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Wireless Reviews

Wireless Performance - Competitive

For a competitive comparison, I generated a Wireless Comparison Table for three simultaneous dual band N routers: Cisco / Linksys WRT400N, NETGEAR WNDR3700 and D-Link DIR-815 [B1]. Figure 18 shows that the Play Max wins only one of the four 2.4 GHz band tests, although it ties many times in individual locations tests.

Wireless performance comparison - 2.4 GHz band

Figure 18: Wireless performance comparison - 2.4 GHz band

Figure 19 shows that the Play Max doesn't win any of the four benchmarks, although it again ties other routers in many locations.

Wireless performance comparison - 5 GHz band

Figure 19: Wireless performance comparison - 5 GHz band

As I said, these results are a mixed bag. If Belkin can get its link rate adjust algorithms straightened out, I'm sure the rankings could improve.

Closing Thoughts

Both Cisco and Belkin have recently revamped their consumer N router lineups in hopes of rekindling interest in a product segment that has become both confusing for novices and boring for old hands.

Belkin's main thrusts with its new N router lineup were to simplify selection and setup for consumers and offer unique features that buyers won't be able to resist. In the end, I think they did a reasonable job on the first goal, but missed the second by a lot.

Although Belkin did a good job with ease of setup, Cisco's new Cisco Connect software offered on its Valet and E series routers clearly has the edge. The USB key on the Valets works easily on netbooks and other notebooks that no longer have optical drives. And although you have to run it from a CD on the E series line, it still works the same, while skipping the Valet's price premium.

While it's nice to have cables already plugged in and a card that provides wireless security info that just has to be entered into a client, there still is plenty of opportunity for a newbie to screw up with Belkin's process. With Cisco's approach, the chances of failure are greatly reduced.

I prefer a router with network activity link / activity lights, while others may prefer Belkin's more minimalist design that has only a few LEDs.  I liked that you can choose different security settings for your guest wireless network. But was disappointed that the “café mode” didn’t work nearly as seamlessly as the guest network on the Cisco Valet M10 did.

The real disappointment is in Belkin's apps, which I don't think will win the hearts of consumers as much as Belkin hopes. Belkin did the right thing by covering both Windows and Mac OS platforms from the get-go. But the apps themselves are poorly documented and, at least in my experience, somewhat buggy, leaving a feeling more like you get from sifting through all the junk that comes loaded on new PCs than feeling good about spending the extra money to buy some nifty and useful features.

Though the Memory Safe backup did perform regular backups, they all seemed to be full backups, which when run hourly, could quickly exhaust your attached storage.  So I wouldn’t use it on a regular basis.  I might have used the Daily DJ. But iTunes' Genius feature already does an adequate job in this department and I didn't have to pay a thing for it.  And although the Play Max includes a DLNA server, it doesn't support iTunes serving, something I'd find more useful.

Since the Torrent Genie is one of key features that differentiate the $130 Play Max from its $100 Play sibling, I had expected more complete information on how to use it and how to tie it in with the supplied Vuze software. But it's more an exercise left to the buyer, which once again, doesn't impress.

Apps complaints aside, the Play Max at around $120 street, represents a good value for a simultaneous, dual-band router with Gigabit LAN and WAN ports. The comparable Cisco Gigabit dual-band router, the E3000, is street priced $30 higher at $150, as is the NETGEAR WNDR3700. But if you can live without built-in Torrent downloading (that I couldn't figure out how to get working) and Gigabit ports, then get the Play instead, which is currently going for as low as $80 street!

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