D-Link DIR-879 EXO review

A fast and reliable router

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Our Verdict

If you’re looking for a router that can quickly be added to your network with the minimum of fuss, then the D-Link DIR-879 EXO is a great choice, offering consistent performance and a good set of features for a compelling price.

For

  • Easy to use
  • Good performance
  • Quick setup
  • Easy to maintain
  • Good coverage

Against

  • Mobile app isn’t great
  • No USB
  • Not the widest coverage

Routers such as the D-Link DIR-879 have it tough. When things are going well and they are diligently doing their job, you shouldn’t even know that they are there. Your internet should just simply work, your network (home or office), should be visible with all your networked devices happily talking to each other. However, as soon as something goes wrong, one of the first things we blame is the router.

While there are a number of routers that like to be flashy and make you aware of what they do, we still have a soft spot for no-nonsense routers that get on with the job without fuss – something the D-Link DIR-879 EXO router promises to do.

Don’t think we’re selling the D-Link DIR-879 EXO router short – it’s just we admire its restraint after the big and brash (and very expensive) Asus RT-AC5300 Tri-band Gigabit Router.

While many routers (such as the aforementioned Asus) boast AC5300 or AC2400 speed standards, the D-Link DIR-879 EXO sticks with AC1900, which is capable of speeds up to 1300 Mbps. While this may seem disappointing, it’s actually more realistic, as many laptops and tablets are still capped at 1,300Mbps speeds – so anything over that is overkill. Will this have a noticeable impact on performance? Read on to find out.

The D-Link DIR-879 EXO is available for £133 ($140, around AU$190), which is pretty decent for a router, and about a third of the price of the Asus RT-AC5300 Tri-band Gigabit Router.

Features

Routers no longer need to be beige and boring boxes that you have to hide out of sight. The D-Link DIR-879 EXO has a bright (but not garish) orange design with a triangular design and four antennae that can’t be removed, but can be folded down onto the body of the router.

It comes with four Gigabit LAN ports and one WAN port, which should be enough for many home users, though for offices (and houses full of wired smart devices) you may need to invest in a network switch to increase the number of ports.

Disappointingly, there’s no USB port, so you can’t share USB sticks, external hard drives or printers by simply plugging it in to the router. Most routers now come with at least one USB port, so the lack of one in the D-Link DIR-879 EXO is a real shame.

This is a dual-band router, offering both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, allowing older devices to connect to the 2.4GHz band, and newer devices to the 5GHz band, reducing congestion on wireless networks in homes or offices with lots of devices trying to connect. The Wi-Fi itself is 802.11ac, currently the most recent and fastest version of Wi-Fi.

It features intelligent QoS, allowing it to detect the type of traffic on the network (such as media streaming or file transfers) and decides which application to give highest priority to. This means transfer speeds from your PC to your NAS device for large files won’t suddenly drop if someone else in the house starts streaming Netflix, and the TV show they’re binging on won’t grind to a halt if someone else starts playing an online game.

It also comes with parental controls, guest Wi-Fi network creation and WPA and WPA2 encryption for the Wi-Fi networks. Overall, the D-Link DIR-879 EXO comes with pretty much all the features you’d expect from a modern router at this price range, though the lack of USB is disappointing.

Performance

But how does the D-Link DIR-879 EXO perform? D-Link promises an easy to install ‘zero configuration’ process, helped by the Quick Router Setup (QRS) app, designed to make adding this router to your home network as painless as possible.

We started by using the QRS app to set up the D-Link DIR-879 EXO. With the router plugged in, we downloaded the app, then connected the phone to the D-Link DIR-879 EXO’s Wi-Fi (and entered in the supplied password). Upon loading the app, the D-Link DIR-879 EXO was discovered and we tried to begin the process. Unfortunately, the app didn’t play ball, with it becoming unresponsive.

So, we loaded up a web browser, typed in http://192.168.0.1 and the D-Link DIR-879 EXO’s welcome screen appeared. As we usually set up our routers this way it wasn’t too much of an issue, but it’s a shame the app didn’t work, as we’d have liked to have seen how easy it was to configure the router that way.

The process through the web interface was straightforward, with each step clearly explained, so even if this is your first router, you’ll have a good idea of what you need to do. It detected our internet connection without a problem, then asked us if we wanted to change the name of the network and password. We were also asked to provide a new admin password for logging into the router and changing our internet settings.

And that was it – the D-Link DIR-879 EXO was set up and working in three steps, quite possibly the easiest and most pain-free router setup procedure we’ve had, despite the annoyances with the mobile app.

The web interface has been overhauled by D-Link and it is simple and attractive, allowing almost anyone to find the features they need without any trouble. The more advanced features are easily accessible as well, for the most part. 

However, we wanted to make sure we were on the 5GHz band during testing, and unlike many other routers, there were not two separate Wi-Fi networks being broadcast for each band – instead just a single wireless network. To make sure both bands were enabled we searched the settings menu for a while with no luck – then we noticed that the ‘Smart connect’ feature was turned on. 

Switching this off brought up a new menu where we could view both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Both bands had the same name (SSID) and password, with the Smart Connect feature essentially determining which devices connected to which band. 

With this feature switched off, we could change the name of the 5GHz band and give it a new password, so we could be sure which band we were connected to. This is a little niggle, but we’d have preferred if this option wasn’t hidden away, or if Smart Connect had been explained a little clearer. 

However for most people you can leave these be and just use the D-Link DIR-879 EXO straight away – D-Link’s promise of ‘zero configuration’ seems to have been realised.

As for range – the D-Link DIR-879 EXO showed a download speed of 138.1Mb/s download and 12MS ping with our 5GHz device right next to it. With the PC plugged directly in to the router, our download speeds were only slightly higher. Interestingly, when we tested the speeds from across the office (around 30 feet away) the speeds actually increased to 156.4MB/s and the ping dropped to 6ms. We put this down to the design of the router and the antennae, which lean outwards from the router’s body, so devices slightly further away will get better coverage.

Through one wall the speeds dropped to 68.68Mb/s and ping rose to 21ms, and through three walls it dropped further still to 6.41Mb/s and 164ms ping. If you have a large house or office, you may need to consider range extenders (which the D-Link DIR-879 EXO can double as) to help get decent speeds. 

We also tested the connection on the floor above (but not directly above the router) and got 108.88Mb/s and 6ms ping, and one floor below (this time directly below the router) with 131.94Mb/s and 11ms ping. 

These are very good results and show that floors prove less of a hurdle than walls. If you have a long or wide house, then the placement of the D-Link DIR-879 EXO (or the use of extenders) may need serious consideration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

How to editor

Matt (Twitter) is TechRadar's How To editor. Having written for a number of magazines and websites, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about. From gadgets to games, he's here to provide the best how to guides to help you get the most out of your gizmos. If you're encountering a problem or need some advice, drop him a line on Twitter.

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