Wi-Fi 6 has not been commercially available all that long but now that it is it is beginning to arrive in so many different devices. The sheer number of Wi-Fi 6 routers on the market is unbelievable from mesh products to the more traditional routers and now a Wi-Fi 6 USB adapter from D-Link to allow you to take advantage of the new Wi-Fi 6 protocol no matter how old your PC or laptop is.

D-Link sent us two different Wi-Fi 6 devices to check out, the AX3200 Wi-Fi 6 Gigabit Router and the AX1800 Wi-Fi 6 USB adapter. Considering I already have a Wi-fi 6 mesh network at home it makes for a great comparison piece between the two routers/mesh and whether the USB adapter can take advantage of the increased speed and versatility of Wi-Fi 6.

Specifications

The D-Link EXO AX AX3200 Wi-Fi 6 Router, as you would expect, offers 802.11ax technology to provide you with faster speeds, greater capacity, and less network congestions — perfect for the modern home with all of its smart home appliances and capabilities.

Wi-Fi 6 and the AX3200 has so many more advantages too including faster speeds (2400 Mbps on the 5 GHz band and 800 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band) and its dual-band Wi-Fi can also provide up to six simultaneous streams making 4K streaming, online gaming and video chatting a mere walk in the park.

The D-Link DIR-X3260 is also capable of creating a mesh network with supported D-Link devices (at this stage just the single mesh range extender — AX1800 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Range Extender ). Ports included in the router include 4 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and 1 Gigabit Ethernet WAN port for faster optional wired connectivity along with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports for shared storage.

As with most D-Link devices released these days it also includes support for Google Assistant and Alexa and for those who are security-minded — and we all should be to some extent in 2021 — the DIR-X3260 includes support for WPA3 encryption.

Setup and Performance

Setting up the router was super-simple. Sure I’ve set up a few D-Link devices in the past but it’s a matter of simply plugging in the router to your modem, downloading the app and scanning the barcode in the box. It will then “find” the router and begin setup. Add in your own touches such as passwords, network name, varying degrees of security and you are good to go.

Now, as mentioned above I have a Wi-Fi 6 mesh network at home already so I was sceptical that this new AX3200 Wi-Fi 6 Gigabit router would make much, if any, difference to my current setup. My how I was wrong.

Sitting inside, within spitting distance of the router and a mesh point (nearly directly beneath both on the ground floor), the speeds, ping and reception was equally good – possibly slightly better on the Gigabit router but in a real-world sense, basically the same.

Taking the device to a more extreme distance from the router and mesh point (they – closest mesh point and DIR-X3260 router – are located directly next to each other in the communications cupboard upstairs) the difference was amazing. The DIR-X3260 router far outperformed the Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. As you can see in the speed test screenshot below, the Wi-Fi 6 mesh network averaged between 16 and 27 Mbps while the Wi-Fi 6 DIR-X3260 Router averages around 90Mbps!

The antennas on this DIR-X3260 Gigabit router must be something else because the results are just that good. If you work a distance from your mesh, in the backyard or wherever then this new router could be something that would interest you. Of course, as discussed above, the DIR-X3260 Gigabit Router is not just a router but can also be used as part of a mesh network – but not with all D-Link products, you will need to buy the correct mesh points but to be honest I’m not entirely sure you need them. After all, I did receive near full speed at both extremes of my house.

I also tested the network at the other end of the house towards my garage where I am a long way from the router and actually close to two different mesh points – no more than 5-7m. The router is around 15-20m away. The results we still so much in favour of the DIR-X3260 router which totally surprised me. The mesh router, which I thought was the gold standard these days, achieved around the 57-60Mbps mark while the D-Link DIR-X3260 router managed between 87-90Mbps. Crazy right?

I’m now thinking I might grab myself a couple of the mesh points for the Gigabit router and change over to that network, or maybe I just don’t need them at all.

