Does the high-performance Wi-Fi story add up? Vendors would have buyers believe that by plugging one of a new generation of high-speed access points, many capable of over-the-air transfer speeds in excess of 100 MB/s, they’ll be entering a new world of application performance. But there’s an obvious bottleneck in the throughput claims – most of these access points will only switch wired connections using 10/100 Fast Ethernet.
D-Link’s new DI-724GU patches this implausibility by adding 4 ports of Gigabit Ethernet to the story. Now, in principle, the wired performance and wireless performance are more in harmony for high-speed wireless transfers. This particular product conforms to 802.11g but has proprietary extensions that will take it up to a claimed 108 MB/s throughput if used with D-Link network interface cards. This suggests that the Gigabit-to-wireless benefits of Gigabit are marginal at best and it’s mostly about the wired-to-wired throughputs. But it’s still nice to see Gig Ethernet making it on to mass-market devices such as this one.
Another unexpected and pleasing feature of the DI-724GU is the sort of build quality you’d normally get with much more expensive business-oriented boxes: the D-Link features an impressive all-steel gunmetal case. Plastic routers save on weight, but don’t (in our opinion) transfer heat out of the innards as well as steel, so this design choice makes sense thermally.
Beyond that, the dual-antenna DI-724GU features a router with integrated firewalling, full WEP/WPA security options, a USB port to hitch up to the built in print server, and a QoS “engine” for improving performance of applications such as VoIP using packet prioritisation. The latter is configured through the ‘StreamEngine’ tab on the web management interface, and is turned on by default. So this is not a VoIP-capable router, only one that claims to be optimised for such an application.
The printer setup – not always easy on some of these all-in-one Wi-Fi routers – is wizard-driven and works extremely well. A small file is copied from the router to the local PC which adds itself as a device to the Windows print settings. We were able to print a test page in under 30 seconds, and it maintained good performance from that point on, even with Wi-Fi connections.
Another neat little feature is DHCP reservation, whereby it can dish out a set IP address from within its 192.168.0.x range, associated to a specified MAC address. This is useful when using with desktop firewalls, which insist that devices are allowed to connect to one another based on an address. But DHCP dishes these out on a first-come-first-serve basis, depending on which is turned on first, meaning that a device might get any one from the range at any given point. The D-Link lets you reserve a specific address to solve this issue. Run and FTP or HTTP server and this also comes into its own.
This is an easy-to-configure Wi-Fi router with a well thought out interface, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a capable print server, standard firewall protection, and enough cleverness not to hold up demanding applications such as VoIP or gaming. It’s also unusually solidly made. It lacks a few elements though, and so we wonder if it might not be better to wait for a future version. First, it would have been ideal to have had some sort of MIMO range extension for the Wi-Fi side of things – more range and better wireless robustness has been a welcome development on such products in the last year or two.
Second, it also needs to link to a separate ADSL modem or WAN uplink to complete connectivity. Leaving that component out – modems vary from country to country – makes it a global product, but at the cost of assuming people will buy a separate device to plug into it. Still, if you’re a small business this won’t matter. Just plug it into the main router, stick this box into DHCP mode, stand back and leave well alone.
Finally, there is no way of setting up remote notifications of security or other events via email. This is a bit advanced perhaps, but it would still have been convenient.
There is a tendency to see low-end Wi-Fi routers as built to a price and slung together to look good on the shelf. Worthily, D-Link goes beyond this basic formula to make a physically impressive unit with an excellent interface and a good mix of features. It all bodes well for the future of the humble office all-in-one packet shifter.