D-Link EXO routers – great routers with optional MESH capabilities (review)

D-Link EXO routers
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9.1

D-Link was a little late to the Wi-Fi 6 AX scene. The new D-Link EXO routers range may not be at the top of the AX power tree, but they are excellent quality and value from a well-known brand.

Last year the company introduced Wi-Fi 5 D-Link EXO routers in AC1750, AC1900 and AC3000. At the same time companies, including Netgear and ASUS et al., were releasing Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 to AX11000. As we are power-hungry users, these naturally took our attention. Our apologies to D-Link!

Well, over the Xmas break we put the D-Link EXO AX5400 and the D-Link EXO AC3000 through our rigorous router tests. Without exception, they performed brilliantly passing or exceeding every test we could throw at them. And on the value front, they did very well. As you will see, later the MESH extender is incredible and works seamlessly with any brand AX or AC router.

But first, a segue. Horsepower or Lilliputian power?

I am a strong believer that MESH rarely works as over-promised. MESH means a router and satellite/s talk to each other to present a single sign-on (SSID) throughout the house. In short it may eliminate Wi-Fi blackspots, but effective data transfer rates are never quoted!.


Dual-band is MEH-MESH (uninspiring; unexceptional), but it has its place in undemanding and smaller spaces. Our tests show its no substitute for a powerful router. In reality, the satellites need to be within 5-7 metres line-of-sight of the main router. Further than that distance, they can’t get enough signal strength to keep data transfer rates to respectable, usable levels.

Well, that line is softening a little with the excellent Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 tri-band. But more importantly, the Orbi meets the definition of a powerful router in its own right. In our opinion, MESH with a powerful router and satellites that can backhaul (send data back) over dedicated Wi-Fi 5Ghz or Ethernet is closer to real MESH. And that is precisely what D-Link EXO routers are.

And a final point – good home W-Fi is all about network design.

Wi-Fi 5Ghz has a usable transmission range of about 10m from the router (it is a 20-metre diameter circle if the router is in the centre).

Mesh
The router placement (green) is in one of the worst places and creates blackspots (red) and slow speeds (orange). The router should be placed at the centre of this house.

If your router is tucked away in a cupboard, garage or at the extremity of a house, it will provide poor Wi-Fi to the rest of the house. You need to get the main router to the ‘circle’ where all the power Wi-Fi users are. Connect as much of these as possible via Ethernet to reduce Wi-Fi congestion. Satellites should only ever add adequate speed to black spot coverage – not be relied on for 4K streaming!


MESH
You may need two or three range extenders to cover the average two level home.

Review: D-Link EXO routers

The D-Link EXO are foremost standalone routers with the ability to connect SSID ‘Range Extenders’ like the DAP-1820 AC200 EXO Smart Mesh that uses either Wi-Fi or Ethernet backhaul.

The D-Link EXO range covers (* supported device are our estimates in brackets). D-Link has a PDF summary here.

  • AC1750 DIR-1760 (2.4Ghz 450Mbps and 5Ghz 1300Mbps) $249.95 (this price seems overly high) and suited for single-level apartments (up to 10)
  • AC1900 DIR-1960 (600/1300) $179.95 similar to AC1750 but can support a few more IoT devices
  • AC3000 DIR- 3060 (Tri-band 400+866+1733) $399.95. For medium 3-bedroom homes (20) and better to connect the DAP-1820 MESH extender to
  • AX1500 DIR-X1560 (300/1200) $249.95 single level one/two-bedroom apartments (10)
  • AX1800 DIR-X1860 (574/1200) $299.95 similar to AX1500 but a little more support overhead
  • AX5400 DIR-X5460 (600/4800) $499.95 more antenna and more transmission power for up to 40 devices and larger homes. Better to connect the DAP-1820 MESH extender.
D-Link EXO routers

Common features

  • 3-year ACL warranty and excellent local D-Link support
  • 4 x Gigabit Ethernet Ports
  • USB-A 3.0 port/s
  • Wave 2-way MU-MIMO
  • AX Models have OFDMA and 1024 QAM and support higher aggregated speeds and throughputs for AX devices
  • Parental control
  • Defend smart home protection from McAfee
  • Google and Alexa voice assistance
  • Quick VPN support
  • D-Link app setup

In essence, it comes down to the number of devices you have and if all of those devices are within that 10-metre range.


* Device estimates

Device support numbers are an estimate only and scale up from 10 – starting at one 4K TV (FHD/4K streaming), two laptops, two mobile phones, two smart speakers/soundbar (music streaming) and three IoT devices.

If you are a heavy video streamer in HD/FHD/4K or add 1080p, 2K or 4K Wi-Fi security cameras you automatically need the AC3000 or AX5400.

