More than two years since multi-node mesh routers promising better Wi-Fi coverage debuted in Singapore, networking firms are now adding mesh functionality to their traditional routers and even wireless extenders.
Take D-Link, for instance, which recently introduced its Exo series of routers and wireless extenders. Consisting of two routers (DIR-2660 and DIR-1360) and two wireless extenders (DRA-2060 and DRA-1360), these devices can form a mesh network among themselves.
In short, you can mix and match these wireless devices to suit your needs. For instance, you could start with just one router and add an extender or two when you move to a larger home.
D-Link's approach is not unique. Linksys, too, is starting to do the same for its routers while Asus has already implemented mesh functionality in many of its routers.
But D-Link caught my eye for including a suite of security features from cyber-security firm McAfee (valid for five years) in the Exo routers.
I tested this McAfee Secure Home Platform service in April this year and was impressed by its anti-phishing feature and robust set of parental controls.
The DIR-2660 mesh router that is reviewed here has this service, which surprised me given that it costs just $209.
D-Link also has a special promotion for the ValueClub members of IT retailer Challenger, who can buy the router at $199, which includes the D-Link DRA-2060 wireless extender for free.
• Bundled security features
• Robust parental controls
• Competitive price
• Middling performance
• App is basic with few features
ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN
SECURITY: WPA2-PSK (Personal)
ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT, DoS and SPI
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
In terms of its design and hardware specifications, the dual-band DIR-2660 router is aimed at the low-to mid-tier segment. It has the usual four Gigabit LAN ports as well as two USB ports. Its dual-core processor is clocked at a modest 880MHz compared with the 1GHz (and higher) clock speeds in more expensive models.
Unsurprisingly, the router managed around 400Mbps in The Straits Times' speed test compared to higher-end models that average 500Mbps with 600Mbps. This dips to around 70Mbps when tested with a laptop in a bedroom farther from the router in the living room.
D-Link also sent me the DRA-2060 Exo wireless extender ($99) to try. It has a wall plug design that ostensibly saves space, but renders the neighbouring power outlet unusable because of its chunky chassis. It has a Gigabit Ethernet port for those who prefer a more stable and faster wired connection.
Both the router and the extender can be configured using the D-Link Wi-Fi mobile app (available for iOS and Android), which feels rather basic. You will need to download the separate D-Link Defend app to access the security features and parental controls in the router.
The biggest issue, though, is that setting up the mesh network between the router and the extender is a bit of a hassle. The process requires the router and the extender to be linked together with an Ethernet cable, unlike other extenders that do this wirelessly.
As a result, both devices have to be powered on and physically near each other - unless you have a very long Ethernet cable - during this process.
It took around 10 minutes to set up the mesh network, which feels slower than usual.
Subsequently, you can reposition the extender. Ideally, you want to place it at an optimal location, such as midway between the router and the wireless devices in the farthest part of the home. To help you locate this sweet spot, the extender has a Wi-Fi signal gauge to help you judge the wireless signal strength from the router.