The Belkin N750 DB promises improved coverage through its upgraded antenna system. Another thing that caught our attention: Belkin's claim that the N750 uses "MultiBeam" technology to provide greater throughput at greater distances.
Make mine MultiBeam
While the world waits for the new 802.11ac or 802.11ad wireless standards, router manufacturers continue to add innovations to existing technology.
MultiBeam is a refinement of the MIMO technology that's a key part of the 802.11n specification. MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) specifies multiple antennas for a given router (the N750 has five) so multiple streams can be sent and received simultaneously.
A MIMO system collects incoming signals and compares them to see which, if any, of the data streams are fractured because of collisions with objects blocking their path (duct work, metal lathe, appliances).
MIMO merges those signals, using the good parts from each, to assemble a complete data stream – assuming that the same fragments in each stream won't be mangled by obstructions. It works quite well and typically prevents retries that would slow things down.
According to a Belkin press release, traditional MIMO routers tend to provide "a donut-shaped coverage pattern – flat and wide”.
The new Belkin routers, on the other hand, use their internal MultiBeam antennas to "provide improved coverage in all directions – more of an apple shape”. In other words, the new antennas can cover more space, including multi-storey homes.
Belkin uses a technology in the Belkin N750 DB described as "implicit beam forming”, which tends to focus the signal toward wireless network devices rather than in an omnidirectional pattern that scatters the signal in all directions.
In addition, the Belkin N750 DB (as well as its single-band sibling, the N450) transmits data on three streams simultaneously rather than the two streams that are typical for many 11n wireless routers. Belkin claims it offers 50% better throughput, but we've yet to see that type of improvement in any product.
Belkin N750 DB: Installation
The Belkin N750 DB doesn't connect to the internet until after you've run Belkin's software on your Windows (XP or later) or Mac (OS X 10.5 or later) computer.
Pop in the supplied CD with the Belkin management service; it will run you through the required steps. The most difficult part is entering the network name (SSID) and the password (which Belkin supplies on a card that you can store in the base of the router).
You can, of course, change the default values from within the management program if you want to. Belkin does not use the usual "admin/password" value but supplies unique passwords, so even the default will leave you with a modicum of security.
Belkin N750 DB: Performance
Once we had the Belkin N750 DB up and running and Windows assured us that we had both local and internet service, not much appeared different – with a small exception. The signal strength to our wireless devices had increased, compared to the previous installation with Linksys WRT600N.
Our Samsung Galaxy Tab went from a single bar to two bars. Meanwhile, at least one computer indicated about a 50% increase in the data rate, from around 75-78Mbps to 108Mbps; the others showed similar improvements.
When we used the devices, we found that internet sites loaded more quickly than before, snapping to the screens without hesitation. Scrolling down web pages was silky smooth, and there were no pauses to play catch-up with the content flow. Even Netflix was now eager to stream movies to oue upstairs PC – before, it had been somewhat sluggish and needed occasional buffering.
The Belkin N750 DB is a gigabit ethernet device, so if your previous router was a 10/100 model and your computer can handle gigabit ethernet, you will notice faster throughput on local file transfers.
Belkin N750 DB: Additional features
Although the Belkin N750 DB is a dual-band router, we found ourselves not using the 5GHz band. While that is a much less crowded band (no microwaves, indoor cordless phones, garage door openers, baby monitors, etc.) it doesn't propagate as well as 2.4GHz band radio.
For example, our upstairs computer, when assigned to 5GHz, had a weak signal strength and a reported 78Mbps transfer rate rather than the excellent signal strength and 109Mbps rate it got when we set the Belkin to the 2.4GHz band.
If you intend to stick to 2.4GHz, you could choose Belkin's N450, a single-band wireless router that also offers the MultiBeam technology but is available at a lower price.
However, the Belkin N750 DB has significantly more features. Along with two USB ports, the Belkin N750 DB also provides four apps.
USB Print and Storage Manager helps to manage and monitor the use of the printers, scanners, hard drives and other devices that are connected to your router's USB port and shared across your network.
Memory Safe allows you to set up a routine backup of your files to a hard drive or flash drive attached to your router.
Video Mover sends media from a USB drive attached to your router to any UPnP (Universal Plug-and-Play) or DLNA-compatible device on your network.
Self-Healing is akin to Windows' own network diagnostic tool, but it's aimed specifically at Belkin's router functions.
Absent features from the Belkin N750 DB that we miss are status lights. Except for a general LED that lights up when you're connected, and one for use during Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) installations, there are no indicators of any other type adorning the front bezel.