** Note that AX only works with AX devices like the latest Samsung Galaxy S20 or iPhone 12 series. Otherwise, it is just AC speeds.

Tests

Tests were with both the AC3000 tri-band and AX5400 dual band on the 5Ghz band using Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G AX smartphone. They were very close, and the results are the average of five tests at each distance.

Distance from router (meters)Signal strength %/-dBmMbps
1 line-of-sight-30AC3000 – 866
AX5400 – 1200
3 line-of-sight-50660 – good
5 line-of sight-55648 – good
10 line-of-sight-63432 – usable
10m through three plasterboard walls-7068 – unusable

This shows that two tested routers have good antenna design and enough power to transmit 5GHz up to 10-metres. At that distance, 2.4GHz kicks in at -50dBm and 130Mbps – more than enough.

DAP-1820 AC2000 range extender

Website here
Price: $249.95

It takes the signal it gets from the router and retransmits it over 2.4Ghz (300Mbps) and 5Ghz (1733Mbps). When connected to a router using Wi-Fi 5Ghz backhaul, it dedicates 866Mbps for backhaul. When connected via Ethernet, it has 1000Mbps (Gigabit) bandwidth


Distance from DAP-1820 (meters)Wi-Fi 7m from router
signal strength -dBm
MbpsEthernet backhaul
1Gbps
Mbps
1m line of sight-29866-29866
3m line of sight-47390-40800
5 line-of sight-58360-54720
10 line-of-sight-64290-57390
10m through three plasterboard walls-7528-70120

This is an excellent 10-out-of-10 Wireless range extender for a few reasons.

  1. Ethernet backhaul gives a full 1Gbps to retransmit, and it does so without speed – its as good as a direct connection to the main router
  2. Wi-Fi backhaul roughly halves direct router speeds. That is as good as it gets over this type of backhaul, but its signal strength is impressive.
  3. You can use it with any brand AC or AX router via Wi-Fi or Ethernet and use the single SSID for that router – I am impressed.

Defend – added peace of mind

D-Link’s Defend McAfee protection is in two parts

McAfee Secure Home Platform runs on the router. It has a generous five-year free subscription.

Any device that connects downstream via Wired or Wi-Fi Ethernet router (e.g., via its Mesh Extenders too) has:

  • Cloud-based McAfee Global Threat Intelligence database
  • Malicious site blocking
  • Device Fingerprinting
  • IoT and Botnet threat detection
  • Vulnerability scan
  • Home Away mode (stops IoT connections when you are away)
  • Comprehensive parental controls

The second part is McAfee LiveSafe

It has a two-year free subscription for unlimited installations on Windows, Android, Mac and iOS (features vary depending on OS) devices.


  • Anti-virus/malware and cloud-based threat intelligence database
  • Anti-phishing
  • Web Advisor
  • Performance optimisation
  • Password Manager
  • File Lock/Encrypted storage
  • Annual renewal after two years is currently $164.95

GadgetGuy’s take

D-Link EXO routers from AC1750 to AX5400 are MESH extendable. Without fail, they do an excellent job. Let’s call them 3, 4 and 6 cylinder routers (using car vernacular)

While I like the ‘V8’ AX600 to AC11000 routers the only reason to consider them is if you

  • have way more connected IoT devices, particularly on the 2.4Ghz band
  • stream 4K TV on more than one TV (at a time)
  • are a heavy downloader
  • have a heavy gaming addiction and can hog the internet
  • a big family with several PC/Mac/laptops/tablets and smartphones
  • A large IoT load like streaming security cameras, streaming music speakers and use these concurrently.

You might be surprised that weeklong tests of both the AC3000 tri-band and AX5400 dual-band with a single DAP-1820 MESH extender supported a load of well over 40 devices with ease.

Rating

Looking at similar Netgear and Orbi devices, these scored about 4.5/5. The ASUS AX1000 – a brute of a router – has 4.7/5. Orbi latest Wi-Fi 6 MESH got 4.2/5 as did Netgear’s AX8 Mesh extender.

Older D-link routers (not EXO) scored similarly.

At GadgetGuy any score over 4/5 means it is fit for purpose.


The DAP-1820 is a 5/5.

The EXO range averages 4.5/5 because there is a model for every need and price bracket. You cannot go wrong.

You can read other GadgetGuy networking news and review here

D-Link EXO routers
D-Link EXO routers – great routers with optional MESH capabilities (review)
Features
9
Value for money
9.5
Performance
9
Ease of use
9
Design
9
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
D-Link has an excellent reputation and local support
You can choose a router and price bracket that suits
If you need black spot coverage, DAP-1820 is a 10/10 for any brand router
The free McAfee Defend adds great value to the router!
None really - well I am waiting for a D-Link AX11000!
9.1