Top critical review
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There are better alternatives
on August 26, 2013
I simply could not get excited about this router.
This is classified as a gaming router - and one might rightfully assume that it should have blow-your-socks-off functionality - especially at the steep price premium.
Instead, what you get is a watered-down DIR-868L with a traffic shaping feature called Streamboost.
How does it compare to the DIR-868L?
-- lower 5GHz AC bandwidth rating - 867Mbps vs 1300Mbps
-- No SmartBeam
-- no Dynamic DNS support
-- no guest networks on either band
-- no USB 3.0 port
-- not a cloud router (mobile app-based router management)
The real question therefore is whether Streamboost is worth the premium paid. And that is where I will focus this review.
What is Streamboost?
Streamboost is powered by Qualcomm Atheros' VIVE 802.11AC chip, and is supposed to be QoS (Quality of Service) on steroids.
When devices begin to clamor for network access, a router must determine how to prioritize this traffic and how to assign slices of the bandwidth pie. A "normal" router punts on this by assigning equal priority and equal bandwidth slices to each client. This is fine when the slices are large enough to meet the needs of each client device. However, as the number of clients increases, the slices that go to each client get smaller and smaller, until at some point the client application is unable to get a large enough slice to meet its needs.
The problem here is that the router is unable to consider the characteristics of a client's needs when deciding on the priority and slice size assigned to each client. For instance, a client that is streaming a video is much more sensitive to latency and must get a bigger slice, as compared to another client that is downloading a file.
Basic QoS, supported by most routers, recognizes this fact - that not all traffic is the same. It lets you tell the router what constitutes important traffic. E.g., you could prioritize traffic from a specific device on the network, or from a specific application (such as a game).
Unfortunately, this is a very blunt instrument since configuration is coarse grained - based on device IP addresses or ports. I.e., giving a higher priority to a certain computer raises the priority for all applications on that computer, not just for your Netflix streaming. In addition, this a complex manual process with a lot of trial and error.
These are the problems Streamboost is designed to address.
1] Streamboost maintains a fine grained mapping of client stream [client device + application on that device] to network policy [priority + bandwidth slice].
2] It automatically analyzes packet traffic to determine the client stream, and looks up the policy for that stream.
This lets it prioritize Netflix streaming over large file downloads - even if both are running on the same physical client! E.g., if it detects streaming video, it will attempt to minimize latency (higher priority traffic) and to meet the bandwidth needs (larger slice.)
This would be at the expense of, say, a file download where the client might tolerate lower priority/bandwidth.
3] And best of all? This happens without any user intervention. Because these policy tables are cloud based, they can also be automatically updated as brand new devices and applications are released.
Unfortunately, while this sounded good in theory, I did not see any earth shattering improvements over my 2 year old WNDR4500.
My assumption is that this is because of our particular usage patterns. In our case, video streaming is the most common application - on up to 3 devices at a time; and file downloads and online games usually occur only rarely/intermittently. As a result, we did not give Streamboost much to work with.
The DGL-5500 seems to be better suited for households where there is traffic with varied characteristics (huge downloads, Internet/local streaming, VOIP, online browsing/shopping, gaming, etc.) - where Streamboost can shine by using its policy based decision logic.
Given that this is not the fastest router on the market, and given that Streamboost did not blow me away, I'm reluctant to rate this router at higher than 3 stars (Its Okay).
Particularly because of its lack of Dynamic DNS support - which I have grown to rely upon greatly.
A disappointment with Streamboost's crowdsourced data is that you cannot opt in just for updates of that policy data - you must also opt in for uploading your network traffic for data analysis. In addition, note that this Streamboost data is only guaranteed through Apr 2017 - after which it will be delivered via firmware updates.
As with any product, this is just my personal rating - this is a capable product, and your specific experience with it might cause it to rate much higher.