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Cisco Valet Plus review: Cisco Valet Plus

Cisco Valet Plus

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
6 min read

The Cisco Valet Plus will change the way you think of setting up a home network in a big way. Not only is it the easiest to use wireless router that we've seen, but it also offers great range and wireless throughput performance, and it comes with a very handy tool to control your network. It also includes a parental control feature.


Cisco Valet Plus

The Good

The Cisco Valet Plus is by far the most easy to use wireless router to date. It also has great range, decent performance, and comes with an effective wireless networking management software for home users.

The Bad

The Cisco Valet Plus doesn't support dual-band and it has no USB port for storage or print-serving features.

The Bottom Line

Look no further than the Cisco Valet Plus if you want to get a robust wireless home network up and running effortlessly.

The router's short list of downsides includes the lack of support for dual-band and USB devices. However, its sleek, compact design and the street price tag of just around $130, more than make up for that.

If you are a non-savvy computer user looking to setup a wireless network for your home or a home office by yourself, the Cisco Valet Plus is the best choice. It's really the prime example of wireless networking made simple.

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Design and setup
Unlike any wireless routers we've seen before, the Cisco Valet Plus comes in a fancy-looking, yet simple package. Inside, you'll find the router, a network cable, the power adapter, and the Easy Setup Key. There's no manual or software CD; this is all you need to get started.

The setup process is as simple as it gets. You plug the Easy Setup Key--a 1GB USB thumb drive that contains Cisco Connect software--into a computer, PC or Mac, and follow the instructions. The first time, the instructions will include steps to connect the computer to the router, plug it into the power, and turn it on, etc.

Depending on the computer, you will need to interact with the setup process about two or three times via a few mouse clicks. The first time is to agree to launch the software, the second time is to accept the software user agreement, and the last time to start the setup. After that, the software takes a few minutes to do all the necessary configurations and you're done. Repeat this on any computer that you want to connect to the router wirelessly.

Though everything is transparent to the user, the very first time you run it, the Cisco Connect software basically detects the router, creates an SSID (or network name), turns the encryption on, and chooses an encryption key. After that, any subsequent times you plug the Key into another computer that has a wireless adapter, it will apply the settings to the computer and connect to the wireless network with a few mouse clicks.

The Cisco Valet Plus has the same design as previous Linksys by Cisco routers, such as the Linksys WRT320N and the Linksys WRT610N. It comes in an aesthetically pleasing, sleek, flat, UFO-shaped chassis. The router's antennas are hidden within the chassis, making it look much more compact than other, similarly sized routers. It's also wall mountable.

The Valet Plus' layout is straightforward. On the back it has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, for local wired clients, and one Gigabit WAN port to connect to a DSL or cable modem.

On the front of the router is an array of blue LED lights that show the status of the ports, the wireless network, and the Internet. In the middle of the LEDs is the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button, which initiates the window of time when you can hook other WPS-compliant wireless clients to the network without having to manually enter the encryption key. This is a nice design touch, as the Setup Key can only be used with computers, not with other devices such as printers or game consoles.

Apart from making the router setup easy for home users, the Easy Setup Key can also be used for a few other features. You can use it to change the network's name or to create a guest network, which is a useful feature if you want to share the Internet connection with others while keeping them from accessing your local resources, such as printers or files.

The Cisco Connect software allows you to access a few advanced features of the Cisco Valet Plus.

It also contains a parental control feature, allowing you to change the way a particular computer on the network accesses the Internet. You can restrict the connection based on time, age of the user (with two options being "Teen" or "Child"), or you can block individual sites. The router also has a feature called Safe Web Surfing, which warns you if you're about to go to a Web site that's unsafe.

The nice thing about the Cisco connect software is that it only runs when you plug the Easy Setup Key into the computer, meaning that there's no software installed on your computer. You should keep the Setup Key in a safe place, or make a backup copy of it.

Though the Easy Setup Key is extremely helpful for novice home users, savvy users can also mange the Valet Plus via its Web interface. Here you can further customize your wireless network with more features like port forwarding or Dynamic DSN service. These help turn a computer within the network into a Web or FTP server.

You can also change the features that the Setup Key allows access to. Note, however, that if you use the Web interface to make certain changes to the router's settings, you then can't use the Cisco Connect software to manage the router anymore. The Setup Key will now just help you launch the Web interface. However, if you're comfortable with the Web interface, you probably won't need the Setup Key. You can always restore the router to its default factory settings if you want to use the Easy Setup Key again.

For security, the Cisco Valet Plus supports all available wireless encryption standards, including WEP, WPA-personal, and WPA-Enterprise. It also supports MAC address filtering. The router allows for VPN pass-through for all existing VPN protocols, including IPsec, L2TP, and PPTP. If you're using the router from your home, you can use a VPN client to access your work office via a VPN connection. It can toggle the built-in SPI firewall on and off, or block potentially dangerous Web services including proxy, Java, ActiveX, and cookies. This is not something you'll want to get into the habit of doing, however, as a lot of Web sites will not function properly if you, say, block Java or ActiveX.

The Cisco Valet Plus performed well in our testing. In the throughput test, the router scored 50.4Mbps, compared with the Dlink DIR-685's score of 51.7Mbps and the Belkin N+'s score of 55.44Mbps. In the range test, at 33Mpbs the Cisco was faster than the Belkin N+ , but still slower than the Dlink, which scored 46Mbps. In the mixed mode test, however, the Cisco topped the chart with 45.6Mbps.

We were also very happy with the Cisco Valet Plus' range. The router was able to hold a stable connection up to 280 feet away in our test environment. This is one of the longest ranges we've seen and the longest among all Cisco home routers we've tested.

The router successfully passed our stress test where it was set to transfer data back and forth between wireless clients for an extended amount of time. The router's wireless connection didn't reset once during the 48 hours of testing.

CNET Labs' 2.4Ghz Wireless-N performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Mixed mode  
Belkin N+
D-Link DIR-685
Cisco Valet Plus
Zyxel X-550N
Trendnet TEW-639GR
Linksys WRT320N
Linksys WRT400N
Netgear WNR2000
D-Link DIR-615
Zyxel X-550NH

Service and support
Cisco backs the Valet Plus with only a one-year parts and labor warranty, which is standard for wireless routers. The company offers toll-free technical support, which you can access 24-7. Cisco's Web site includes a large number of easily accessible support-related information, such as software, drivers, firmware downloads, as well as a live chat and an FAQ section.


Cisco Valet Plus

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 7Performance 8Support 8