Belkin has given its N600 DB Wireless N+ Router (F9K1102v1) a new look that's glossy and perhaps a little more suited to lounge rooms than the PlayMax models before it. It has a slim profile that flares towards the rear and it doesn't have an overabundance of bright LEDs — just one main blue LED indicator. It's a wireless router that offers simultaneous dual-band operation, good range and hard drive sharing features for a very reasonable price, but it does have some downsides. Mainly, it has a slow Web interface and its wireless transfer speeds didn't hit all the speed marks we were expecting. One thing we can say though: it was reliable.
We used this router for two weeks in our test environment and it proved to be a reliable performer. It didn't unexpectedly restart and our iiNet Internet connection never dropped out. As the N600 DB Wireless N+ doesn't have a built-in modem, we connected the little Billion BiPAC 5200S RD ADSL2+ modem for our tests. It was a match-up that worked well for us and setting it all up was easy.
Installation and ease of use
You can set up this Belkin either by attaching it to you computer with an Ethernet cable (the router has a 100Mbps switch), or by connecting to it wirelessly. You don't have to worry about the router being exposed to intruders when you first switch it on because it comes with a pre-configured SSID (wireless network name) and has WPA/WPA2 password encryption enabled. These details are printed on a card that's supplied with the router and they make the set up procedure a breeze if you're a laptop user.
If you've never set up a wireless router before, you can use the supplied installation CD-ROM to get started. This has a wizard that shows you all the physical connections that need to be made, and it then asks you to enter the wireless network credentials from the printed card. Assuming you've made all the correct physical connections, it then asks you to enter your ISP username and password and connects you to the Internet. This process takes a few minutes (which felt like eternity to this reviewer) but the reason for the long wait is that Belkin installs management software for the router on your computer in the background. It's called Belkin Router Monitor.
Once the set up has completed, you can use Belkin Router Monitor to log in to the router's Web interface and perform advanced functions (such as port forwarding) or to personalise the SSID and password encryption. The Web interface itself has the same layout as previous Belkin routers we've tested, including the PlayMax F7D4401au. (Incidentally, we'll take the time here to mention that since Belkin released an updated firmware for the F7D4401au, it has addressed the reliability issues we saw in our initial review. We have been using it non-stop for weeks and it has been fast and reliable.) However, the N600's is a slow interface in which a change to almost any setting (including the SSID and password) can take at least 40sec to be implemented. Furthermore, the SSID and security settings are not on the same page, which is inconvenient. You can change the 2.4GHz and 5GHz settings from the same page though.
In our speed tests, the Belkin N600 wasn't overly impressive. In our 2m tests, the router recorded a file transfer rate of 6.97 megabytes per second (MBps) using the 2.4GHz network and 7.07MBps using the 5GHz network. We expected results closer to 9MBps considering what Netgear's N600 (no relation to the Belkin) and Linksys' E3000 recorded from that distance. The Belkin's performance was reliable though. From 10m away, it recorded similar results to the 2m tests: 6.65MBps using the 2.4GHz network and 6.04MBps using the 5GHz network. These are still slower results than we were expecting but we were nevertheless able to use either of these networks for effective video streaming.
In our test environment, we were able to stream high-definition video smoothly up to 15m away using the 5GHz network. The 2.4GHz network also proved to be effective at video streaming from this distance, although it wasn't as reliable as the 5GHz network. We tested in an environment surrounded by many other 2.4GHz networks. A usable signal for Web browsing was achieved up to around 37m away, which is similar to what we have been able to accomplish with other routers. These results will vary depending on your own environment, but compared to other routers we have seen, the Belkin puts up a decent showing as far as distance is concerned.
The Belkin N600 has a built-in powered USB port that can be used to share an external hard drive across your network. This drive can be accessed simply by browsing your network and it will appear just like any other network drive. It's not as extensive as the ReadySHARE feature in the Netgear N600, and there are no management features for the USB port in the Web interface (only in Belkin's Router Monitor software).
You can copy files to and from an attached disk, it can be accessed simultaneously by multiple users and its performance is good enough to allow high-definition video files to stream off it. Devices on your network that support DLNA will be able to see the drive and stream any media files that are on it. If you use Belkin's Router Monitor software, you can also schedule back ups to be performed to your attached USB disk.
For what you pay (without having to shop around for a deal), the Belkin N600 is quite good value, but we can't help but feel that it should have a Gigabit Ethernet switch; after all, the Linksys E3000 can be purchased for around the same price or lower if you shop around and that model includes Gigabit. We also wish the Belkin performed faster in our wireless transfer tests, and that its Web interface was quicker. Nevertheless, we are very pleased with its reliability during our two-week test period and its simultaneous dual-band operation worked well. Parents might be interested in knowing that it also includes a URL keyword filter.