Users are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a new or replacement router, with models to suit pretty much every budget and whim. D-Link’s new DIR-657 is a mid-range model with a rather odd mix of advanced and basic features.
The bad and the good
With every router manufacturer falling over each other to launch dual-band, dual-radio models, it’s unusual to see a single-band model at this price point. It is an 802.11n 2-stream MIMO model, giving up to 300Mbps link speeds on the 2.4GHz frequency band. A separate guest network can be enabled to give visitors Internet-only access (they are connected to a separate sub-net to prevent local network access).
With a half glossy, half matt black finish, the DIR-657 is quite slim and has internal antennas. Two blue lights on the top show the power and Internet connection status. Unusually, the power cable incorporates a table lamp-style on-off switch, and there’s also a power button on the router itself. Four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports are provided along with a dedicated Gigabit Ethernet WAN port (there is no ADSL version), plus a USB 2.0 port for sharing devices via the bundled SharePort Plus utility. Printers and storage devices can be shared with any PC running the utility, and it works very well.
At the front is a WPS button and an SD card slot, an unusual feature that works with the built-in DLNA media server to stream media files on the SD card over the network.
Installation was straightforward, with a setup wizard on the CD guiding users through the process. It can’t be done over Wi-Fi, though. The admin interface also has wizards for setting up Internet and wireless connections for those who prefer to dive straight in.
Messy interface but good parental controls
The interface itself is a bit of a mess, with a rather unstructured and confusing layout. This is a shame as there are plenty of advanced settings to investigate, such as the QoS Engine (traffic shaping) and WISH (Wireless Intelligent Stream Handling) features. This latter prioritises various types of wireless traffic such as multimedia streams. A SIP application level gateway (ALG) is included for VoIP traffic, and this worked fine with our Sipgate service. For those needing to keep tabs on multiple network users, there are also configurable rules-based web filters, robust access controls and scheduled Wi-Fi power-down.
Those looking for robust parental controls will appreciate that the router can be easily configured to use the free OpenDNS Family Shield or Parental Controls instead of the ISP-provided DNS server.
In terms of performance, we found the DIR-657 to be nothing special when tested with our standard setup of a notebook using an Intel Ultimate N Wi-Fi Link 5300 wireless adapter, and running Passmark’s Advanced Network Test. At 1m range, it topped out at around 43Mbps, although it did have a decent performance of over 13Mbps at 25m range through several walls and windows. By default, 40MHz channels are not enabled, so we had to change the settings to Auto in order to connect at 300Mbps.
We had mixed feelings about the DIR-657. On the one hand, it has some seriously useful advanced settings for those with non-standard needs (it also has full IPv6 suport), but on the other it has a fairly basic feature set considering it is hardly a budget model. Also, the lack of 5GHz wireless is becoming a liability these days, with domestic interference on the 2.4GHz band reaching ludicrous levels.
- Easy USB device sharing; Gigabit LAN and WAN ports; supports OpenDNS parental controls; SD card slot
- Single-band wireless; clumsy interface
Its performance is solid rather than stellar, although the DIR-657 does have some useful advanced features for those with more complex networking needs. But in the end, the price is just a little too high for what’s on offer.