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D-Link R32 Eagle Pro AI review: A cheap and unfussy Wi-Fi 6 router, let down by limited range

Our Rating :
£162.29 from
Price when reviewed : 162
inc VAT

It does the job and has some decent software features, but the R32’s wireless performance is disappointing for the price

Pros

  • Fast Wi-Fi over short distances
  • Strong MU-MIMO capabilities
  • Built-in firewall and VPN server

Cons

  • Poor multiroom coverage
  • Pricier than its peers

We had a certain fondness for D-Link’s R15 Eagle Pro AI router. Despite being basic, it was more than speedy enough for Chrome and Netflix, and could be found online for less than £70. Now it’s been replaced by the R32 – a very similar router, but with faster radio hardware and a higher price.

Unfortunately, we weren’t bowled over by the R32’s performance in our tests. While it can deliver fast Wi-Fi over a short radius, we found it struggled to provide decent coverage throughout a whole house.

The R32 could still work for smaller networks, and it comes with some decent software features. However, there are attractive alternatives out there at lower prices – or you could spend a little extra and get a far more impressive router.


D-Link R32 Eagle Pro AI router review: What you need to know

The R32 is a simple Wi-Fi 6 router. You can also use it with Wi-Fi 5 devices, or indeed newer clients that support Wi-Fi 6E or 7, although these will only get regular Wi-Fi 6 levels of performance.

Like all Wi-Fi 6 routers, the R32 operates on two radio bands. Connections on the 2.4GHz band can go up to a maximum of 800Mbits/sec, while the 5GHz band promises speeds of up to 2.4Gbits/sec. On paper that’s twice what the old R15 could handle, but it’s achieved by using 4×4 MIMO over an 80MHz channel, so any device that only supports 2×2 MIMO (such as almost all laptops and phones) will only be able to connect at half the quoted top speed. Still, that’s largely academic, as real-world speeds never come close to such theoretical maximums anyway.

The R32 also has four gigabit LAN ports at the rear, and can be used in router, extender or bridge mode – so if you’re happy with your current network setup, you can configure it as a wireless access point for an existing router.

READ NEXT: The best Wi-Fi 6 routers


D-Link R32 Eagle Pro AI router review: Price and competition

At £162 the R32 is pretty affordable, but if you’re looking for the cheapest Wi-Fi 6 router around you can do better. The TP-Link Archer AX53 costs £70, while the slightly nippier Linksys MR7350 can be had for £95. Both models are a few years old, but they’re still supported and will work fine for everyday internet duties. Indeed, as we’ll see below, the Linksys in particular offers better overall performance than the R32.

For something a bit newer and more upmarket, the Asus RT-AX59U is an appealing alternative. Currently selling for £113, it’s again faster than the R32, and benefits from a tremendous set of software features, including security, VPN and personal cloud functions you wouldn’t expect to get at this price.

Gamers should also take a look at the Asus TUF Gaming AX5400. At £219 it’s in a slightly higher price bracket, but it offers great Wi-Fi 6 performance, plus custom features designed to ensure a smooth gaming experience.

If coverage is your concern, note too that the Mercusys Halo H80X mesh is available in a two-unit pack for just £95. This compact system can’t match the top speeds of the R32 and its ilk, but it provides much more consistent levels of performance in hard-to-reach areas.


D-Link R32 Eagle Pro AI router review: Design and features

The D-Link R32 looks almost identical to the old R15: it’s a clean wedge design, in shiny white plastic with a light blue base. A pattern of vents on the top provides both visual interest and airflow for the internals. The case extends to a maximum width of 228mm, not including the four external aerials, and a depth of 159mm – so it’s not tiny, but it won’t dominate your desk or shelf. Slots on the base give you the option of mounting it on the wall, too.

There’s not much to look at or interact with. Four LEDs on the front glow white to show that the power, internet connection and two radio bands are active, or orange if there’s a problem. At the rear there’s a reset hole, a WPS button and five gigabit Ethernet ports – one for the WAN and four for your own devices. That’s a minor upgrade from the R15, which had only three LAN sockets.

As for the software, whether you use the web interface or the Eagle Pro AI mobile app, the experience is almost as clean and simple as the casing. There are a few noteworthy features on offer, though; for example, you can enforce secure DNS from either Google or Cloudflare to protect you from exploits, and enable a configurable firewall to block intruders. For your own secure access, there’s a built-in L2TP VPN server, with dynamic IP via from no-ip.com or dyndns.com.

You can also manually set priority levels for your connected clients, and enforce time limits and schedules for kids’ devices. The website filter isn’t much use, though, as it only lets you manually block up to 24 specific URLs.

To extend the wireless range of the R32, a built-in mesh feature lets you pair it with another D-Link router or extender – and as we’ll see below, that might be necessary for some homes. Remember, though, that shuttling wireless data between the router and a remote access point will reduce the bandwidth available for your own traffic.

There’s just one real disappointment. As with the R15, the “AI” function merely means that the router will automatically tune itself from time to time, to pick the best Wi-Fi channel and beamforming settings. That’s not a bad feature, but it hardly justifies calling this an AI router.

READ NEXT: The best wireless router


D-Link R32 Eagle Pro AI router review: Performance

To measure the R32 Eagle Pro AI’s Wi-Fi performance I put the router through our standard test procedure. I set it up in the study of my own home (with the latest firmware installed), connected my internet line to the WAN port and plugged an Asustor Drivestor AS3304T NAS appliance into one of the LAN sockets.

I then connected my test laptop – equipped with an Intel AX210 2×2 Wi-Fi 6E card – to the R32’s 5GHz network, carted the former around to five different rooms in my home, copied a standard set of 100MB test files to and from the NAS, and measured the average upload and download speeds.

Here’s what I saw, along with results from the other routers mentioned above for comparison:

Initially I was impressed by the R32. In the study and the adjoining living room its performance was very good, easily outpacing the cheaper TP-Link and Linksys systems. Even better, since the router’s 4×4 MIMO capability supports multi-user access, that performance should hold up even when two devices are accessing the router at once.

Unfortunately, as I moved further away, performance plummeted. In the kitchen and bedroom, with two walls between the router and the laptop, download speeds were well below average.

To be fair, the data rates I observed were still fine for everyday web browsing and online meetings. But at the back of the house it’s questionable whether even that would be viable, as here the R32’s dismal average speeds – 5.5MB/sec downstream and just 3MB/sec upstream – represent an unstable, intermittent connection. 

I’m not saying I make a lot of video calls from the bathroom, but if I ever need to, this isn’t the router I want to be relying on.

Power consumption isn’t much to write home about, either. I measured a draw of around 10W from the mains when the R32 was sitting idle, and a maximum of 12.5W during my tests.


D-Link R32 Eagle Pro AI router review: Should you buy it?

As a fan of the R15, I was ready to like the R32 – but at its current price I just can’t. Its overall performance and range might be acceptable for some environments, but they’re hard to swallow when faster alternatives cost less.

Moreover, while the R32’s software is pretty decent, anyone looking for features, flexibility or gaming specialisms should pay a little extra for an Asus model.

The R32 Eagle Pro AI thus ends up overshadowed by rivals on all sides, but it might not be a hopeless case. If the price eventually falls to the same sub-£70 mark as its predecessor then it could make a decent budget Wi-Fi solution for smaller homes.

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