Personally, I am a fan of Belkin routers and I have owned a few good models in the past. By chance, I managed to get my hands on a Belkin N600 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ router which, at least in theory, packs some interesting technologies and features. I was really curious to learn if it is a good router and if it is worthy of running my home network. Let's see what I have found out.
I tested a router with the unit part code # F9K1102 v1 which seems to be the latest available on the market at the time of the review. The complete hardware specifications can be found here: N600 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router. The things I found worth highlighting are the following:
- It offers a dual band, dual concurrent radio running at 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Therefore you can have two wireless networks running simultaneously: the 2.4GHz runs using 802.11n & 802.11g or 802.11b standards while the 5 GHz using 802.11n or 802.11a. This means the 5GHz wireless connection can be used only by modern devices which support these standards and the improved speeds they enable.
- The router can be used to connect up to four devices via network cables. It also has a USB port where you can connect a printer or an external disk drive.
- It supports the following protocols for the connection with your ISP (Internet Service Provider): Dynamic, Static, PPOE and Telstra BigPond.
- The router allows for a maximum of 16 wireless connections.
Unboxing the Belkin N600 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router
There is nothing spectacular about unboxing this router. Inside the box you get the things you would expect: the router itself, the power supply, a Setup CD with the User Manual and a short networking cable. Also, there is a card with details about preconfigured network names and passwords for the router. They must be used during the initial configuration and can be used later on as well, if you don't care to change the default configuration.
I found the networking cable a bit too short. It is useful only for connecting devices that are placed close to the router. If you have a desktop beneath the desk and router on top of it, the cable cannot be used to connect the two. The router does look good. I like its shape and overall design. However, the plastic used by Belkin feels cheap and easily breakable. Also, there is no visible ventilation system and, during warmer days, the router does heat quite a lot.
The setup is a bit lengthy but it is not hard to follow. The setup software on the CD guides the user through the physical connections that need to be made between the router, your Internet provider and the computers on the network.
Then, it detects the protocol used by your ISP. I liked that it identified it correctly on the first try. Then, it asks you for the required authentication details (if any). Since my ISP uses the PPOE protocol, I had to insert my account details. Next, you need to specify the connection details found on the card included in the package. If you don't have it, look on the bottom of the router. They are found there as well. Once those are entered and the setup has installed all the Belkin software it needs, you should be good to go. While some people will appreciate that the router has predefined names and passwords for the wireless connections, I really wanted to change them and create my own setup. I'm sure many other geeks will feel the same. And here is where the trouble starts.
Going through all the configuration menus and getting the set up done is a slow and painful experience. Any change takes quite a lot of time to get applied: 30 to 40 seconds for most changes. You cannot make a bigger set of changes and apply them all in one go. You must hit apply after changing anything in any one configuration menu and wait until it gets applied before you go to the next menu. If you take into consideration that you need to also make a firmware update, you are in for a long wait, until you have setup everything as needed.
While I did not get the chance to make very exact measurements, I must say that I wasn't impressed with the performance of the Belkin N600 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ router. Previously, for several years I used a Belkin N+ Wireless Router. I was and still am very happy with its transfer speeds and I was very disappointed to see that the new router from Belkin does not perform as well. The Belkin N600 DB had average transfer speeds around 7 MB/s on the wireless connection, both on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The latter was always slightly faster but not by more than a few hundred KB/s. With my old Belkin N+, the transfer speeds on wireless were, most times, close to 9 MB/s. Another disappointing aspect is the range of the new model. I used it in a reasonably big apartment - approx 90 square meters in size. It was able to cover all the rooms but the signal strength was weaker than with the old model. In the more remote corners of the apartment it had only 25-30% signal strength while the older model had 30-35%. I was really surprised to see this, considering how Belkin touts their new wireless MultiBeam technology to be so much better than older technologies. The same story goes for the wired connection. With my previous router and others that I have tested, I was able to transfer files with 10MB/s second, even when downloading from the Internet. With Belkin N600 DB that is not the case. The maximum I achieved was between 8 and 9 MB/s but never 10. I've seen better speeds with other routers too and I can't help feel that the Belkin N600 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router delivers average coverage and transfer speeds.
Leaving the average performance aside, the Belkin N600 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ router does have some cool features. First, I very much enjoyed the Quality of Service (QoS) that allows you to manage the network traffic and gives priority to Internet video, games or voice & video chat.
I also liked its ECO Mode which allows you to turn off the wireless radio at specific days and time intervals. If you know you won't be using the wireless connection, you can set it to shut down and not waste so much energy. Plus, you won't have any unwanted guests using the wireless network.
Another cool feature is that you can schedule regular maintenance to be done automatically. At least in theory, this should help with having a better experience when using the router.
In my three weeks testing, I encountered three problems that really annoyed me:
- You cannot reserve IP addresses based on the MAC - many other routers including older Belkin models have this very useful feature. Belkin N600 DB doesn't! Therefore, if you reinstall Windows on a laptop or reset the wireless connection settings, it will receive a different IP. That is especially annoying for geeks who need to use IP addresses in certain scenarios, instead of computer names. I really hope this feature will be enabled in a future firmware update.
- Computers lose connectivity once or twice per day - this happened especially to my desktop, connected via a LAN cable. The cable was fine, the router wasn't. Invariably, my desktop lost the internet connection once or twice each day. It wasn't for long - generally a minute or so - but it was always annoying. And no, the Internet wasn't down. The other devices and computers connected via wireless were able to browse the web. This seemed to occur especially when more computers and devices were connected to the network, as during the evening: 3 computers plus 2 smartphones and a wireless printer were connected at the same time.
- The router loses connectivity once every few days - this did not happen as often as the previous problem, but it did take place. There were times when no device had Internet access and I just couldn't access the router's configuration page. It simply wouldn't load. The only solution was to manually reset the router. After the reset, everything was normal again.
- The Homegroup feature in Windows won't work between computers connected to the network via different means - for example, you can use the Homegroup feature between computers connected via network cables. No issues there! The same when you try to use it only between computers connected to the same wireless network. But when you mix the connection methods, you won't be able to have all computers join the same Homegroup. If you have a desktop connected via cable and a laptop via wireless, you won't be able to have them join the same Homegroup. This problem was encountered by others too. A search on Google revealed other people having similar troubles. This was a major show stopper for me as it did not allow me to share data with ease through my home network.