- Review Price: £120.00
The current plethora of wireless networking standards is confusing enough and Belkin’s Wireless Pre-N Router muddies the water even further. Despite the suggestive brand name this access point doesn’t support the draft 802.11n high-speed wireless standard and will not be compatible with it when it is expected to be ratified late in 2006. What it does do is use a technology called MIMO (multiple input multiple output) that was developed by Airgo Networks in 2003 and which may form part of the 802.11n standard.
Whereas conventional access points use single antennae for sending and receiving wireless signals, MIMO uses multiple aerials – hence the triplet of antennae on the Pre-N. It increases performance by using the same wireless channels as conventional products but transmitting more streams of data down them. Hence a single 54Mbit/sec channel can have two streams running at this speed, but combined to produce 108Mbit/sec. MIMO also has to overcome the fact that multiple signals will get mixed up during transmission so it has the ability to recover them correctly at the receiving end. Naturally, this technology requires MIMO compatible products at both ends of the wireless connection and Belkin offers Pre-N wireless PC Cards and PCI adapters.
Anyway – enough about the router’s technology and more on its practical use. The router itself is well built and delivers a fine range of security features including a six month trial of parental web controls. It provides a four-port Fast Ethernet switch for PC connection but it doesn’t have a built in ADSL modem. Instead it provides a separate RJ-45 WAN port so you’ll need an additional ADSL modem with an Ethernet connection. Installation is very well handled as a wizard takes you through every stage from loading the software, connecting the router and gaining Internet and management access.
The browser interface is very simple to navigate with easy access to all settings. General firewall protection is provided by NAT and stateful packet inspection while client IP filters control what services specific LAN users are allowed to access such as sending or receiving email, FTP or web browsing. A smart feature is rule scheduling as this determines what times and days each restriction comes into effect. One computer in the LAN can be placed in a DMZ (demilitarized zone) allowing unrestricted incoming access to any services it may be running – this is ideal for gaming consoles. For wireless security both WEP and WPA are supported and MAC address filters can be used to restrict or allow access for wireless clients. The QoS (quality of service) option could prove useful as it automatically prioritises traffic such as VoIP (voice over IP) and multimedia streams.
Belkin claims that its parental controls are unique but it’s a hosted service that’s the same in principal to that provided by the Billion myGuard 7500GL. When a user attempts to access a website, the request is passed to an external web filter database and checked. If it’s classed in a category that is blocked the user is advised of this and access will be denied. When you sign up for the trial you supply an email address and use a password different to that used by the router’s management interface so the job of access control can be passed to another manager or home user. You have a list of 59 categories to play with and each can be blocked or allowed individually. Belkin also offers an optional hosted reporting facility that can provide a complete history of sites being accessed and those that were blocked.
To test performance we employed a 1.6GHz Pentium M Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook running Windows XP SP2 and used a Belkin Pre-N PC Card. We encountered a problem as we could only use the notebook’s lower slot as the PC Card’s chunky MIMO aerial fouled the edge of the notebook stopping it from being placed in the top slot. Even so, we saw some stunning results with the open source Iometer reporting an impressive raw throughput of 45.6Mbit/sec over an unsecured wireless link. With WPA-PSK selected this dropped noticeably to 32.8Mbit/sec. However, MIMO delivers on range – when we moved the notebook to a floor below and with three brick walls in the way we found performance dropped by a mere four per cent. Even with the notebook removed from the building and placed in a car boot fifty feet away, performance only fell by seven per cent. Real world results were also impressive as copying a 459MB mixture of graphics files from the notebook to a PC on the LAN took a mere 132 seconds for an average rate of nearly 28Mbit/sec.
There’s no denying that MIMO delivers on performance as this is one of the fastest access points we’ve ever tested. Wireless range is also far superior to standard 802.11g products although you will need Belkin’s own MIMO compliant PC Cards and PCI adapters to achieve this. If these two requirements are your top priorities then the Pre-N products certainly won’t disappoint and the access point also offers a solid range of wired and wireless security features for a very reasonable price.
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