As internet access is now entwined in our everyday life, Wi-Fi has become important to us wherever we are. Whether you have multiple devices, multiple family members, or both, we increasing our need for connectivity. Increasingly more and more hotels are clamping down on Wi-Fi access and are trying to charge more if you have more than one or two devices, or in some cases there are speed tiers that require an additional premium if you want decent performance to stream content or do video calls. For the past few years I have been using a Netgear N200 travel router and for the most part it did what it needed to do. Recently however, I lost the device which left me looking for an alternative. As the N200 is a pain to use and somewhat of challenge to setup at each hotel, I wanted something easier, faster, and more reliable to replace it with. After doing some initial research, I decided to give the D-Link Dir-510L a spin to see if lived up to the hype I read online.
Why AC Dual band?
One of my criteria’s was to find a fast dual band router. I know you are probably thinking why do I need the speed of AC when all the devices will be close to the hotspot and most hotel Wi-Fi connections do not come close to maxing out a decent N router. The reason is twofold, first I wanted the device hotspot to be as smooth and a fast as possible and to ensure that sufficient pipe was there to handle multiple devices (5-8) concurrently. Secondly, as many of these devices allow you to attach a USB device for media playback, I wanted to have the speed to handle smooth video playback to a couple of deices and not bog other devices that are surfing the internet. So basically I wanted more bandwidth from the hotspot to the devices than was needed from the hotspot to the hotel connection to allow everything to flow smoothly. When I had the Netgear which was a N router, it was possible to bog it down especially when using it as a wireless bridge.
Modes and other Features
When using a device like this you have to consider a few other things. At a minimum, you need it to connect to the internet using either Ethernet or Wi-Fi, but you may want to consider other features such as support for USB devices and support for wireless cell dongles. The DIR-510L has a dedicated Ethernet port as well as the option to connect via Wireless dongle, or as a Wi-Fi hotspot (Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi). It supports four basic modes:
Mobile Router Mode – Acts a regular router and can use a 3G/4G USB adapter as the internet connection. This useful when you are in the car or in an area where there is no public Wi-Fi, or when you require a bit more security. This assumes of of course you have a USB dongle.
Wi-Fi Hotspot Mode (Via Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi or Ethernet to Wi-Fi) – This is used to share a wireless internet connection such as you would find in a hotel or coffee shop. It can bridge via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
Broadband Router Mode – This allows you to use as a standard router and plug in a broadband modem into the Ethernet port so it will behave as a standard wireless router.
LAN Sharing – Even if you are not connected to internet, you can share files from USB to other devices just as you could in a traditional network.
The setup on this device is where this device shines. I would not call it overly easy as it has multi steps to get it setup, but it is very straightforward and mostly logical. Once you do the initial setup, getting it going at each location is a breeze which is much more than I can say for the Netgear I lost.
To access the device for the first time you must attach to it by pointing your Wi-Fi connection on your laptop, tablet, or phone to its default hotspot connection and the setup screen should come up. If it does not, you can type the default IP or Name in a browser and it will go into the login screen
Once you get past the first admin screen, you are ready to configure key areas such as the Internet connection, SSID, passwords, and security modes. In addition you can also configure the SharePort access and review statistics for the device.
This is something I did not find very useful on my Netgear so I ended up using a different device when I needed to stream. With the D-Link you still have to plug in a USB device however you can use something smaller like a high capacity USB stick that contains all of your media or files and have it all accessible from the same connection. The software also provides for user control to allow restricted access to certain folders.
Wifi Performance Results
To determine performance, I tried to replicate a realistic scenario. Using a laptop, iPad, and an iPhone, I measured the performance of the Wi-Fi connection by testing it 3 times with each device. Then I inserted the 510L and using the same devices, I retested each to compare the results. Lastly, I attached a device and streamed a movie from the USB port and again using the same devices I retested for speed.
As you can see, using the device to bridge to another Wi-Fi is a little slower both in latency and bandwidth. You will probably not notice it when you are browsing but if you attempt file transfers it may be a bit slower. Also important to remember is that this was tested under better conditions than you will probably find in a hotel or coffee shop. The nice thing is that streaming movies from the USB does not seem to impact the performance, at least nothing that I could measure.
All in all, I am very happy with this device and it is certainly a major upgrade compared to my older clunky Netgear. Though you have to perform a few steps in the beginning such as remembering to set your own security on both the admin and Wi-Fi access, but once you get past that the device is a dream to use and the performance is outstanding. I do not have any real negative things to say on the device but in the perfect world I would have liked the unit to be a bit smaller and the cost to be lower. The battery is not good enough to sacrifice the size. $99 is not expensive for a home router that you will use every day, but is steep for a travel router. That said, I still believe it is the best choice out there for the performance and overall features. If you travel with friends or family, or have multiple devices you should definitely look at this device. Given what it can save you on Wi-Fi costs, the payback can be pretty quick.