A highly capable and feature-packed router for homes and offices, the D-Link DIR-685 Xtreme N Storage Router is one of the most innovative models we've tested. It's also the first router that shouldn't get hidden on a shelf somewhere; a 3.2-inch color LCD screen on the front lets this device double as a digital photo frame. Moreover, a hard drive bay turns the DIR-685 into a network-attached storage device. As long as you can stomach the $299 asking price (as low as $209 online) and don't need dual-band mode (which provides two distinct radio bands for media and data), this is a compelling router.
Setup and Design
The DIR-685 has several distinct features, but perhaps the most unique is the slot for snapping in your own 2.5-inch SATA hard drive. This turns the router into a network-attached storage device, and inserting the drive is quite easy. You can also plug in up to two external disks or printers.
Once you turn on the router, you'll notice it has a 3.2-inch color LCD, which shows 1.6-million colors in crisp detail. Since the DIR-685 also doubles as a digital picture frame, the screen is mainly for photo viewing, but you can also see router status and storage allocations.
The options available on the LCD screen of the DIR-685 are helpful, and the controls are fairly intuitive. You can scroll left or right and click a center button to make selections.
The setup process was quick and easy. It took about 10 minutes in total because we configured a SATA drive, set up an account for accessing the picture frame, copied over media files, and set the router options for security and access. D-Link wisely puts all of these settings and options in one place. You don't need a separate setup for the NAS functionality, picture frame, or router.
Using IxChariot (www.ixiacom.com), we found that the D-Link DIR-685 delivered very good speeds, hitting 96.0 Mbps at 15 feet away from our notebook under normal conditions in a suburban home. Just as important, the DIR-685 still provided an acceptable signal at 300 feet away (about 6 Mbps).
So what makes this such a stellar router? All of the above, plus a few choice extras. The router uses D-Link's exceptional Quality of Service (QoS) feature: we tested Skype calling while we played an MPEG movie stream, and the DIR-685 handled both tasks without any stuttering. You can even set up servers for BitTorrent, iTunes, and Windows, and configure which drive shares are used for each. One minor gripe: we like how the Iomega Home Media Network Hard Drive lets you drop torrents onto a folder to start a download--with the DIR-685, it's a manual process.
The DIR-685 supports UPnP AV for streaming media to a compatible player or video game console. We streamed the movie <i>Miracle at St. Anna</i>--a VGA-resolution MPEG--to an Xbox 360 without any problems. Because this model only uses the 2.4-GHz band (and not 5.0 GHz), it is not designed for high-def movie streaming.
One surprising feature: the router uses the FrameChannel service for uploading and managing photos on the router's display. In a jaw-drop moment, we uploaded about 25 photos, pressed a button on the router (the LCD screen shows icons for the FrameChannel service, photos stored on the device, and other settings and status screens) and saw that the photos were already viewable. Moreover, you can have the LCD display RSS feeds, sports scores, weather, and the like. This is Web integration at its best. D-Link provides a photo upload tool as well, but of course you can just copy the files--and any other media, including videos and music--to the router.
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Thin and light photo frames made by Kodak and others are much more attractive, and have larger screens; that said, the ability to send photos to the frame over the Internet is a plus.
Although the DIR-685 has two USB ports and D-Link's SharePort Technology (which lets you share any connected external drives over the network), the router also has a bay that accepts 2.5-inch SATA hard drives up to 1TB in size. The snap-in feature on the router is true plug-and-play; we snapped one in and the router found the drive immediately (consumers must provide their own storage drive; the DIR-685 doesn't come with one). The formatting and configuration options are fairly rudimentary, and you access them by typing the IP address of the router into your browser. All in all, this may prove a bit intimidating for novices.
Let's review: fast connection speeds, excellent quality of service, a photo frame, and built-in storage capacity. All of these flexible features amount to an innovative (albeit expensive) router. While you can find it for as little as $209 online, its list price of $299 is significantly more expensive than more versatile dual-band routers such as the D-Link DIR-825 and Linksys WRT610N, both of which have a USB port that allows you to connect any external drive and share its contents over the network. Still, combining a NAS and photo frame with a router is a novel idea, and in that respect, D-Link's DIR-685 largely succeeds.