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Belkin N1 Wireless Router review: Belkin N1 Wireless Router

With its easy-to-grasp status icons, up-to-date security options, and stellar support, the Belkin N1 router is on the path to 802.11n wireless networking stardom, but like other Draft N devices, its performance fails to impress.

Felisa Yang Former CNET Editor
5 min read
In spite of the rash of announcements for Draft N networking equipment earlier this year, actual hardware has been slow to surface. Worse, the performance of the products that have been released--from Linksys and Netgear--has fallen short of expectations. Belkin's Pre-N router is still one of our favorites for its impressive intersection of price and performance, so we had high hopes for the company's Draft N product, the Belkin N1 wireless router (and the companion wireless notebook adapter). Though it was slightly speedier than the other two Draft N routers we've tested, it's still a ways off from delivering on the promise of Draft N.

The Belkin N1 router differs from either Linksys's or Netgear's competing Draft N products by not offering a single-mode operation. Instead, the only option is a mixed n/g/b mode. Generally, single-mode operation offers better performance, because in mixed-mode, the older-generation products (such as 802.11b clients, which can sustain a slower throughput than 11g or pre-11n clients) become a network bottleneck. This discrepancy makes direct performance comparisons impossible, but the Belkin N1 did best the Linksys and Netgear Draft N routers in CNET Labs' mixed-mode and long-range (in mixed mode) throughput tests. We're sticking with the same advice we've given in reviews of other pre-N and Draft N devices: unless you absolutely must have the fastest gear for your network, sit tight and wait for the 802.11n spec to be finalized before buying (latest reports peg this at early to mid 2007). If you do have to buy now and want something that will likely be upgradable through firmware to conform with the final 11n spec, this Belkin N1 router would be our choice. If you don't mind buying a new router now and again when the spec is finalized, stick with Belkin's Pre-N router.(And keep in mind that if you do opt for so-called pre-N or Super G networking equipment, you'll need to use matching routers and cards for the best performance.)


Belkin N1 Wireless Router

The Good

The Belkin N1 is extremely user-friendly, with an idiot-proof setup guide and an impressive network-status display. And it still leads the pack with its service-and-support package.

The Bad

Though the Belkin N1 performed admirably for having only the mixed-mode option, it still fell well short of expectations for 802.11n networking equipment.

The Bottom Line

With its easy-to-grasp status icons, up-to-date security options, and stellar support, the Belkin N1 router is on the path to 802.11n wireless networking stardom, but like other Draft N devices, its performance fails to impress.

The Belkin N1 wireless router has the same body as its pre-N predecessor--with the same three-antenna configuration--though the slate-gray plastic has been replaced with a slick, silver-and-black exterior. The rear of the router serves up the standard connections: four LAN ports for hardwired connections, a WAN port, and a power jack, plus a pinhole reset button.

The standout design feature of this router is one that's been a long time in coming: Belkin replaced the standard LED lights with a top-mounted network-status display that gives you better insight into your network. The LEDs normally mounted on a router blink to indicate activity, but the blinking probably doesn't mean much to someone new to networking, especially when that person is trying to troubleshoot a problematic network connection. Belkin's network-status display panel uses graphical representations of each element of the network: a globe for the Internet; a modem; a three-antenna router; a desktop PC, representing a wired connection; a laptop, representing a wireless connection; and a lock to represent wireless security. The included guide tells you that a solid blue icon means everything is fine, while a blinking amber-colored icon indicates that something is amiss at that juncture in the network. So if you're surfing the Web on your laptop and discover that you can't connect, a quick glance at your router should tell you where to start your investigation.

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Belkin upped the ante on consumer-friendliness in other areas, as well. When you open the box, you're faced with a quick-installation guide that details the process of setting up the router in plain English. Even better, each step is lettered, and a sticker on the router has the corresponding letters, as do the included power and networking cables, so newbies won't have to guess at which port is the WAN port, for example.

If you are setting up your first router, you can start by inserting the installation CD and running the setup wizard, which takes you through the configuration process. If you're more experienced with wireless networking, you can simply plug in all of the cables, then power up and point your browser to the provided IP address to access the network management utility, where you can manually configure your router. The Belkin N1 router has all the standard wireless security options, including WEP and WPA-PSK, SPI and NAT firewalls, DMZ and VPN pass-throughs, and MAC address filtering.

In a departure from the rest of the Draft N pack, Belkin has opted not to support n-only or g-only modes. Instead, your only wireless option is a mixed n/g/b mode. In mixed mode at 10 feet, the Belkin N1 more than doubled the throughput of the Netgear WNR834B router and edged out the Linksys WRT300N. Even more impressive was the long-range test result: we normally test long-range throughput in single mode, but in this case, we had to test the Belkin in mixed mode. We expected it to take a performance hit compared to the others, but instead, it nearly doubled the Linksys's score and squeaked by the Netgear. Despite these impressive feats, we were still underwhelmed by the Belkin's overall performance. 802.11n networking promises speeds up to 300Mbps (though all the networking vendors will admit that this is a maximum burst speed and cannot be maintained), and the Belkin N1 router could reach only a top speed of 53.3Mbps at close range, nowhere close to the max.

Belkin is unparalleled in terms of service and support for its networking products. In fact, unlike some companies that try to bury their support information and tech support number, Belkin includes a boldly colored sheet in the box that details all of your support options, including the phone number. It covers the N1 router with a lifetime warranty, and free, toll-free phone support is available 24/7. At Belkin's Web site, you'll find firmware and driver updates, FAQs, an interactive networking setup guide, and an e-mail support form.

CNET Labs maximum throughput tests with mixed 802.11b/g and MIMO clients (at 10 feet)
(Throughput in Mbps)

CNET Labs long-range tests
(Throughput in Mbps measured indoors at 200 feet)
Note: *The Belkin N1 was tested in mixed mode at 200 feet.


Belkin N1 Wireless Router

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 8Performance 6Support 9