Belkin Play Max review
When we reviewed Belkin’s first concurrent dual-band router, the Double N+, we were impressed with its raw speed. The new Play Max range offers a similar feature set, adding an ADSL version to the mix (it’s also available as a cable router around £20 less) with concurrent 300Mbits/sec 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless connections, but instead of focusing on performance Belkin prefers to highlight the router’s features.
To be fair to it, it’s bursting at the seams, and connectivity is the first area to get a boost. The Play Max sports not one but two USB ports at the rear, supporting printer and external hard disk connections. You get four Gigabit ports, there’s UPnP-compatible media-sharing, oddly dubbed Music Mover, and a BitTorrent client for offline downloads to a connected hard disk. As with previous Belkin routers we’ve reviewed, there’s also a wide range of useful features buried in the device’s web admin pages. There’s a guest SSID mode for each band, plus the facility to place the router into Access Point mode with a single click, disabling NAT and firewall features, so you can extend an existing wired network.
The Play Max (part code: F7D4401UK), as Belkin is keen to point out in its marketing materials, also comes with “apps”. Don’t get too excited, however: as it transpires, these are little more than a marketing sham, and are about as close to what you’d think of as apps as Aberdeen is to Sydney. The “apps” in question merely refer to a collection of proprietary software tools installed when you set up the router, and you don’t seem to be able to download more. Even more confusingly, some of the “apps” are called one thing on the box and Belkin’s website, and appear as another after install. It’s an embarrassing mess.
Wade through the marketing mire, however, and there are some useful tools. The software installs a status light in your System Tray, which does the same job as the light on the front of the router itself, indicating the health of the router’s internet connection right on your desktop. Right-click that icon and up pops a menu, allowing you to control offline torrent downloads, adjust QoS settings, and fiddle with password settings without having to delve into the Play Max’s web interface.
You can also run backups and check for and install firmware updates from here too – although be aware that Belkin’s record of updating the firmware on its routers is patchy. When we checked for updates for the Double N+, launched five months ago, we found none.
Performance is consistent but not stellar. On the 5GHz band we measured download speeds from the router to our test laptop (equipped with an Intel WiFi Link 5300 adapter) of 120Mbits/sec at close range and upload speeds of 82Mbits/sec. On the 2.4GHz band, close-range speeds hit 113Mbits/sec and 63Mbits/sec respectively. It isn’t as fast as its cousin, the Double N+.
Usually, performance falls away over 5GHz at distance, but our long-range test (30m, two walls in the way) revealed performance better than more than 2.4GHz at the same distance. We recorded an average download speed of 54Mbits/sec and upload speed of 28Mbits/sec over 5GHz, then 40Mbits/sec and 25Mibts/sec over 2.4GHz.
Storage performance, however, was slow. We plugged the recently reviewed Iocell 351UNE into the Play Max’s USB socket, and connected our test laptop to the router via Gigabit and recorded paltry read speeds of just 27Mbits/sec (3.5MB/sec) and write speeds of 11Mbits/sec (1.4MB/sec). A replacement for a proper NAS drive this isn’t, but it will be fine for music streaming and light backup jobs.
Ignore the flim-flam, then, and you’ll find the Belkin Play Max is a good, solid router. Although it isn’t the fastest we’ve ever seen, it boasts consistent speeds over both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and performance at distance is perfectly acceptable. With a jam-packed specification list and a price that compares well with our favourite dual-band cable router, (the Linksys WRT610N) it’s a very tempting buy.
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Gigabit LAN ports||4|
|10/100 LAN ports||0|
|MAC address cloning||yes|
|Wireless bridge (WDS)||yes|
|WPA Enterprise support||yes|
|WPS (wireless protected setup)||yes|
|MAC address filtering||yes|
|Port forwarding/virtual server||yes|
|Web content filtering||no|
|Dimensions||80 x 195 x 200mm (WDH)|