WiFi routers are something most of us take for granted. We get a “free” router with our broadband package, and usually don’t give it another thought. But that’s a mistake – since a good router can improve the way you use broadband and WiFi at home immensely.
Which is where D-Link’s EXO AC2600 (DIR-2660) router comes in. It gives you a better WiFi range than anything you would get from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), more stable streaming TV capabilities, more control over your network, and bonus protection in the form of the McAfee Secure Home Platform.
But is it worth spending the extra money? After using and testing the device for several weeks, in this review I’ll take a look at what the EXO AC2600 can do, how it’s better than your ISP’s router for its price, and what it’s missing.
Quick Look – D-Link EXO AC2600 Router
What is it: A “Smart Mesh” dual-band WiFi 5 router that offers excellent range and a simple setup. It doesn’t have a modem, so it needs to connect alongside your ISP’s hub.
- AC2600 Wave 2: With combined theoretical speeds of up to 2533 Mbps
- Can easily handle 20+ connected WiFi devices
- Easy to add and control a guest WiFi account
- Comes with free McAfee protection software built-in
- Robust parental controls
- WiFi range won’t be enough for bigger houses
- Not a WiFi 6 router
- Not cheap
Features and Specs
- WiFi Bands: 2.4GHz (Up to 800 Mbps), 5GHz (Up to 1,733 Mbps)
- WiFi Standards: Up to 802.11ac, Wave 2
- Ports: 1 Gigabit WAN, 4 Gigabit LAN, USB 3, USB 2
- Security: WPA2 / WPS
- Size: 222.92 x 176.58 x 65.00 mm
- Extra Features: McAfee Secure Home (5 years) and McAfee LiveSafe (2 years) included, voice control with Alexa / Google Assistant
Excellent WiFi router that will improve WiFi reception around your home, without the need for extra range extenders. It’s easy to configure, and the inclusion of McAffee’s security software makes it an even better deal. Bigger (or more complex) houses, however, will need a more powerful solution.
Table of Contents
Who Needs A Stand-Alone Router?
When you subscribe to broadband, you get a “hub” from your service provider. In most cases, that hub has two functions – it serves as a modem, which is the part that brings the internet to your house via the ISP’s wires, and also as a WiFi router, which spreads the WiFi signal around your house.
These hubs differ in quality, and for some people – they will work just fine. If you live in a small flat, if you don’t have a lot of devices (more than 10, let’s say) connected to the internet, if everything is currently working OK – then you might not need to spend the extra money.
However – when things get a bit more complex, your ISP’s modem/router will start showing its limitations:
A bigger house / Thick walls: If your house is divided across two or more stories, and/or you have particularly thick walls, then you might find that your ISP’s router can’t send the WiFi signal far enough – and you’re having trouble connecting to the internet the further you get from the router.
You might not be able to connect at all, or you might suffer from constant disconnections. Or maybe you will still be connected to WiFi, but the speeds will slow down to a crawl, and your Netflix watching will feel like a long, painful buffering session.
More than 10 connected devices: Up until a few years ago, most of us had just two or three connected devices at home – a laptop maybe, two mobile phones, and that’s about it.
But now, almost every electrical device in your house wants to drink the broadband juice. From phones to tablets and computers, to streaming devices and Smart TVs, voice assistants like Alexa, smart lamps, smart electrical plugs and even your doorbell. The list goes on and on…
And the more WiFi-connected devices you have, the more your router is going to struggle – after all, it has to keep dividing the data between all those devices.
Which is where a stand-alone router like the EXO AC2600 comes in: it does a better job of spreading the WiFi signal around your house (yes, you can also buy WiFi range extenders or Powerline Adapters, but with a good router, you might not have to), to a large number of devices.
And it comes with a bunch of additional security features and control options, which we will go over now.
D-Link EXO 2600 (DIR 2660) Specs & Features
D-Link is a well-known Taiwanese company that’s been manufacturing networking equipment for years.
The EXO 2600 is one of their top-tier routers, but there’s one important thing to remember – it’s a router, and NOT a modem.
There are devices out there that serve both as a modem AND a router, skipping your ISP’s hub entirely.
But with this device, you still have to keep your ISP’s hub – and switch it to MODEM-ONLY mode (check with your ISP for how to do that). Then, you connect the EXO AC2600 to the hub, and it serves as your new WiFi router.
Here are some of the main EXO AC2600 features:
WiFi 5, AC2600 And Dual Bands
Most modern routers will have an AC (that’s the 802.11ac standard) and a number next to them. That number represents that maximum theoretical speed that the router can support, so 2600Mbps in this case.
