Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router

It's not 802.11n, but does it operate faster and further?

Review The plethora of wireless networking standards is confusing enough and Belkin's Wireless Pre-N Router muddies the water even further. Despite the suggestive 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 ratified, probably sometime late in 2006. But it does 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, writes Dave Mitchell.

Belkin Wireless Pre-N RouterWhereas conventional access points use a single antenna - even if it's configured as two aerials - for sending and receiving wireless signals, Mimo uses multiple antennae - there are three 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 54Mbps channel can have two streams running at this speed, or combined to produce 108Mps. 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 adaptors.

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 10/100Mbps 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. A Wizard takes you through every stage of the installation process, from loading the software, connecting the router, and gaining Internet and management access.

The browser interface is very easy to navigate. 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 on which 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.

To test performance we used a Belkin Pre-N PC Card running on a 1.6GHz Pentium M-based notebook running Windows XP SP2. 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 utility reporting an impressive raw throughput of 45.6Mbps over an unsecured wireless link. With WPA-PSK selected this dropped noticeably to 32.8Mbps.

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 50 feet away, performance only fell by seven per cent. Real world results were also impressive. 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 28Mbps.

Verdict

There's no denying that Mimo delivers on performance - 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 PC Cards and PCI adaptors 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.

TrustedReviews.com

Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router
 
Rating 80%
 
Price £120 inc. VAT
 
More info The Belkin Pre-N site

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