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Wireless Reviews

Introduction

Belkin Play Max Wireless Router

At a Glance
Product Belkin Play Max Wireless Router (F7D4301)
Summary Broadcom-based 2T2R dual-radio, dual-band 802.11n router w/ Gigabit WAN and LAN ports, USB drive file sharing and easy installation features.
Pros • Simple to set up
• Windows and Mac OS supported
• 2 USB 2.0 ports for sharing storage or printer
• Preconfigured wireless security & Guest network
Cons • Jumbo frames not supported
• Admin password can be left blank
• No network activity indicators
• Poorly documented applications
• Most applications run on computer, not in router

Wireless router manufacturers are finally starting to figure out that they have to simplify the consumer out-of-box setup experience to get their routers avoid a quick trip back to the store.  Not everyone wants to spend countless hours getting something to work that should just plug in and go.

Cisco recently introduced their new line of Valet “hotspots”, including the M10 reviewed here, which successfully takes all of the complexity out of setting up a secure wireless network.  Belkin also has a simple setup procedure, but has added bundled applications to up the ante and get you to look in their direction.

Tim highlighted the differences in the new Belkin routers in his article about the four new product introductions. To summarize briefly, the entry level Surf wireless router (F7D2301), priced at $49.99, is a basic four port “N” router.  The Share router (F7D3302), at $79.99, adds in one USB port for print or storage sharing.  Applications appropriate for shared resources, such as “Print Genie” and backup software are also included. 

Priced at $99.99, the Play Wireless Router (F7D4302) is probably one of the least expensive dual band wireless routers with Gigabit Ethernet ports.  It also features 2 USB 2.0 ports and a bundle of applications for multimedia enjoyment.  At the top of the line, the $129.99 Play Max Wireless Router (F7D4301) adds in QoS capabilities and a BitTorrent application that can automatically download to attached USB storage.

The design for the new line is what I would call minimalist.  There are only two indicators visible from the front of the router.  The large LED shows if the router is connected (green) to the Internet or not connected (orange).  Adjacent to the Internet LED is the WPS (Wi-Fi protected setup) button required in order to earn Wi-Fi certification.  A small LED adjacent to the WPS button blinks only when the router is in WPS setup mode.

All members of the new line stand vertically with the base of the device pre-installed and screwed into the bottom of the router. A ventilation slot at the top of the router is there to keep things cool.

While you can awkwardly lay the router on its side, you can't wall mount it.   Most likely, Belkin made this design decision to guarantee the orientation of the antennas which they claim provide "3 dimensional" whole home coverage. Of course, the vertical orientation also helps to maximize convection cooling.

Figure 1 shows the rear of the Play Max.  The yellow port is labeled Modem and each of the other Ethernet ports is labeled Wired.  Each of the two USB 2.0 ports has an LED indicator to show if a USB device is connected.  There’s also a reset button and a power connector. 

Belkin Play Max  rear view

Figure 1:  Belkin Play Max rear view

Conspicuous by their absence are indicators for Link / Speed / Activity on any of the Ethernet ports.  Call me "old school", but I prefer port indicators, along with a wireless activity indicator – preferably on the front panel – to show me what’s going on.  Even Cisco’s “mom-friendly” Valet hotspots have LAN / WAN / WLAN indicators.  They sure help should you need to troubleshoot a problem.   Still, perhaps for some consumers, maybe all they want / need is to know if their router is connected to the Internet.

On The Inside

Figure 2 shows the Play Max' board.  It uses a Broadcom BCM4718 Intensi-fi XLR 802.11n Simultaneous Dual-Band (2.4/5 GHz) Router System-on-Chip.  This SOC combines the Baseband, MAC, CPU, dual band radio modules and USB support.  The SOC appears to be providing only the 2.4 GHz functionality while a Broadcom BCM43224 Integrated 802.11a/b/g/n is used for the 5 GHz radio. 

A Broadcom BCM53115 switch, found in many Gigabit-capable routers, provides the Gigabit WAN and LAN ports without jumbo frame support.  64 MB of RAM and 8 MB of flash round out the design. 

Belkin Play Max board
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2: Belkin Play Max board

Since the Play seems to have the same hardware features as the Play Max (simultaneous dual-band N, Gigabit ports), but is $30 cheaper, let's look inside that one, too. Figure 2a isn't clear enough for IDing components.

But you can see that it's not the same board as the Play Max. More detailed photos in the FCC ID doc show a Broadcom BCM5325 10/100 switch, with the same memory, flash and Broadcom BCM4718 / BCM43224 processor / radio combination. Belkin doesn't exactly go out of its way to tell you that the Play doesn't have Gigabit ports. That info doesn't show up on the comparison page and you might miss it if you don't look carefully on the individual product spec pages.

Belkin Play board
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2a: Belkin Play board

Though I doubt that the Play Max’ lack of indicators would appeal to the “DD-WRT” crowd, the Play Max uses the same SOC and Gigabit chipset as the recently reviewed ASUS RT-N16.  The ASUS boasts 128MB of RAM and 32MB of flash, but lacks 5 GHZ band support. 

I personally use DD-WRT on the ASUS platform, so I’m assuming that it would probably also work on the Play Max.  However, the smaller amount of memory might limit the Play Max to a smaller DD-WRT distribution.  Since this router was just released, there’s no information available on it in the DD-WRT database – at least not yet.  Hopefully, if DD-WRT ends up supporting the Play Max, they’ll include dual-band support.

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