Up to now, the only Wi-Fi 6 desktop wireless routers we’ve seen in our labs have been high-end devices that cost upwards of $300. Enter the D-Link EXO Mesh AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Router DIR-X1560 ($99.99), an entry-level Wi-Fi 6 router for under $100. This dual-band router uses 802.11ax technology to deliver reasonably good throughput performance on the 5GHz band though its 2.4GHz performance is less than stellar. So while this router will get you started with Wi-Fi 6 without breaking the bank, those seeking bleeding edge throughput and higher-end features will probably be better off with a more expensive router, such as the Asus RT-AX88U or the less expensive and Editors’ Choice-winning, D-Link EXO AC3000.
Design and Features
The DIR-X1560 is a smallish router with a traditional desktop router design. Its black enclosure measures 2.0 by 9.9 by 7.6 inches (HWD) and sports four non-removable adjustable antennas and four LED indicators for power, Internet, and both radio bands. You won’t find any multi-gig ports, link aggregation, or USB ports on this model but it is equipped with four gigabit LAN ports, a WAN port, a reset button, a WPS button, and a power button.
The router is powered by a 1.5GHz tri-core CPU, 256 megabytes (MB) of RAM, and 128MB of flash memory. It’s a dual-band AX1500 router capable of throughput speeds of up to 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1200Mbps on the 5GHz band, and it utilizes 802.11ax technology including Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA ),1024 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), Target Wake Time, WPA3 encryption, MU-MIMO data streaming, and beamforming. However, it lacks support for 160MHz channel bandwidth that you get with more expensive Wi-Fi 6 routers, such as the Asus RT-AX88U and the TP-Link Archer AX6000.
You can combine the DIR-X1560 with one of D-Link’s mesh-enabled range extenders to create a network that lets you use a single SSID for seamless roaming, and you can configure the router to choose the best available radio band by enabling SmartConnect. Alexa and Google voice commands allow you to do things like enable and disable guest networking and reboot the router, and you can give specific clients bandwidth priority using D-Link’s Intelligent QoS (Quality of Service) settings. Missing are the robust parental controls with age appropriate presets that come with the TP-Link AX6000: instead you are limited to basic website blocking and access scheduling. Moreover, this router does not offer any malware protection, a feature that is showing up in many of the latest high-end routers.
The DIR-X1560 can be managed using a mobile app, but you’ll get more control using the web console. It opens to a small network map that tells you how many clients are connected and displays details including the IP and MAC addresses, connection type, the subnet mask, and the default gateway. Tap the Settings tab at the top of the screen to and you’ll be able to access screens covering Wireless, Internet, Cloud, and Network settings. The Features tab is where you go to configure more advanced capabilities, like QoS, port forwarding, a firewall, and Quick VPS settings. You can also enable website filters here. The Management tab is used to create access schedules, view system logs and usage statistics, and update the firmware.
Overall, while it’s a little anemic for high-end capabilities, this is a satisfactory set of features and the interface you use to access and configure them is fairly easy to use. While it’s not as feature rich as more expensive and muscled routers, like the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300, it should be enough for most home networks since it lets you configure very basic access controls and protect certain kinds of traffic, like voice over IP (VoIP) phone data, which can be important now that so many people are working from home for the foreseeable future.
Installation and Performance
The DIR-X1560 is easily installed using the D-Link mobile app or via the web console setup wizard. I used the latter. I started by plugging in the router and connecting it to my desktop using the included LAN cable. I typed http://dlinkrouter.local./ into my web browser and followed the wizard’s instructions to connect the router to my modem using the router’s WAN port and configure my internet connection (I chose DHCP). I gave the network an SSID name and password, created an Administrator password, set the time zone, and waited 60 seconds for the settings to take hold. After a 60 second firmware update the installation was complete.
Since the DIR-X1560 is the first budget-priced Wi-Fi 6 router to hit our labs we compared its performance to the D-Link DIR-867, a similarly priced Wi-Fi 5 router, in order to illustrate how it stacks up against older tech. To show how it compares to a more expensive high-end Wi-Fi 6 router we used performance scores from the Asus RT-AX88U.
The DIR-X1560’s throughout performance was mixed. Its score of 80Mbps on the 2.4GHz close proximity (same room) test was 10 megabits per second (Mbps) slower than the 802.11ac based D-Link DIR-867 router and 64Mbps slower than the 802.11ax based Asus RT-AX88U. At a distance of 30 feet the DIR-X1560’s score of 38Mbps was 13Mbps slower than the DIR-867 and 21Mbps slower than the RT-AX88U.
The DIR-X1560 fared better on the 5GHz tests. Its score of 712Mbps at close proximity was 29 percent faster than the DIR-867 but trailed the RT-AX88U by 70Mbps. On the 30 foot test the DIR-X1560’s score of 207Mbps was 26 percent faster than the DIR-867 but not nearly as fast as the RT-AX88U which scored 318Mbps.
Throughput is one excellent way of measuring a router’s performance. But even if a router is capable of passing packets rapidly, that can still be hampered by a weak signal. So to expand on how we test routers, we decided to measure signal strength directly. For this, we use an Ekahau Sidekick Wi-Fi diagnostic device and Ekahau’s Survey mobile app to measure signal strength. The heat maps above and below show the DIR-X1560’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz signal strength throughout our test home. The circle represents the location of the router and the colors represent signal strength according to the scale on the bottom of the screen with dark green being the strongest signal. Gray indicates no signal reception. As illustrated, the router’s 2.4GHz band provides better range than the 5GHz band, which had trouble reaching the far corner of the house (approximately 60 feet away from the router). This is to be expected as 2.4GHz signals use longer waves that can reach farther than 5GHz waves. However, 5GHz waves offer significantly faster throughput speeds, as evidenced by our throughput tests.
Solid Performance at a Budget Price
If you’re looking to set up a Wi-Fi 6 network on the cheap, the D-Link EXO Mesh AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Router (DIR-X1560) will fill the bill. For under $100 you get 802.11ax technology and reasonably good 5GHz throughput, and you can create a mesh network by adding D-Link’s mesh-compatible extenders, though this will bump your cost over the magic $100 mark. If that kind of budget is important to you, check out our budget router roundup for more alternatives.
That said, the router’s 2.4GHz performance was not up to par, and it’s short on features. If performance and features are key, consider a more expensive router such as the Asus RT-AX88U. It supports 160MHz bandwidth, is equipped with 8 LAN ports, and offers robust anti-malware, parental control, and QoS software. It’s also one of our top performing Wi-Fi 6 routers.
Editors’ Note: Ekahau is owned by j2 Global, the parent company of Ziff Davis, the publisher of PCMag.com.
D-Link EXO Mesh AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Router (DIR-X1560) Specs
|Wireless Networking Security||WPS, WPA3, WPA2|
|Number of USB ports||0|
|Product Wireless Parental Controls||No|
|Number of Antennas||4|
|Number of Bands||2|
|Quality of Service||Yes|
|VPN Client Pre-Installed||Yes|