With 802.11n Draft 2.0 routers becoming as common as Storm Troopers at Comic-Con, manufacturers need a feature that sets their product apart from the crowd. Like many of its competitors, Belkin added a second radio to its N+ Wireless Router—but this one is used for a very different purpose.
Rather than operating on a separate frequency (to separate audio and video streams from more mundane data), the second 2.4GHz radio on Belkin’s router establishes a guest network that limits clients to Internet access. Belkin’s web interface provides extremely limited access to this second radio’s settings: You can turn this radio on or off, change its SSID and passphrase, and choose between WPA/WPA2 pre-shared key or “Hotel Style” security.
Belkin's engineers limited the N+ to two antennas. Might that explain the router's poor wireless performance?
If the router is operating “Hotel Style,” any guests connecting to the router are greeted by a landing page that informs them they must contact the network administrator to obtain the passphrase in order to gain access to the Internet. In either mode, once they’ve entered the correct phrase, they can surf the web freely while your private network remains off-limits. This feature would be even cooler if you could customize the landing page and upload it to the router’s firmware.
The N+ is equipped with a USB port, but it’s limited to playing host to a FAT, FAT32, or NTFS mass storage device—adding NAS to the router’s repertoire. But we’d be a lot more excited about this feature if it also allowed us to share a USB printer over the network. We’re equally unenthused by the router’s Broadband Download Speedometer, a set of blue LEDs that has appropriated the front-panel real estate typically used to inform you of the status of the ports on the integrated four-port gigabit switch. Where most routers have LEDs that inform you of the speed at which each port is operating—amber for 100Mb/s and green for 1Gb/s, for instance—the N+ provides a graphic representation of your Internet connection’s download speed. Considering that we can obtain our Internet connection speed using any number of websites—in actual numbers—Belkin’s idiot lights just aren’t very useful.
Far more useful is the N+’s support for 802.11e Wi-Fi Multimedia Quality of Service, which assigns VoIP and media traffic higher priority than other types of packets traveling across the network. We also appreciate the fact that we can turn its routing function off and use it solely as a wireless access point and switch. In fact, that’s the role we’ve relegated the N+ to at Maximum PC Lab North, because it’s dead slow as a wireless router.
We tested the N+ with Belkin’s chubby F5D8055 USB Wi-Fi adapter (the 3.13 x 1.13-inch device blocked an adjacent USB port on our notebook) and achieved TCP/IP throughput of a none-too-impressive 54.1Mb/s in our kitchen test (20 feet from the router with an insulated wall and a set of cabinets in between). As you can see from our benchmarks, however, the Belkin performed much better at range than the comparably priced Linksys WRT310N, which has fewer features.
Belkin N+ Wireless Router (Model F5D8235-4)
Guest network feature; USB port; gigabit switch; QoS mode.
Slow wireless throughput; USB port limited to storage.
Kitchen, 20 feet (Mb/s)
Bedroom, 60 feet (Mb/s)
Media Room, 35 feet (Mb/s)
Enclosed Patio, 38 feet (Mb/s)
Outdoors A, 90 feet (Mb/s)
Outdoors B, 85 feet (Mb/s)
Best scores are bolded. Our test bed consists of a Core i7-965 Extreme Edition CPU, 6GB of Corsair DDR3/1600, an EVGA GeForce 280 GTX videocard, a PC Power and Cooling TurboCool 1200 power supply, a WD Raptor 150GB drive, and Vista Home Premium 64-bit. HD Tach scores were achieved using an Intel X25-M SSD.