Specifications

The D-Link AX1800 USB adapter provides an instant upgrade for your PC or laptop to Wi-Fi 6. The AX1800 provides speeds up to 600Mbps (2.4GHz) and 1200Mbps (5GHz) while still offering the same OFDMA and MU-MIMO technologies seen in the DIR-X3260 router above.

WPA3 security is once again included along with USB 3.2 Gen 1 support. D-Link has also included a USB extension cable for those who want to use the adapter on various devices and want easy access to it to move it when required.

You could argue that it is an issue that the adapter only supports USB Gen 1 and not USB-C but remember this is an adapter for devices without Wi-Fi 6, older devices, ie. devices that still have USB Gen 1 ports. By the time laptops stop having these USB ports (as some already do), they will have the hardware to support Wi-Fi 6 natively and the adapter will not be required.

Setup and Performance

As with the router, setup was super simple. It was a matter of plugging in the adapter, opening it up in Windows Explorer and running the setup exe file. It installed the drivers required by Windows 10 along with the software required. For the purposes of this review, I also disabled the in-built network hardware in the laptop to ensure that every test was done using the D-Link Wi-Fi 6 USB adapter.

I was a lot less sceptical about the D-Link Wi-Fi 6 USB adapter and was the main product I wanted to test out. My laptop is about 3 years old now and does not support Wi-Fi 6 so instead of forking out another 2-3 grand for a new laptop to support all the latest technologies surely it makes more sense to try a simple little USB adapter?

As mentioned above, to test out the adapter properly I had to disable the network adapter in the laptop so it would only use the USB adapter and unsurprisingly the network speeds were greater using the Wi-Fi 6 adapter versus the Wi-Fi 5 built into the laptop. Inside the speeds were not overly different given the proximity to the mesh network points.

Move outside though, a bit further from the network points and the Wi-Fi 6 takes over. At the same distance that I performed the above tests on the Gigabit router I was not able to get any signal at all from my mesh network and the built-in Wi-Fi 5 adapter, but the Wi-Fi 6 adapter achieved moderate success. It was able to get around 16-25Mbps down and about 5Mbps up. Not the greatest but it was signal and workable at least.

So what does all this mean?

I have a few conclusions/observations resulting from the tests performed within this review. In my house, thanks to a fairly well setup and advanced Wi-Fi 6 mesh network the speeds from the older Wi-Fi 5 devices are fairly similar to that from the Wi-Fi 6 devices. A couple of Mbps here and there but considering my network is limited to 100Mbps anyway (thanks NBN and HFC) the speeds within my house are no better with a Wi-Fi 6 device than a Wi-Fi 5 device.

Where the Wi-Fi 6 made the most difference was with its range. I was able to get much better signal and speeds at a distance from my router/mesh points using Wi-Fi 6 than with Wi-Fi 5. ie. Wi-Fi 6 mesh is superior to Wi-Fi 5. Der. No huge surprise there. Not only that but the superior and newer DIR-X3260 router far outperforms the AX1800 mesh router system I have currently installed — and that is without the DIR-X3260 being set up with mesh extender points but just functioning as a router only.

My conclusion: Wi-Fi 6 matters and not all Wi-Fi 6 routers are created equal.If you want a big, fast, reliable network then a Wi-Fi 6 router/mesh is in your future. Once you get said router you will need something to allow all of your older devices to take advantage of the Wi-Fi 6 network — enter the Wi-Fi 6 adapter. For both of these cases the EXO AX AX3200 Wi-Fi 6 Router — DIR-X3260 and the D-Link AX1800 Wi-Fi 6 USB adapter — DWA-X1850 are great solutions.

D-Link EXO AX AX3200 Wi-Fi 6 Router — DIR-X3260 is available at a RRP of $299.95 from D-Link or selected retailers .
D-Link AX1800 Wi-Fi 6 USB adapter — DWA-X1850 is available for RRP $149.95 from D-Link or selected retailers.