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Wireless Reviews

Introduction

Cisco Valet M10 Wireless HotSpot

At a Glance
Product Cisco Valet Wireless HotSpot (M10)
Summary Single-band N router with 10/100 switch and goof-proof setup.
Pros • Extremely simple to set up for Windows and MacOS users
• Setup automatically sets admin password and wireless security
• Built-in password protected guest LAN
• Subscription free parental controls
Cons • Same password for router admin and wireless security

The introduction of Cisco's new Valet wireless products should remove any remaining doubt that, going forward, Cisco, not Linksys products, will be heavily marketed to consumers of home networking products. 

In addition to the two new Cisco-branded entries, the Valet (Model M10 - $99.95) and the Valet Plus (Model M20 - $149.95), Cisco also re-shuffled, renamed and dropped SKUs in the Linksys product line.  Gone are the venerable "WRT" series of routers, now replaced by new Linksys-branded "E" series models.  Even the marketing collateral shows a different focus.  The Linksys "E" series of routers, now pared down to four SKUs, are still called "Wireless N Routers", while the Valet products are called a more consumer-friendly "Wireless HotSpot".

In reality, there's a very close correlation between the new Cisco Valet and "E" series products and the Linksys "WRT" routers that they replace.  Tim's Inside Story: Linksys E-Series and Cisco Valet  article does an excellent job of unraveling all of the changes.  I couldn't improve on his table, so I've copied it here for your convenience.

New Old Chipset
Valet (M10) WRT160N (V3) - Broadcom BCM4716 Intensi-fi XLR 802.11n 2.4 GHz Router System-on-Chip
- Switch: Broadcom BCM5325
Valet Plus (M20) WRT310N (V2) - Broadcom BCM4716 Intensi-fi XLR 802.11n (2.4/5 GHz) Router System-on-Chip
- Switch: Broadcom BCM53115
E1000 WRT160N (V3) - Broadcom BCM4716 Intensi-fi XLR 802.11n 2.4 GHz Router System-on-Chip
- Switch: Broadcom BCM5325
E2000 WRT320N - Broadcom BCM4717 Intensi-fi XLR 802.11n (2.4/5 GHz) Router System-on-Chip
- Switch: Broadcom BCM53115
E2100L WRT160NL - CPU: Atheros AR9130 400MHz Wireless Network Processor
- Switch: Realtek RTL8306SD
- BB/MAC: In AR9130
- Radio: Atheros AR9102: Single-band 2x2 MIMO 802.11n Radio
E3000 WRT610N (V2) - CPU: Broadcom BCM4705
- Switch: Broadcom BCM53115
-5 GHz: Broadcom BCM4322 Intensi-fi Single-Chip 802.11n Transceiver
-2.4GHz: Broadcom BCM4322 Intensi-fi Single-Chip 802.11n Transceiver
Table 1: Valet, E-series and WRT comparison

For years, the Holy Grail for wireless router manufacturers has been to create a product with a simple, "bullet-proof" setup.  Not only does a smooth, trouble-free setup experience benefit the consumer, but it also helps manufacturers by reducing consumer returns and help line calls. Cisco's Valet products are targeted at the technically unsophisticated, i.e. those who don't necessarily understand technology but just want it to work. 

The "secret sauce" behind the Valet's remarkable ease of use is an entirely revamped setup / installation technique. The story from Cisco is that they took the teams from the Network Magic and Flip aquisitions, put them in a room and told them to create new auto-setup technology that anyone could use.

Over the years, I've reviewed a number of wireless routers, but found that each of the setup "wizards" that some of them came with left something to be desired.  But two words describe the new Valet setup:  Nailed it! 

The Valet setup was the smoothest and simplest setup of any router I've tested. Best of all, it works for both Mac and Windows and with any manufacturer's wireless client adapters.  I generated screen shots of the setup on both platforms, but there was no need to - the setup screens were virtually identical for both OSes.

I don't often comment on product packaging, but the Cisco Valet packaging also deserves special mention.  The product box is wrapped in cleanly designed white sleeve that shows a large image of the product, the new Valet logo and the tag line, "Home wireless made easy"

The back of the sleeve shows a young woman and man, each with a wireless notebook with the additional tag line, "The simple way to create your own wireless hotspot".  Below the image are four bullet points that highlight the benefits of the Valet.  The bottom of the package simply states system requirements and sports a small Wi-Fi certification logo.  Cisco wisely eliminated all of the speed, range and 802.11n technical jargon usually found on packaging for wireless routers.  The Valet's target customer would just have been confused by that information anyway.

The box inside the sleeve is well constructed and feels solid.  Even before starting to configure the Valet, my test subject (my wife) commented that the solid packaging gave the impression that the product would be dependable.  And what a difference color can make!  The case of the Cisco Valet is essentially the same form factor as used on the new Linksys "E" series of wireless routers. But instead of a shiny black case, the M10 has a soft-finish eggshell white case, and, in the case of the M10, a light blue accent.  My wife made a special comment on how attractive the device looked compared to the many other routers that have made their way through my office.

The front, or in this case, the top of the Valet, shown in Figure 1 has the traditional LEDs found on all Cisco and Linksys products.  There are four individual blue LEDs to indicate wired connections and activity, a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button should you choose to manually set up wireless security, a wireless indicator that flashes to show wireless activity, an Internet icon to show connectivity and activity on the WAN port, and finally, a power indicator.  On the Gigabit-capable Valet Plus, the LAN and WAN port LEDs are multi-colored - Blue for 10/100 connections, and green for Gigabit connections.

Cisco Valet front panel

Figure 1: Cisco Valet front panel

There's really nothing too noteworthy about the rear panel, shown in Figure 2.  The rear panel has a color coded port (yellow) for the WAN connection, and four blue ports for the LAN connections.  There's also a reset button, and the power connector.  In keeping with the consumer-friendly design, the "wall wart" and the power cable are white, instead of the traditional black found on most other devices (except Apple's).

Cisco Valet rear panel

Figure 2: Cisco Valet rear panel

On the Inside

Figure 3 shows the interior of the Valet M10.  As noted above, it uses virtually the same components as found in the now discontinued Linksys WRT160N and the new E1000 models.  The M10 is powered by a Broadcom BCM4716 Intensi-fi XLR 802.11n 2.4 GHz Router System-on-Chip.  And the 10/100 switch is a Broadcom BCM5325.

Cisco Valet M10 board
Click to enlarge image

Figure 3: Cisco Valet M10 board

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