At A Glance
Max's Wolf Suit
Impressive TCP throughput at long range; USB ports for both printer and storage; BitTorrent client.
Glacially slow USB port; bundled software runs on client PCs, not the router.
Don't you just hate idiot lights?
Could any component in a router’s BOM (bill of materials) cost less than an LED? Don’t think so. So why the heck did Belkin design its Play Max wireless router to use a single LED to inform you of its operating status?
Granted, the Play Max’s street price is $20 to $30 cheaper than many other concurrent dual-band wireless routers, and there might even be a lot of folks who don’t pay much attention to details like the status of their router’s ports or whether or not both of the router’s radios are operating. We do though, and a single LED that glows green when the router has an Internet connection and amber if something is amiss doesn’t cut it.
As much as we appreciate having a DLNA-compatible media server, we’d prefer one that runs on the router versus one that ties up one of the router’s clients.
OK, enough kvetching. The Play Max is equipped with two wireless radios capable of operating on the 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz frequency bands simultaneously. It supports a virtual guest network on the 2.4GHz band, and it has an integrated four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch. That description fits a number of routers from the likes of Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, and Trendnet these days.
Two and a half things do set Belkin’s offering apart from the competition: First, the Play Max is outfitted with two USB ports and so is capable of functioning as both a USB printer server and a USB NAS controller. Most routers have a single USB port and force you to choose one application or the other. Second, Belkin includes a suite of software applications that run on the client PC. The half is a BitTorrent client named Torrent Genie that enables the router to finish downloading a Torrent to a USB storage device attached to the router after the client PC is turned off.
That, along with Memory Safe, a client PC backup program; Music Mover, a DLNA media server; Music Labeler, an IP3 tagger; and Daily DJ, an app that analyzes your music library and automatically generates play-lists according to your mood are moderately useful. None of them rate high on the wow scale, though, and superior cheap and free alternatives abound; but their EULAs do allow installation on multiple machines.
The Play Max’s wireless routing performance is a mixed bag: The router’s 2.4GHz radio trailed our Best of the Best pick, Netgear’s WNDR3700, by a wide margin in every location except outdoors. In that test, the Belkin surprised us by delivering twice the TCP throughput of the Netgear product. We had a similar experience with the 5.0GHz band: The Play Max was significantly slower nearly everywhere except outdoors. In this case, our client couldn’t connect to the WNDR3700 at all, while the Belkin’s 5.0GHz radio delivered even faster TCP throughput than that of its 2.4GHz radio.
A USB hard drive attached to a router is a poor substitute for a genuine NAS box; attaching one to the Play Max is probably a mistake unless you’re using it exclusively for media streaming. The router required a staggering 37 minutes, 39 seconds to write a single large file (2.79GB) to an attached 500GB Verbatim CLON drive. The Netgear WNDR3700, by comparison, accomplished the same task in just 11 minutes, 55 seconds. And where the Netgear was able to write our 647MB collection of small files to the attached drive in 5 minutes, 15 seconds, the Play Max required 12 minutes, 47 seconds.
Backing up a client PC to a USB drive attached to the Play Max could devolve into a major time sink, but we do appreciate being able to attach both storage and a printer. And the Play Max’s TCP throughput at range is very impressive.