 802.11n, the DIR-657 delivers disappointing results. At two metres in the fractionally faster 802.11n single mode throughput reached just 49Mbps when transferring a 700MB file. This dropped alarmingly to 19Mbps from five metres away then to just 11Mbps from 10 metres. From 10 metres with a solid wall and hollow wood door in the way (a more realistic scenario) throughput dropped to just over 3Mbit. This leaves the DIR-657 some way behind dual band routers like the DIR-825 and speeds are unremarkable even for a single 2.4GHz band device.

Martin Daler

October 20, 2011, 7:38 pm

"the limitations of 802.11n continue to haunt all manufacturers of home wireless equipment"

But obviously does not haunt them nearly enough. Why, otherwise, do they hobble all routers with only 4 ethernet ports? What is is is about the number 4 which no router manufacturer dares exceed?

Keithe6e

October 20, 2011, 7:41 pm

I got fed up of using cheap SOHO routers, having to constantly reboot did my head in, I had Belkin / Dlink & Netgear, there all useless. In the end went for DrayTek, yes it's twice the price of the others, but in the long run well worth it.

Also wireless even in the best routers is not great, there are so many wireless routers fighting for the same airwaves nowadays. For Media streaming, homeplugs can't be beat.

Keithe6e

October 20, 2011, 9:39 pm

>> What is is is about the number 4 which no router manufacturer dares exceed?

I think it's mainly down to 4 been more than enough for SOHO use.

You can always add more with a cheap hub/router/switch.

For real hardcore networking you could go business class, this is also best done with separates.
eg.

The wireless bit ->
http://www.draytek.co.uk/products/ap700.html

The ADSL bit ->
http://www.draytek.co.uk/products/vigor120.html

The Router/Firewall bit -> http://www.draytek.co.uk/products/vigor2955.html

And finally 24 ports enough? ->
http://www.draytek.co.uk/products/vigorswitch_g2240.html

Pbryanw

October 21, 2011, 7:25 am

Draytek must be doing something right - they consistently win PC Pro's annual Reader's Awards for best router. Haven't used them myself, but will consider them for my next router after reading their praise.

Also agree with the homeplug remark. I have just bought two Solwise 500AV homeplugs, and get 60Mbit/s from my computer upstairs to my media streamer downstairs. This compares to 32Mbit/s with my Netgear N Router. So, if you really must have the best speeds (and your electricity cables are up to it), I agree, go Homeplug.

Martin Daler

October 21, 2011, 1:31 pm

Thanks for the info Keithe6e.

My point is, however, that it has been 4 ports since time began. It might have been 'more than enough' at the dawn of time, but to keep it evermore at 4 ignores the fact that since then we have acquired NAS drives, networked printers, networked TV, VoIP and whatever else.

Wifi is great for mobile/temporary connections, like an internet radio or two, mobile phone, guest access, laptop, etc, but the fixed elements and heavy users are better off with ethernet, especially for a rock-solid, interference free, secure connection.

What I fail to understand is, why? Why the dogged adherence across the industry to 4 ports only? In most fields of consumer product development the marketing boys will ask themselves, "how can we change the product?". And they have, we have new colours, new shapes, new flashing lights, etc. But it is like they never looked round the back of the router.

Only FritzBox seem to actually add any new functionality (VoIP, DECT) to their routers - but even they stick at 4-port (down to three if you are on cable).

Goodmane

October 21, 2011, 6:04 pm

I think you are absolutely right Martin Daler. I actually have a D-link 655 since for 4 years and fairly happy as they have been okay updating firmware etc.

I would like extra gigabit ports without hooking up an extra electricity-draining hub / switch.

I don't care what the thing looks like anymore. Also regarding homeplugs vs. wireless I agree I have 3 at 200Mbps; unfortunately while they are reliable they are also slow due to my modern electricity circuit breaker thingamejig. I get just 20Mbps so some of the house (TV to router to main server) will have to be wired up with Cat 6 or 5e.

Incidentally, I think most routers should come with homeplug tech built-in so I don't have to use so many sockets for essentially the same purpose.

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