Keep in mind, that number is very theoretical. The actual speeds depend on the number of devices you’re using, the signal quality in your house, and the signal bands you use.
The EXO AC2600 supports two bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
The common band, 2.4GHz gives a wider range, but is slower – on the EXO AC2600, it supports speeds of up to 800 Mbps.
The 5GHz frequency is faster – but has a more limited range. On the EXO AC2600 it supports speeds of up to 1,733 Mbps.
When you combine these two together, you get the 2600 number – but remember, your devices are connected to EITHER the 5GHz or 2.4GHz (though you can easily switch between them).
Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a WiFi 5 router. There’s a newer, faster WiFi 6 standard – but most devices (including most mobile phones) don’t support it YET – so at this point, spending the extra money for WiFi 6 might be premature.
Traditional WiFi Mesh systems consist of two – and often three (or more!) “special” WiFi range extenders, that create a big net – or, a mesh – around your house.
With Mesh extenders (or “nodes”), you can use each device as part of a WiFi relay-network. So let’s say the first device sits near the second floor (but close enough to the router on the first floor), and that one “throws” the WiFi signal further away, for the SECOND mesh device – that sits near the third floor – to catch.
The EXO-2600 is Mesh-ready, which means it already creates a Mesh network, so if the router’s own WiFi range still isn’t enough for you, you can buy a compatible mesh WiFi extender which will be able to “talk” with this router.
Unfortunately, D-Link’s own Mesh extender, the DAP-1620 is currently hard to find – but hopefully that’s a temporary shortage.
Connecting And Setting Up The EXO 2600
Setting up new routers used to be a real hassle – but thankfully, that is not the case anymore, and the EXO 2600 was fairly easy to install (not your-grandfather-can-do-it easy, mind you – but not too far either).
You start by installing D-Link’s WiFi app, which then guides you through the steps. You need to place the router close to your existing broadband hub, and then connect the two to each other. At that point, you need to switch your ISP’s hub to “Modem only” mode, because you really don’t want to have TWO WiFi networks.
Once everything is ready, you plug the EXO 2660 to the power outlet, and then use the app to setup your WiFi network. You’ll need to use the router’s factory-set password at first, but the box even comes with a QR code you can scan (via the app), which will automatically set the initial network up for you.
Then, if you already had an existing WiFi network, you can reuse the same credentials (network name and password) from before, so you won’t even need to change anything in all your existing WiFi-connected devices.
And that’s about it. Assuming everything worked correctly – you now have a “new” WiFi network around the house. You can then also set up a “guest” WiFi network, which is useful in case you don’t want to give guests your “regular” password, so you get them to logon to the separate guest network, which has its own password.
All in all, I was surprised at how easy it all was, especially with the app telling you what to do in each step. And the good news it that even if you have to help a relative with the initial setup – they won’t really have to touch it again in the future.
Using The EXO 2600: Performance And Speeds
The two most important factors for a router, after you set it up, are WiFi speed and range.
For this review, I did a comparison between the EXO 2600 (DIR 2660) and Virgin Media’s “Hub 3”, which is a decent hub with its own pros and cons.
(The EXO 2600 comes with a built-in speedtest feature, but it only checks the speed between the router and the modem – which isn’t very useful).
WiFi Range And Speed Results
I tested in a two-story house, where the Hub 3 usually gives OK – but not excellent – results.
With the HUB 3, the range and speeds were very good in some areas, but dreadful in some spots (like the bathroom or the far side of the bedroom). So while WiFi connectivity was there, speeds would grind down to a halt in those problematic areas.
My broadband speed is 200Mbps, and indeed, when standing next to Virgin Media’s hub, my devices reached that without a hitch. But once I started moving around the house, well… This was the broadband speed in the bathroom:
Not impressive for the Hub 3. And since we focus on streaming TV here, I also tend to use Netflix’ “Fast” speed testing website. Well, these were the results on a laptop in the bedroom, which is a floor above VM’s hub:
Now let’s have a look at the results from the D-Link EXO 2600. There’s one thing to note, first: both the Hub 3 and the EXO 2600 support dual bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz, where 2.4 has a better range but slower speeds, and the 5 has better speeds but a lower range.
With the Hub 3, it was often impossible to connect to the 5GHz band on the second floor – so I often had to use the 2.4GHz band, which gives slower speeds. That being said, on some of your devices, you might have to manually tell them to switch to the 5GHz band, once you connect your new router – for better speeds. (It SHOULD be automatic, but – you know, technology and should don’t always go together).
