Wireless routers are generally seen as boring devices that only serve to provide signal coverage for internet access throughout the house. But the latest "storage router" from D-Link is quite a big exception, and an exciting one at that. Those who live in geek-land will be glad to see that the D-Link DIR-685 offers plenty of opportunities for tweaking and making full-use of the router long after its initial setup.
The D-Link DIR-685 Xtreme N Storage Router is quite the multi-functional device. It is only as small as other wireless routers, but it packs in a lot more than just Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet ports. In addition to the basic functionality of a networking device, you can also use it as a networked storage device (NAS or file server), print server (by sharing it out via USB), streaming media server, digital photo frame, RSS reader and as a digital weather-man.
We brought you the announcement of the D-Link DIR-685 wireless router earlier, now here’s the review. This glossy black coloured Wireless-N router with internal antenna looks stylish whether it is wall-mounted or stood on its stand. It is a high-end product and does not skimp on the feature-set, with 5 Ethernet ports, 2 USB ports, a SATA 2.5-inch HDD internal drive bay, built-in LCD screen and touch-buttons to control the LCD. Since you can see a detailed list of features on the "Specifications" tab of this review and the product's homepage, we shall get into our observations and the real-world user experience right away.
D-Link DIR-685: Significant Features
Not only were the 4 LAN ports of the Gigabit type, but the WAN port (network uplink for internet or cascading network) was a Gigabit one too, thus being faster than the usual 100Mbps ports. The power cable had a switch in the middle, which you could use to switch on/off the router and that was a nice touch. Setting up the router was a cinch with its easy interface and help tips. All of the usual security standards and routing settings were present.
The WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Standard) functionality was straight-forward with a touch button to be pressed for quick connection, and the small LCD screen provided status updates and hand-holding all the way. Considering that it has three possible storage options, storage settings were well provided for, with user access control, streaming media server support, and BitTorrent download manager. You can have it email activity logs to an administrative mail address of your choice, you need to provide details of the outgoing mail server of course.
For home users whose external IP address would keep changing, hosting a publicly accessible Internet server is made possible via support for Dynamic DNS updating services. In addition to the widely used DynDNS, it also supports D-Link's own DDNS service – note that this second option is not currently supported by other router brands or even by D-Link’s own lower-end ones – so stick to DynDNS if you are likely to change routers frequently.
A “website filter” is offered, using which you can implement parental control – up to 25 sites can be listed on the filter, which you can then either whitelist (only allow these) or blacklist (only block these) as per your requirement. The “guest zone” and its controls of schedule, allowed clients and routing/isolation is mention-worthy. There is a “Schedule” configuration option, which is used to manage rules for "Internet Setup", "Wireless Setup", "Network Filter", "Guest Zone", "Firewall Settings" and "Website Filter".
D-Link DIR-685: Web UI
Logging in through the web UI (web browser-based user interface) to administer the D-Link DIR-685 Xtreme N router threw up interesting features. You can have CAPTCHA enabled even for web UI login, which it terms as "graphical authentication", this could theoretically stave off brute-force bot/malware logins.
A "System Check" option allows for checking to graphically view which wired Ethernet ports are physically connected, which helps while trouble-shooting connection problems. As usual, the settings could be exported/imported from a saved file, and the firmware was upgradable. A version 2.0 of the firmware was available with improvements for the router, so we promptly upgraded to the newer firmware downloaded off D-Link’s support section.
The web UI is the one that allows for configuring settings/security, and we found this to be well organised. It uses a system of 4-way navigation. Main configuration sections are at a top navigation bar, sub-sections when you enter each of these show up on a left-hand pane, and the actual settings/options being configured show in the middle pane. The fourth pane is on the right-hand side, and calls itself "Helpful Hints". Unfortunately these "hints" are not as in-depth as expected and there is no context-sensitive help on a per-setting basis.
The "hints" only offer the most basic information, of the sort that the user already knows. Mercifully, the "Save Settings" button which you have to click after making changes in any section is quite responsive and quick in functionality (unlike some routers that take almost a minute each time you save settings to get back to a usable state, which can quickly get exasperating).
D-Link DIR-685: LCD and touch-buttons
The touch-based buttons on the front of the device were workable but unresponsive at times. So while there is a lot you can do directly with the router and its buttons, you’d try to avoid using the buttons after the novelty has faded off. The Framechannel service is the one that delivers internet content (weather forecast, RSS feed, photo sites) directly onto the router’s screen. The 3.2-inch LCD screen is about as large as many mobile phone screens today, and while watching photos on it is not optimal, the fact that it can be done at all is pretty good.
Photos can be viewed from any of the connected storage devices, and you can configure the brightness/idle time of the screen. During idle time in-between uses, the screen displays a clock with time and date for the specified idle time, and then blanks out when it enters standby mode.
D-Link DIR-685: Performance
During tests, the D-Link DIR-685 WiFi router did not match the levels we saw with the Asus RT-N16, but still performed quite well. The range was good enough to cover a large home across three floors (router was in the intermediate floor) and yet have some range left to cover the lawn. The area (range) it did cover could see good speeds, never going below 65 percent signal strength (three bars out of five). What we have in the performance tab is the consistent performance averaged over a period of time.
The speeds seen are all from real world testing, and include walls and floors (of a multi-storey building) placed in-between the wireless router and client. On flat open ground/surface with no objects to interfere in between and no walls, just a green field – we saw a maximum range of 27m for the wireless signal when no other devices were interfering.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>