Without a fancy name, the Belkin N+ impressed us where it matters the most: range and throughput performance. As a bonus, it also offers a limited network-storage function. We were only disappointed that it doesn't offer dual-band support, like the DIR-855 or the Linksys WRT610N. The N+'s performance, however, more than makes up for this, especially considering its street price of only about $100. If you plan to have a wireless network in a neighborhood that doesn't already have too many wireless signals, we would recommend the Belkin N+ over any other wireless-N routers.
Setup and design
Although the Belkin N+ is one of the bulkiest routers we've reviewed, it actually has an elegant and curvy design. The router is made to work in the vertical position only, with two antennas on top, making it significantly taller than most routers. The ports and blue LED lights, located on the back and front of the router, respectively, are clearly labeled, and, as such, even novice users won't have a problem figuring out the function of each port and the meaning of each light.
Thanks to its clear instructions, we didn't experience any problems setting up the Belkin N+. The included CD contains setup software that walked us through every step, and we got the router up and running in less than 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can use the router's Web interface for the setup process and further customize its settings. Belkin routers' Web interfaces are generally intuitive, and their layouts have not changed since Belkin's first Wireless-N router, the Belkin Wireless Pre-N router, which is also the very first Wireless-N router that CNET reviewed. When it comes to intuitiveness, though, we prefer the Web interfaces of D-Link or Netgear routers.
Although the N+ lets you connect an external USB hard drive, it is, in fact, not a full-featured NAS server. You will not be able to manage the external drive--including creating share folders and access privileges--through its Web interface, as you can with the Linksys WRT610N.
The N+ comes with the Belkin Storage Manager desktop application that makes it easy for you to access the connected external hard drive. Once you have plugged a USB hard drive into the router, the BSM application takes about 10 seconds to detect it and create a network drive mapped to it. Any computers in the network with the BSM application installed have full access to the entire hard drive's content, simultaneously. If you shut down the BSM application, the mapped network drive will be disconnected.
Alternatively, you can also access the storage without the having to install the BSM application by using the IP address of the router. However, novice users definitely want to stick to using the desktop application.
The N+'s storage function supports FAT, FAT32, and NTFS file systems and worked very well with thumbdrives. When we tried it with a few USB external hard drives, it was hit or miss. Most worked well, but the OWC mercury wasn't ever recognized.
The Belkin N+ also has a unique feature called Broadband Download Speedometer that includes an array of lights on the front of the router. These lights display a graphic representation of the download speed being transferred through the Internet connection, measured against the fastest speed that has been measured by the N+ since its first connection to the Internet. This is helpful if you want to know how much of the bandwidth is being used at a given time.
Other than that, the Belkin N+ supports an array of network features, such as IP address reserving, port forwarding, access control, and firewall. IP address reserving allows the router to give a fixed IP address to a computer in the network. This makes it easy if you need to forward certain services, such as an FTP server, to that particular computer. The Parental Control feature, which enables Web filtering, allows certain computers to access the Internet selectively based on time or content. The N+'s firewall adds protection against "denial of service" or "ping of death" attacks.
For wireless protection, the Belkin N+ supports both WEP (64-bit and 128-bit encryption) and WPA. It also supports MAC address filtering and Wi-Fi protected setup. WPS allows for quickly adding WPS-enabled wireless clients to the network without having to manually enter the encryption key.
We were very happy with the performance of the Belkin N+, especially its range. By far it offered the longest range among wireless-N we've tested. We were able to pick up its signal easily from 400 feet away (we can't go farther than that in our test environment). By comparison, most routers can't reach over 300 feet in our range test, partially because of the fact that our facility is not range-optimized.
The throughput performance of the N+ is also very impressive. It topped the charts on CNET Labs' range test by a large margin, scoring 77.8Mbps. The N+ was, by a small margin, the second best in our throughput and mixed mode test, scoring 87.5Mbps and 65.3Mbps, respectively.
What's most impressive about the N+'s throughput is the fact that during all three tests--maximum throughput, mixed mode, and range--the results were consistently high without as much variation as we're used to seeing. In comparison, the Linksys WRT310N is the fastest on our maximum throughput test, at 111.3Mbps, but its range score is significantly reduced to merely 28.3Mbps.
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Service and support
Despite the N+'s impressive performance, Belkin has little love for the router and only backs it up with a one-year warranty. This is disappointing since it gives the N1 Vision three years. 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.