Good MU-MIMO throughput performance in testing. Lots of web-based management settings. Easy to install.
Middling SU-MIMO throughput in testing. Mobile app currently has limited settings. Uninspired design.
- Bottom Line
Not your typical slick Wi-Fi system, D-Link's Covr AC3900 uses a traditional router and paired extender nodes with mesh technology to deliver solid MU-MIMO throughput thoughout your home.
Nearly all of the Wi-Fi systems we've reviewed consist of two or three stylishly designed components that operate in a router and satellite configuration to bring Wi-Fi to even the furthest corners of your home, but the D-Link Covr AC3900 Whole Home Wi-Fi System ($299) takes a somewhat different approach. It pairs a traditional router with a range extender and uses mesh technology and smart band steering to provide seamless roaming throughout your home. It supports MU-MIMO streaming and is expandable, and it can be managed using a web-based console or a mobile app, but you'll have to use the web GUI to access most settings as the mobile app currently offers very limited functionality. The Covr is a good performer, but it can't match the overall performance of the more aesthetically pleasing Linksys Velop Wi-Fi system.
Design and Features
One of the biggest differences between the Covr system and other Wi-Fi systems such as the TP-Link's Deco M5, Google Wi-Fi, and the Amped Wireless Ally Plus Whole Home Smart Wi-Fi System has to do with the aesthetics. Whereas the above-mentioned systems use components that are tastefully designed and meant to be placed out in the open, the Covr uses a traditional router and a smaller extender node that is paired with the router at the factory. Together they provide up to 6,000 square feet of wireless coverage. Additional extenders (up to two more) that add 1,500 square feet of coverage each will be available by the end of the year.
The router looks similar to the D-Link AC1900 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi Router (DIR-878); it has a black housing that measures 2.1 by 11 by 8.1 inches (HWD) and uses four removable adjustable antennas. The top of the router holds five LED indicators for power, internet, 2.4GHz and 5GHz activity, and USB activity. Around back are four gigabit LAN ports, a WAN port, power, reset, WPS, and Wi-Fi buttons, and a power jack. There's a single USB 3.0 port located on the front edge of the router that can be used to connect a portable hard drive so you can share files over the network. The low-profile extender node is also black and measures 1.2 by 5.2 by 5.2 inches. It has five LED indicators on its top for power and uplink and downlink activity for both radio bands. There's a pairing button on the left side, and around back are power, reset, and Wi-Fi buttons, two gigabit LAN ports, and a power jack.
The 4×4 router is a dual-band AC2600 device that can reach maximum speeds of 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band. It supports MU-MIMO streaming, which sends data to compatible clients simultaneously rather than sequentially, and it uses smart band steering to automatically choose the best radio band for optimal performance. However, you can't separate the two bands. Seamless roaming comes by way of mesh technology that allows the router and the extender to share the same SSID. The extender node has two internal antennas and is an AC1300 device capable of speeds of up to 400Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 867Mbps on the 5GHz band.
Whereas most Wi-Fi systems offer a mobile app that lets you control internet access, create schedules, and enable parental controls, the Covr app (iOS and Android) is limited. You can use it to install the system and to enable MU-MIMO and WPS capabilities and to manually configure DHCP, IPv4, and IPv6 Multicast settings, but that's about it, at least for now (D-Link was working on an updated mobile app at the time of this review). To take advantage of the Covr's website filtering, device prioritization, scheduling, and advanced settings, you'll have to use the web console, which is the same console used to control other D-Link routers including the AC5300 Ultra Wi-Fi Router (DIR-895L/R) and the AC1900 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi Router (DIR-878). It opens to a network map that displays client information and alerts if there are any network issues.
The Settings menu contains a Setup Wizard and tabs for configuring Internet (DHCP and DNS settings), Wireless (SSIS, password, Security Mode, MU-MIMO), Guest Networking, and USB sharing. In the Features menu you can configure QoS, Firewall, Port Forwarding, Website Filtering, and Quick VPN settings. Use the Management screen to view system logs, create access schedules, update the router's firmware, and view network usage reports.
Installation and Performance
The Covr system is fairly easy to install because the router and extender node are pre-paired. I connected the router to my PC and typed 192.168.0.1 in my browser's address bar. This launched the setup wizard which instructed me to place the extender next to the router and plug it in. After 90 seconds I clicked Next and waited 2 or 3 seconds for the extender to be detected. I then connected the router to my cable modem and power cycled the modem. When the wizard reappeared, I named my network and gave it a password. I then placed the extender in my living room and was good to go. It's also just as easy to use the mobile app to install and configure the system.
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The Covr router turned in decent scores on our SU-MIMO throughput tests, but its MU-MIMO scores were better. Its score of 472Mbps on our close proximity (same room) SU-MIMO test came in right behind the Portal router, but lagged the Amped Wireless Ally Plus router. The Linksys Velop router beat them all handily. The Covr router's score of 162Mbps at a distance of 30 feet trailed the pack, with the Linksys Velop taking top honors. The extender node's scores of 225Mbps on the close-proximity test and 155Mbps on the 30-foot test were respectable, but still a tad slower than the Portal node's scores, while the Amped Wireless Ally Plus and Linksys Velop nodes were significantly faster than the Covr node.
We test MU-MIMO performance using three identical Acer Aspire R13 laptops equipped with Qualcomm's QCA61x4A MU-MIMO circuitry. The Covr router garnered 144Mbps on the close-proximity test, beating the Portal router, but not the Amped Wireless Ally Plus or Linksys Velop routers. However, at a distance of 30 feet, its score of 138Mbps led the pack. The Covr extender node's score of 126Mbps at close proximity was the leader of the pack, and its score of 63Mbps at 30 feet was second only to the Portal node.
The D-Link Covr AC3900 Whole Home Wi-Fi System is a good choice for users who require the full power of a traditional router for activities like streaming 4K video and online gaming, but want to bring seamless Wi-Fi access to areas of the house that the router can't reach. It's easy to install and offers solid MU-MIMO throughput performance as well as plenty of management options including robust parental controls and QoS settings. For now, though, you'll have to use the web console to take advantage of them as the mobile app is not ready for primetime. If you're looking for a Wi-Fi system that will fit in with your home décor and is easy to install and manage, check out our Editors' Choice, the Linksys Velop. It's still the most expensive Wi-Fi system we've reviewed ($100 more than the Covr for the same coverage), but it delivers the best overall performance and is loaded with management settings that you can access using your phone.
By John R. Delaney Contributing Editor
As a Contributing Editor for PCMag, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, TVs, PCs, networking and smart home gear, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for almost 20 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine's Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Labs technical staff, as well as evaluating and maintaining the integrity of the Labs testing machines and procedures. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, John spent six years in retail operations for… More »
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