So, this is the speedtest results from that same bathroom, with the EXO 2600 connected:
As you can see, due to the better range, the speed almost doubled – 55.9Mbps with the Virgin Media Hub 3, VS 97.2Mbps with the EXO 2600.
While still far from my top speed (200Mbps), it’s definitely an improvement. But the results were even more impressive with the Fast.com test on the laptop in the bedroom.
These were the EXO 2600 Results:
So 81Mbps on the Hub 3, VS 180Mbps on the EXO 2600. Getting almost the top speed in a room with a closed door, on a different floor from the router, without using any WiFi range extenders is definitely impressive.
In real-life usage, things were consistently good as well. Streaming a Netflix video on my phone was easy to do, in Full HD, everywhere in the house – with no – or very minimal – buffering.
I also tested the speeds on the Amazon Fire TV 4K Stick, using Amazon’s Silk browser and Netflix’ Fast.com site. The stick is pretty close (around 2 meters) to the Hub and the router – so speeds should have been excellent either way.
Well, on the Hub 3, the speed was 120Mbps. On the EXO 2600, the speed was 160Mbps.
So yes, even when streaming video, the EXO 2600 gave better results – which can help minimize buffering when you’re watching.
WiFi Connection Issues
My other issue with the Virgin Media Hub 3 has been connection dropouts (and I hear from friends and colleagues on other networks, that this is a common problem with other hubs as well).
Occasionally, my broadband would just stop working on some WiFi-connected devices (mostly phones and laptops). The device would still be connected to the WiFi network – but there would be no internet.
A reboot of the Hub 3 would usually fix things – but that’s an annoying, time-consuming effort.
Well, once I moved to the D-Link EXO 2600, those connection issues disappeared. After more than two weeks of using the new router – I haven’t had A SINGLE connection drop-out, which is quite impressive.
McAffee’s Protection Software
McAffee’s software is one of the selling points of this particular router. You get:
- A 5-year subscription to the McAfee Secure Home Platform, which protects every internet-connected device, and adds parental controls.
- A 2-year subscription to McAfee LiveSafe, which is McAfee’s antivirus software – with this licence, you can install it on every device you own.
The Secure Home Platform component isn’t available on its own, and only comes with select routers such as this one.
To use it, you need to download yet another app (“D-Link Defend”), which then scans for all the devices connected to your WiFi network, and activates a firewall of sorts.
It’s a nifty addition, and while personally I would prefer to choose my own firewall and antivirus software, this is a useful set-it-and-forget-it solution.
The most useful part of the Secure Home Platform is the Parental Controls section. You set up profiles for your children, and can then control their internet usage on every separate device that’s connected to your WiFi network.
So, for example, you can set it up so that their laptop is cut-off from the internet after 21:00. Or only activate the gaming console’s internet connection for two hours a day – the options are pretty granular.
The parental controls section also comes with web filtering – so you can prevent your children from browsing specific topics on their devices, such as Gambling, Social Networking, and even a category called “School Cheating”.
In my tests, these controls worked effortlessly. But to be fair, the reviews for the Android version of the Defent app are somewhat mediocre, meaning some users had technical issues with it – so your mileage may vary.
Also, always keep in mind that these types of protections are fairly easy to circumvent, if your kid is old enough and knows what he’s doing – so this is mostly useful for younger children, or those that aren’t particularly looking to bypass your restrictions.
McAfee LiveSafe‘s, the second included “bonus”, is a full featured antivirus software which protects computers as well as mobiles and tablets.
While the Secure Home Platform protects the data passing through your home, LiveSafe protects the devices themselves – from installing malicious software, for example, or clicking suspicious links.
The included licence lets you install the software on an unlimited number of devices, for two years. It generally gets good reviews, and it currently costs around £50 (for two years), so getting it as part of the package is a great value.
The Bottom Line: Is The EXO 2600 Worth It?
The first thing you have to decide, is whether you even need an external router. If you want better WiFi range, better speeds, and your ISP’s router is causing problems – then the answer is probably yes.
And then, the D-Link EXO 2600 (DIR 2660) is an excellent choice – for the price, and for mid-sized homes.
The range of routers and prices is quite large, and it won’t be fair to compare this router to a £400 WiFi 6 router.
But it presents excellent value-for-money, it increases your WiFi range beyond what most ISP routers offer (up to a point), and you also get the McAfee protection software, which is quite good.
So as a mid-range WiFi router, this one currently tops our list.
Note: The D-Link router was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.