Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
D-Link Viper Dual Band AC1900 Modem Router (DSL-2900AL)
This tall router provides fast 802.11ac performance, and has useful Cloud and remote features
- Fast 802.11ac performance
- Good remote management and Cloud features
- Easy VPN
- Not all features worked for us
- Problems using a laptop with a Broadcom 802.11ac module
Price$ 380.00 (AUD)
Wireless routers are not always as reliable as they should be, and we’ve certainly experienced our fair share of failed routers in the past. That’s why we’ve implemented longer test periods for routers, mainly to make sure that the product we’re testing is stable. For the D-Link Viper (DSL-2900AL), our test period ran well over two months in our everyday set-up, and we’re happy to report that we didn’t experience any reliability problems throughout this test period. This was a welcomed change considering the model below this one (the DSL-2890AL) died on us about a week after we’d reviewed it for a much shorter period of time.
Fast 802.11ac performance
The Viper is an ADSL2+ modem and wireless router in one, and it supports 802.11ac speeds up to 1300Mbps (megabits per second). The marketing for the router shows it as being ‘AC1900’, which is an amalgam of the 802.11ac speed, and its 802.11n speed of 600Mbps. Needless to say, it’s a fast router and one that should be considered if you have devices that can take advantage of 802.11ac. Many laptops these days ship with 802.11ac adapters (the Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 being present in some laptops), but you can also equip a desktop or notebook with an 802.11ac USB stick. D-Link has a DWA-182 AC1200 USB adapter you can try.
In our tests, the 802.11ac speed proved to be reliably fast, especially across short distances. We tested by transferring both small files (3-30MB MP3s and FLACs) and big files (1-2GB MP4s) across short (up to 3m) and mid-range (up to 15m) distances. Files were transferred from an Asustor AS-202TE NAS device attached to one of the router’s Gigabit Ethernet ports, and copied to a Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga with an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 module.
From the short distance, we recorded an average rate of 40.79 megabytes per second (MBps) for the big files, with the peak speed being 45.9MBps. This is faster than the flagship Linksys WRT1900AC, which got 32.9MBps in the same test, with a peak of 44MBps. Across the mid-range distance, the same large files transferred at an average rate of 17.05MBps, which is only slightly slower than the Linksys, which got 17.13MBps.
When we transferred the small files across the short distance, we observed an average transfer of 32.98MBps; across the mid-range distance, the same files averaged 15.71MBps. This saw the D-Link Viper fall more into line with what the flagship Linksys router accomplished, though that router was a little slower over the short distance (32.47MBps) and a little faster over the mid-range distance (16.01MBps).
What we like is that the Viper’s performance was consistent for us. It rarely fluctuated to the point where we noticed a slowdown. If your main purpose for buying an 802.11ac router is to move files around your home network at a fast speed, then this router will be perfect for you. Across mid-range distances, the performance fell noticeably, but it was in line with what we’ve seen from other 802.11ac wireless routers. Note, though, that the performance will vary depending on your environment (thick walls, glass, and how many large appliances you have can all contribute to sluggishness).
The built-in modem handled our iiNet ADSL2+ connections the way we expected, returning a connection speed in the vicinity of 9Mbps, which is standard for our dwelling. Most importantly, the connection stayed swift throughout our testing and we never had to reset the router due to noticing a slow-down in Internet connectivity. In addition to the 802.11ac, 5GHz tests, we also ran the 2.4GHz network for streaming to a WD TV Live media player. That also performed perfectly.
We ran into one problem during our transfer tests, which we weren’t able to fix during the course of the review. When we connected a Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro laptop to the Viper using the 5GHz network, the router automatically restarted, and stayed in a restart loop. We could only use that laptop with the Viper when we connected to the 2.4GHz network. The Yoga 3 Pro features a Broadcom 802.11ac module. No such problems were present with the Intel Wireless-equipped notebooks that we used.
Design and features
As for its design, the DSL-2900AL Viper uses the same tall, cylindrical shape that we first saw in D-Link’s DSL-2890AL, and it’s a form factor that we appreciate due to the smaller footprint that it consumes. This makes it easy to place in a living room among entertainment gear, and there are no antennas sticking out of it. It has an array of internal antennas that support SmartBeam technology, which, in theory, is meant to direct the wireless signal directly to your devices without spreading it out in all directions.
The rear has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a USB 3.0 port and a USB 2.0 port, and while there is a built-in ADSL2+ modem, you can also use this router with a cable or fibre modem. Despite the vertical orientation, the ports are still mounted in a horizontal orientation, which is unintuitive when you first start plugging everything in. There is an on/off button at the back, there are colourful status lights at the front that aren’t overly bright, and you can use WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) to set up wireless devices that also support WPS. Despite being a light product, it maintained its stability on our table, even while all the Ethernet ports were in use.
D-Link has made the setup procedure for the router as simple as possible for first time users, and you don’t even have to have a wired PC hooked up to the router to configure it. The wireless networks come with pre-configured names and passwords that are printed on a card, so you can just tap into the router from a laptop while sitting on a couch. Adding Internet login information is a breeze through the Wizard, and you can easily change the Wi-Fi settings to create your own witty wireless network names and passwords. Once you do that, you will have to re-connect your laptop to the new network name. We were up and running in a couple of minutes.
A relatively clean-looking interface is present on the Viper, and it has a mix of graphics, toggles, and even drag-and-drop elements that aim to make it easier for inexperienced users to navigate and change settings. The main page has a network map that lets you see if everything is working as it should be, and it makes it easy to see how many devices are connected to your network (by IP and name). Drop-down menus across the top allow you to access settings, features, and management options, and most features have toggles for enabling or disabling a particular setting.
All of the main features are easily identifiable within these menus, including things like port forwarding and the firewall, and there are many other features to play with, too. We like the ‘mydlink’ feature, which allows you to register the router with D-Link’s dynamic DNS service, and once you register your Viper with that service, you can then access it easily from a mobile device while away from home. You can also enable remote management and log in to the router manually using a Web browser if you know your ISP-given IP address (or using another dynamic DNS service).
D-Link’s apps include mydlink Lite, and mydlink SharePort. If you have a hard drive attached to your Viper, then you can use SharePort to access its contents (locally and remotely), and it’s a great way to stream videos and music to your phone or tablet while at home.
For those of you who want a VPN feature, the one in the Viper is among the easiest we’ve seen to set up and use. There are other features that aren’t as easy or as effective, though, such as the Web site filter and the QoS setting.
A Web site filter is present in the Features menu, but we couldn’t get it to work properly during our test period. Adding URLs proved to be an issue, as we were only successful in saving one URL, out of a possible 15 slots. Even the one URL that we did manage to save in the list didn’t get filtered. We were still able to access it. There is an ability to enable a ‘Parental Control’ feature for each device separately, but this just cuts Internet access completely.
It wasn’t the only feature that didn’t work properly for us. The QoS feature, which allows you to drag-and-drop devices into the priority that you want to give them, also didn’t do an effective job. The device that we placed in the ‘highest’ priority for Internet bandwidth was often bogged down by the devices that we placed in the ‘medium’ priority. For example, a laptop prioritised for streaming was slowed down by a NAS device that was downloading a torrent on medium priority.
What’s the verdict?
Despite some of the features such as QoS not working properly for us, our overall experience with this router has been positive. Its 802.11ac wireless performance was fast in our tests, and it proved to be reliable over our prolonged test period. A simple set-up was aided by a clean Web interface, and the router’s remote management and access features were equally easy to use. With a firmware tweak to shore up the issues we experienced with the QoS, URL filter, and the Broadcom-equipped laptop, the Viper could end up being a killer device.
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