Ever since the award-winning N+ Wireless Router, Belkin has been on a long streak of offering routers that take networking in the wrong direction. Things seem to be starting to look up now with the Advance N900 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router (model F9K1104v1).
It's not a perfect router and, like other recent Belkin routers, it comes with quirky and gimmicky features. However, at least it offers very good wireless performance, which is the most important thing in a wireless router. It's also nice to look at, supports the 3-by-3 450Mbps standard on the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands simultaneously, and has two USB ports.
Unfortunately, it's pricey. At around $200, it's about $20 more than the recently reviewed Asus RT-N66U, which offers a lot more. That said, you won't be disappointed with the Advance N900 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router if all you want is a robust router for your home network. Nonetheless, you should also consider the Asus or the Linksys E4200v2 when looking for an N900 router.
Design and ease of use
The Belkin Advance N900 DB has the same design and features as the Belkin N750 DB. The main differences are that the N900 features the 450Mbps Wireless-N speed on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands and offers support for IPv6 right out of the box.
The new router also has a sleek UFO-shaped chassis--which is a fingerprint magnet--with all its antennas hidden inside, and is designed to work vertically on a small base. This base is rather narrow and light, so the router topples easily, especially when there are multiple CAT5 cables connected to its back. The router comes with four gigabit LAN ports for wired clients and one WAN port for connecting to an Internet source. There are also two USB 2.0 ports to be used with external storage devices or printers. I tried it with a few portable external hard drives and found that it took quite some time, almost a minute, for the hard drive to be recognized. Unlike the previous model, the N900 DB with its two USB ports can handle two bus-powered portable drives at a time.
The N900 DB comes configured with two wireless networks, one on each band, with their names and encryption keys printed on the bottom of the base. This information is different for each unit and is the default value in case you reset the router. This means that those who don't want to bother with setting up networks can just plug the router into the power and an Internet source via the WAN port and they are set. Don't know what the WAN port is? Easy; the router even comes with a CAT5 cable, already plugged in that port for you. All you have to do is plug the other end into a broadband modem, or another Internet-connected network port.
If you're not happy with the default network names and their encryption keys (I wasn't; they are hard to remember), you can customize them via the router's Web interface. The interface can be accessed by pointing a connected computer's Web browser to the router's default IP address at 192.168.2.1. If this step is too complicated, the router comes with a Windows setup program called Belkin Router Monitor that helps with the initial setup process, including opening up the router's Web interface. Later on, you will also need to use this software, which once installed is set to run each time you turn the computer on, to manage some of the router's features.
The Belkin Advance N900 DB is a true 3-by-3 dual-band router, meaning that it uses both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands and can offer up to 450Mbps for a total of 900Mbps, which is the reason for the N900 designation. In order to enjoy this higher speed, Wi-Fi clients also have to support the 450Mbps standard. Most existing clients don't, however; still, the router works with all existing Wi-Fi devices on the market, including those made for pre-N wireless standards.
Apart from the two main wireless networks, the Belkin N900 DB can also offer another guest network, only on the 2.4GHz band, that can be turned on or off using the Web interface. This is rather limited; the Asus RT-N56U can offer up to six guest networks, three on each band. Guest networking allows guests to access the Internet but not your local resources, such as files or printers.
Similar to the N750 DB, the new N900 DB router comes with nifty-sounding but standard features called Self-Healing, Video Mover, and Memory Safe.
Self-Healing, which is the only thing unique to Belkin, is just the ability for the router to restart itself at a scheduled time. In my testing, this feature worked but didn't seem very smart, since it made the router restart even when there was a lot of traffic. This means, if you play computer games, make sure you turn it off (it's on by default); otherwise you might lose a battle by being disconnected without warning. It would be better if there were an option to set it to restart only when the router is idle.
Video Mover is basically a media-streaming feature available when there's external storage plugged into the router's USB ports. This feature was very limited in my trial: I could only turn it on or off. There's no way to further customize anything about this.
Memory Safe enables a connected USB external hard drive to be used as the backup destination for connected computers and only works when the Belkin Setup software is running in the background. The router's storage-sharing feature is also very limited, as once a portable drive is plugged in, its entire contents are available to everybody with full access privileges. Other routers allow you to put restrictions on certain folders of the drive, such as read-only, read/write, and no access. The Belkin supports the SMB protocol, meaning any computers in the network can access its storage without having to use any extra software. You can use the Belkin Router Monitor software to open of the network's shared storage in case you don't know how to find it with Windows Explorer, however.
In addition, the N900 DB offers the standard features found on almost all wireless routers, including Access Control, which can restrict the Internet access of certain computers in the network; Virtual Server, which enables a computer to be set up for a particular service, such as an FTP or HTTP server; and Quality of Service.
The Belkin Advance N900 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router performed very well in my testing when used with 450Mbps clients. On the 5GHz band, it scored 189.6Mbps in the close-range throughput test, 15 feet from the clients, and 138.2Mbps in the range test, when it was put 100 feet from the clients. Both of these speeds are the fastest I've seen so far. When used with regular 300Mbps clients, however, it scored 74.5Mbps and 56Mbps for the throughput and range tests, respectively, slightly lower than average.
In the 2.4GHz band, the router again topped the charts when used with 450Mbps clients, scoring 100.6Mbps at 15 feet and 46.4Mbps at 100 feet. When used with regular 300Mbps clients, these numbers were lowered to 59.5Mbps and 30.4Mbps, which were again about average among its peers. That said, the router offered its best when used with 450Mbps clients on both bands, and in this case it was one of the fastest I've seen. When used with the 300Mbps clients, which are popular on the market, the N900 DB's performance is about average for a true dual-band router.
The Belkin showed very long range in the 2.4Hz band, up to about 300 feet in my testing. On the 5GHz band, however, its range was much shorter. I couldn't establish a connection at just 220 feet away. The router passed my 24-hour stress test, in which it continuously transmitted data from multiple clients without disconnecting.
When coupled with an external hard drive, the Belkin offers a storage transfer rate of 72.8Mbps for writing and 140.4Mbps for reading via a Gigabit Ethernet connection, only fast enough for light data sharing and media streaming.
Service and support
Belkin backs the Advance N900 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router with a two-year warranty, which is comparatively generous since router warranties usually only cover one year. Belkin's toll-free phone support is available 24-7, or you can fill out a form at Belkin's Web site for e-mail support. Its Web site also offers documentation, downloadable drivers, and FAQs.
The Belkin Advance N900 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router would be a good choice for those with many 450Mbps clients, and it's a very good router in general thanks to the great 2.4GHz range. It could be a much better deal, however, if it came in a more practical design and with a friendlier price tag.