I hate routers. Seriously. Maybe it’s me but I just haven’t had great experiences with them. Over the last 12 years or so, we’ve had 5 or 6 different routers; is there an unwritten rule that they must suck?
The DIR-825 has been on point for the last two plus years. We bought it because it got excellent reviews. For example, on Cnet it got 3.5 stars out of 4 (interestingly, checking the user reviews now shows an average of 2 stars with 49 votes).
This sucker has been frustrating from the beginning. D-Link seems to churn these things out without ever perfecting the firmware or bothering to adequately update it after the fact (call me stupid but 3 of my routers have been D-Link). This router (the Rev-A version) was never able to determine that new firmware was available. It would randomly reset the date and time, which played hell with my favorite feature; the ability to turn the wireless off at a certain time of night. It would do this whether I asked it to get the time settings from my computer, from manual settings, or from the Internet. With Shareport, it offers the ability to connect a USB drive for network access. Using the D-Link drivers, I was unable to even see the hard drive. I eventually found out that they just don’t work with Macs. By using these drivers, I was able to get the hard drive recognized but it was very unreliable. Writing or reading large files was impossible. If you’re seriously techie, the DIR-825 allows a wealth of control over your network. Time will tell if that granular control provides benefit or not.
The signal was pretty good on the 2.4 GHz band but not at all good at 5GHz. As the family got more and more dependent on their laptops, I found myself searching for a way to improve the signal so that the kids could move freely about the house. After watching for a while, I found this antenna at Meritline and bought two when they were on sale for $6.95 each (seems to happen every few weeks).
As you’ll see below, the antennas definitely improved our signal. Everyone noticed that their range had improved; they were even able to work out on the deck. So, just as things started looking up, fate dealt me an interesting opportunity…
Although I was intrigued by the Airport Extreme, I felt I had been burned enough on routers that I was unwilling to shell out the big bucks that Apple was asking. Plus, it pissed me off that there were only three ethernet ports. As time passed, I bought a 1GB switch that sat next to the router because not even 4 ports was enough. Then, Cowboom offered a refurbished Airport Extreme at a fantastic price. How could I pass it up? Now was the time to see if Apple could change my experience with routers.
The unit was delivered promptly and was well packaged for shipping. The inner box was nondescript and non-Apple. Inside was the manual, the power cord/brick, and the router. As with anything Apple, setup was a breeze. Plug it in, plug the Mac in, then activate the Airport Utility. The utility allowed me to quickly name the network, set a password, and go. I went beyond the standard and setup a guest zone, as well as changing the IP range from the default of 10.0… Gone was the ability to have the wireless turn on and off based on the clock. Gone was the ability to set priority for my Vonage adapter and our Xbox 360. However, unlike the D-Link, plugging a hard drive into the USB port provided instant satisfaction. The hard drive shows up under “Shared” in the Finder Sidebar.
Overall, setup took me 5 minutes. This contrasts with the D-Link, which I recently had to setup again after finally finding a firmware update that I hoped would fix the time issue as well as an ongoing connection issue. The firmware upgrade wiped my settings because I wasn’t smart enough to save my settings first. That setup took over an hour.
Before plugging in the Extreme, I decided to get signal strength readings from various spots in our house. I did this from the same spots using iStumbler to provide the readings. Of course, I don’t know how accurate the iStumbler readings are but it’s all I had to go with. I took the readings using the DIR-825 with the standard antennas, using the DIR-825 with the Meritline antennas, and using the Extreme. The table below shows the readings, with a brief description of how far (approximately) the spot was from the router. Wherever it says “over,” it is indicating an approximate horizontal direction away from the router.
Time will tell how my experience goes with the Extreme and I’ll provide updates as my experience continues.