Belkin Pre-N Router review

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Standards, while a wonderful thing, can take a long time to be ratified – frustrating when we all want the latest technology now. So the first wireless networking kit was proprietary, and every time a new standard is developed, we see draft products beforehand and special enhancements afterwards. At least with the Pre-N Router, Belkin isn’t leaving you under any illusion. This is in no way the first 802.11n product. That standard isn’t due until at least 2006. But it does use technology that’s likely to end up in 802.11n, called MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output).

Belkin Pre-N Router review

As performance is the primary feature of the Pre-N, we gave it a real run for its money. We used the same 144MB multifile copy from a wired desktop to a wireless IBM ThinkPad T42 as with other wireless products on review this month, fitted with a Pre-N PC Card adaptor. We also made sure there were two other WLANs operating in the vicinity. MIMO is supposed to cope well in a multi-AP situation, and we wanted to give it a realistic challenge.

The results were nothing short of stunning. At close range, the 144MB collection took just 37 seconds to copy, equating to 31Mb/sec. In contrast, Buffalo’s 125Mb/sec AirStation g54 WBR2-G54S took 51 seconds. Performance was even more impressive at range. Executing the file copy on a lower floor at a range of about 10m, the test completed in 44 seconds, where the Buffalo had fallen to 82 seconds. We then tried playing a DVD video from the optical drive of the desktop, and were able to watch it on the notebook skip-free, even at range. This is the first WLAN setup we’ve seen that’s actually capable of this feat.

It wasn’t all rosy, however. We also tried the Pre-N with our ThinkPad’s built-in Centrino 802.11g adaptor, and copied the 144MB file in 79 seconds at close proximity, and 193 seconds on the floor below – notably worse than the Buffalo. Clearly, the Belkin needs its own proprietary adaptors to work its magic.

Other than the MIMO-fuelled bandwidth increase, however, the Pre-N is a pretty standard Belkin router, with essentially the same web interface and features as its 802.11g predecessors. It supports Ethernet cable and ADSL modems connected via dynamic or static IP, PPPoE, PPTP, or the Australia-only Telstra Big Pond. You can clone the MAC address of your existing router or modem if your broadband ISP uses this for authentication. Alternatively, if you just want to use the Pre-N as an access point, all routing functions can be turned off.

The WLAN can be secured by MAC address control, hiding the SSID, and WPA-PSK or WEP encryption with a 64-bit or 128-bit key. The broadband connection is protected by a firewall, which prevents attacks such as Ping of Death and Denial-of-Service, but doesn’t offer any user-level rule configuration. There’s the ubiquitous support for port redirection under the Virtual Servers section, although in this case a huge range of presets are provided, albeit still populated by antiquated gaming titles. You can nominate one machine as the DMZ with full Internet access. Time-based IP filters can be set up – for example, you could block everything but HTTP during working hours. You can also block pings from the Internet, so hackers can’t tell if your router’s online.

The Pre-N has some more advanced features, too. There’s 802.11e Quality of Service (QoS), which prioritises time-sensitive data packets such as Voice-over-IP. If you’re running any local servers, there’s direct support for DynDNS, so you can give your dynamically changing IP address a permanent domain name for ease of access. One feature some previous Belkin routers didn’t have, however, is the support for Parental Control. This uses the Cerberian blacklist system to block offensive websites, and there’s a free six-month subscription included in the box.

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