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Wireless Reviews

Wireless Performance - Competitive Comparison

The 685 doesn't really have any comparable competitors, so for comparison, I just chose two other single-band draft 11n routers with Gigabit switches that have also been tested using the Intel 5300 client: the Linksys WRT310N and D-Link DIR-655 [A4].

Figure 20 shows a comparison of downlink, 20 MHz bandwidth mode tests. The 685 actually does quite well in the strong to medium signal level locations A - D. But it drops out of the competition in the low signal locations E and F.

Competitive comparison - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz channel, downlink

Figure 20: Competitive comparison - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz channel, downlink

Table 2 summarizes the highest downlink throughput product in each location for the two modes tested and Table 3 compares uplink results. The chart was generated by going through the six-location comparison plots and putting an X in the product's box that had the highest throughput for each test. If values are within 0.5 Mbps of each other, they each get an "X".

Product 2.4GHz /20 2.4GHz / 40
A B C D E F A B C D E F
Linksys WRT310N     X     X   X     X X
D-Link DIR-685 X X X X     X          
D-Link DIR-655 [A4]         X X     X X   X
Table 2: Best downlink throughput summary

Adding up the checkmarks for each product shows all three products tied for overall performance running downlink. But the DIR-655 [A4] is clearly the winner running uplink. I do have to say, however, that for strong to medium signal level Locations A-D, the DIR-685 consistently beats the other two products.

Product 2.4GHz /20 2.4GHz / 40
A B C D E F A B C D E F
Linksys WRT310N         X X       X   X
D-Link DIR-685 X X X X                
D-Link DIR-655 [A4]         X X X X X   X X
Table 3: Best uplink throughput summary

Use the Wireless Charts to generate other comparisons.

Closing Thoughts

D-Link simultaneously broke new ground and took a chance with the introduction of the DIR-685. Will this combined, “mashed-up” appliance with router, NAS and photo frame functions be the precursor to similar products or will it be relegated to the category of “nice idea, but it didn’t work out”? 

On the plus side, I like having all of the features combined into a single piece of hardware that takes up less space in my office, and arguably takes less power than individual components. But after working with the DIR-685 for more than a week, I’ve decided that it’s not going to replace my DIR-655.

You might assume that my experience with FrameChannel not working behind a second router would be the reason, but you’d be wrong. My reasons for not recommending the 685 are:

  • The screen is too small - A 3.2” screen might be fine for occasionally checking router statistics or the status of the internal hard drive, but it’s just too small for displaying photos, or for that matter, text from RSS feeds. If you really want internet photo sharing, a much better choice would be D-Link’s DSM-210, a 10” photo frame that employs the same FrameChannel technology found in the 685. Granted, it sells for almost as much as the 685, but the images on it are large enough that you don't have to be sitting a few feet away to enjoy them.
  • The fan is way too noisy - While many routers spend their lives stuck behind equipment in a closet near a cable/DSL modem, the whole idea of the DIR-685 is for it to sit on your desk where you can view it. It doesn’t take much of a load on the device for the fan to come on, and when it does, you'll want to smother it with a pillow. This reason alone is enough to kill any desire I might have had to own the product.
  • Poor thermal design - The fact that a small, very noisy fan had to be used to cool the 685, speaks volumes for the thermal design (or lack thereof) of the product. Although the design won a “Red Dot” design award in Europe, nice looks are one thing and appropriate-for-use design are another. D-Link did not choose wisely when it chose form over function.
  • Reliability - It's unual for a product to break during the gentle handling that it receives during review, but that's what happened with the 685's front panel keypad. It's bad enough that the membrane-type switch has no tactile or audible feedback. But by the end of a week or so of light use, it appeared that one of the switch locations (the WPS key) seemed to be permanently pressed. With the WPS message permanently fixed on the screen, none of the other keys were operational, and I could no longer access other front panel functions.
  • Remote Access - D-Link is behind the competition when it comes to remote access to files stored on the optional internal drive. Other manufacturers such as Buffalo and Seagate provide nice, web-based remote access to your files based on user access permissions. D-Link’s solution it the same as it has been for years – you access your files via a built-in FTP server. While the FTP server does provide remote file access, the browser-based secure remote file access offered by competing NAS products is a superior solution.

D-Link deserves high marks for developing an innovative, “all-in-one” product targeted at the home office. And while I like many of the features of the DIR-685, it’s still very much a “1.0” product. I’m sure that it will appeal to buyers who want the combined features all in a single package and don't mind an annoyingly loud fan. But I’ll wait for a future version, if there is one, which is quieter, and has a larger screen.

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