Wireless networking just got better. The Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router is the first on the market to include a revolutionary new technology called MIMO. MIMO, which stands for multiple input/multiple output, uses a single channel for multiple data streams, promising to greatly enhance both the range and the throughput of wireless networking gear based on a new specification called 802.11n. But here's the catch: the 802.11n spec won't be finalized until sometime in 2006, hence the router's Pre-N appellation. Belkin's router is compatible with standard 802.11g and 802.11b gear for now, but in order for you to reap the router's full performance benefits, you'll need to use it in combination with Belkin's Pre-N PC Card adapter. Used together, the router and the PC Card adapter had both the best range and the fastest throughput we've seen to date. The router is also less susceptible to interference, and it creates less interference for neighboring networks than do channel-bonding products that use the Atheros chipset, such as the and the . If you're shopping for a router that will give you the largest coverage area and you don't mind paying a little extra, look no further. The Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router is much like other routers we've seen. It has an integrated four-port Ethernet switch that lets you connect computers via standard Cat-5 network cables, a WAN port designed to connect the unit to your broadband modem, and a series of LEDs along the top of the unit that blink to tell you that traffic is passing across the router's wired and wireless network interfaces. The major difference between this and other routers is the presence of three antennas, located atop the rear panel, which are the secret to the router's outstanding performance (more on that to come). The unit ships with a printed quick-installation guide, a CD bearing software and a thorough user manual, and an Ethernet cable.
Setting up Belkin's Pre-N Router is easy, and the helpful printed guide in the box walks you through the process. You connect the router to your broadband modem and to a computer via the included Ethernet cable, then you pop the included CD into the computer's optical drive. An installation wizard on the CD starts automatically. The wizard detects your computer's network settings then leads you through a series of prompts. We had the router set up in just less than seven minutes from the time the wizard started. Belkin's well-written user documents and well-designed setup wizard give the Pre-N Router one of the smoothest setup packages we've seen.The Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router includes all of the basics and many of the bells and whistles you'll find in competing products. The router's advanced features--accessible via the unit's browser-based configuration tool--are many and include virtual server support, helpful if you plan to run Web or other services behind the router, a DMZ setting that you need in order to play certain games on the Internet, and a remote management feature that lets you configure the router via the Internet. Belkin's router lacks the WDS, or wireless distribution system, feature that you find on the , but given the Pre-N Router's outstanding range, most users won't need a repeater.
The Belkin Pre-N Router also has an excellent security offering. The unit includes a firewall that blocks a wide array of attacks and lets you block access based on a computer's hardware, or MAC, address. You can protect the wireless LAN with either WEP or WPA.Fast maximum throughput is nothing to sneeze at, but the real test of a wireless router's performance is whether it can maintain high speeds at a distance. If a wireless router delivers blazing data rates at 10 feet but drops the connection as soon as you leave the room, you might as well just use an Ethernet cable. Delivering speed at long distances is where Belkin's Pre-N Router excels; in fact, it blows its predecessors out of the water. At 200 feet, the router still manages to kick out a whopping 36.4Mbps, three times faster than our previous long-distance champ, the . At 300 feet, long after all of the other routers we tested had dropped their connections, Belkin's router was still kicking out more than 30Mbps.
As its benchmark, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software on a console system with clients running NetIQ's Performance End Points 4.4. Our throughput tests measure the transfer speed of a file that a user might send across the network. This is known as the payload throughput and does not include packet errors and other data that might be transferred over a network. Payload throughput can vary widely from the bandwidth speeds that vendors advertise, and it is a much better gauge of what you're likely to experience with a standard file transfer. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Throughput in Mbps|