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With its N1 Vision router, Belkin takes the great usability features from its N1 router a huge step further. The router's LCD display provides loads of information without the need to dig into the configuration page. Also, the router is unique in that it provides two SSIDs: one for you, and a second one for your guests. While the N1 Vision can't be beat for user-friendliness, it was soundly trounced in our speed tests by 11n routers from other manufacturers. If your top priority is having the fastest router available, take a look at the D-Link DIR-655. Also, at $200, this is one of the most expensive consumer routers available; but if you value easy usability, this could be the router for you.
The Belkin N1 Vision uses a novel design we haven't seen before. Instead of lying flat, it sits upright on a small stand. Three antennae that you can bend and rotate protrude from the N1 Vision's back edge. The back of the router offers up one Gigabit WAN port, four Gigabit LAN ports, a power jack, and a reset button. All the ports and jacks are clearly labeled.
The really compelling part of this router's design, though, is the graphical display embedded in the front of the device. Using the four-way rocker and buttons that sit alongside the display, you can flip between various screens which display all sorts of information. The main screen shows a graphical representation of your home network, that includes an earth symbol to represent the Internet, along with icons for a modem, a wired PC, a wireless laptop, and a padlock to represent wireless security. The single wired PC icon represents your wired connections; and a wireless laptop icon represents all your wireless connections. Several screens show you what's happening on your network: what's connected and at what speeds; general upload and download speeds; and usage over the last 24 hours.
There's also a guest access screen that displays a guest SSID and password (more on this later). Finally, you can set the LCD to display the current date and time. The menu gives information on configuring wireless security, helpful troubleshooting tips, and a power-save option that turns the LCD off after two minutes of no activity (via the buttons). This design is impressive and far more useful than the usual array of flashing lights that graces the front of most routers.
The Belkin N1 Vision is easy to set up, requiring no CD--though one is included for those who prefer a CD-based setup. Simply connect the router to your modem and then connect your PC to the router via Ethernet cable. When you open a Web browser, the configuration screen is supposed to pop up. If it doesn't (as in our case), you can simply type "routersetup" into the browser's address line and the configuration will start. The router does most of the work itself; the only information we had to provide was the username and password associated with our DSL account.
Once the router connects, you can enter the manual setup utility. Each component of the utility is followed by a More Info link, which pops up a detailed explanation about each feature in layman's terms: why you would want to use the feature, and how to configure it if you decide to use it. We really like the user-friendliness of the More Info feature, as it's useful for people who are new to networking.
The configuration options are mostly typical for a wireless router. Wireless security options include WEP and WPA/WPA2 (with PSK). You can filter clients by IP address, restricting access to the Internet, e-mail, or network services by day and time. If you're concerned about unauthorized access to your network, you can turn on MAC address filtering. The router also supports DMZ for gaming and other applications whose performance is degraded by a firewall. The router also supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup, a Wi-Fi Alliance standard for the simple setup of home networks. Not all products support WPS yet, however, so this won't be useful to everyone.
The final feature we really liked was the ability to set up protected guest access. The router creates a separate SSID so guests can establish an Internet connection but can't access other locations on your network, such as PCs or network-attached storage drives. This feature also generates a guest password (you can create one yourself or ask the configuration page to generate one for you) that is displayed on the router's LCD for easy reference.
CNET Labs tested the Belkin N1 Vision Router with the N1 Wireless Adapter. The N1 Vision doesn't offer an N-only mode, so we tested it in its default mixed mode. At 10 feet, with only the 11n client connected (no B or G clients, for example), the Belkin clocked 64.10Mbps throughput, among the slowest of the Draft N routers we've tested. At 200 feet, again with only the N client connected, it posted a speed of 23.29Mbps, again on the slow side. Finally, when we introduced an 11g client to the network, the N1 Vision's score dropped significantly to 12.26Mbps (at 10 feet). If speed is your top priority, this is not the router for you.
Service and support
Belkin backs the N1 Vision router with a generous three-year warranty. Toll-free phone support is available 24-7, or you can fill out a form at Belkin's Web site for e-mail support. The site also offers documentation, downloadable drivers, and FAQs.