How can something so hip also be disappointing? Belkin's N1 Vision Wireless Router has style, a slick user interface, a gigabit ethernet switch, and innovative features never seen before in a consumer Wi-Fi router - features such as an LCD status screen and a browserless security setup.

It is also 802.11n Draft 2.0-certified (thus promising interoperability with other Draft-N devices), it has the best setup process we've ever seen in a Wi-Fi router, and Belkin N1 Vision's range is superb.

However, while the features are cool (and some are quite useful), mediocre performance and a sky-high price tag spoil the picture. For more than £100 we expect a top-performing router, but the Belkin N1 Vision was only as fast as non-gigabit 802.11n routers costing half as much.

That flashy LCD status screen is the Belkin N1 Vision's raison d'etre. At 1.5x2.75in, you can't read it from across the room, but it's still useful. You can set the screen to show one of seven different informational displays, such as connection status/SSID/number of devices connected, current and maximum upload/download speeds, current connection speeds for each computer, internet usage for each computer for the past 24 hours, and a date/time screen. While these displays are fun to explore at first, after a day or two they lose their novelty.

Of more lasting utility is the ability to set up security via the LCD, especially for guest users. The Belkin N1 Vision lets you set up a guest Wi-Fi net with a separate password that's isolated from your private network, so that guests can't access your computers, servers or printers. And you can view and change security settings on the LCD, allowing a guest to have access right from the router without delving into the web setup utility.

Also, if you have devices with Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) enabled, the Belkin N1 Vision offers push-button setup so you don't have to know or enter long passwords. You first touch the WPS setup option on the LCD screen, and then the same button on your computer or other WPS-enabled device within two minutes, and you will be connected automatically. It's sort of like unlocking the door for two minutes to allow someone in.

NEXT PAGE: performance results and verdict > >

Performance-wise, the Belkin N1 Vision scored 31 megabits per second (mbps) on our midrange throughput tests, similar to the much-lower-priced Netgear RangeMax and Buffalo Nfiniti routers we tested earlier this year. Those routers were limited by their non-gigabit wired sides, but the Belkin is not, so we expected more.

We suspect performance might have been better if we could have set it to 802.11n-only mode, as on most other routers, but Belkin told us that the Atheros driver it uses does not allow this (although an update should be coming to enable the option). Running the Belkin N1 Vision in mixed b/g/n mode takes a significant toll on Wi-Fi performance.

The redeeming feature was range, which the Belkin N1 Vision, when paired with a matching PC Card, excelled at. The N1 card found an astonishing 23 different networks, including at least eight we'd never seen before with any other vendor's card. And we could connect with at least 3 or 4 bars of signal strength (out of 5) everywhere in the house, also a first.

Belkin N1 Vision: Specs

  • Browser Based Management
  • Up to 300 Mbps in 20/40MHz Channel Mode
  • Maximum Users: 253 (LAN), 16 (WLAN)
  • LCD: Connected Devices, Download/Upload Speedometer, Guest Access Network, Network Display, Usage
  • Plug and Play Setup
  • Ports: WAN-- 1 Gigabit Port LAN-- 4 Gigabit Ports
  • Up to 1,600ft
  • Wi-Fi Protected Setup
  • WPA, WPA2-Personal, 64-bit/128-bit encryption, Multiple SSID
  • IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n draft*, IEEE 802.3ab
  • VPN Support: IPSec pass-through, PPTP
  • Browser Based Management
  • Up to 300 Mbps in 20/40MHz Channel Mode
  • Maximum Users: 253 (LAN), 16 (WLAN)
  • LCD: Connected Devices, Download/Upload Speedometer, Guest Access Network, Network Display, Usage
  • Plug and Play Setup
  • Ports: WAN-- 1 Gigabit Port LAN-- 4 Gigabit Ports
  • Up to 1,600ft
  • Wi-Fi Protected Setup
  • WPA, WPA2-Personal, 64-bit/128-bit encryption, Multiple SSID
  • IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n draft*, IEEE 802.3ab
  • VPN Support: IPSec pass-through, PPTP

OUR VERDICT

With a firmware update to support 802.11n-only mode and better throughput, along with a modest price cut, the Belkin N1 Vision would be almost 20-20.

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