Belkin N1 Wireless Router: Neighbor-Friendly but Flawed Draft 11n

Closing Thoughts

I really have mixed feelings about Belkin's N1 and found myself cycling between really taking the product to the woodshed in this review and praising it as an example for others to follow. So, instead of some wishy-washy conclusion, I'll do both!

First, the bad stuff. I don't understand how you can have a > 100 Mbps router and have it not be able to handle even a dozen simultaneous sessions. This just goes to show that having a fast router doesn't mean that it will automatically handle P2P applications well.

Perhaps Belkin doesn't care about having the N1 used in this way, given P2P's unsavory reputation. But with BitTorrent already doing duty as a legitimate video distribution service, I think this is a bug that Belkin had better put on its to-do list.

The other nasty is the astoundingly bad throughput performance in the modes that are most likely to be used by buyers. Maybe Belkin (actually Atheros) would like to think that consumers are only going to buy draft 11n routers and cards in matched pairs. But the truth is that draft 11n routers will also see plenty of non draft 11n clients. Draft 1.0 spec or not, exacting an over 50% throughput penalty for running a secure WLAN is simply not acceptable.

The last ding I'll aim in Belkin's direction is for its router feature set. Hey guys, it's 2006 and you're trying to position this product as a top-of-the-line premium model. So why does the routing feature set look like a holdover from 5 or 6 years ago? You need to get QoS and bandwidth controls into the picture as well as some decent logging and parental controls. And would you please provide some WLAN monitoring tools starting with flashing the front panel icon when there is wireless activity?

On the plus side of the ledger, Belkin has done a very nice design job with the N1's front panel and installation aids. Both should help to minimize those costly support calls and product returns. The routing speed is also a plus, although it is crippled by the lack of a built-in gigabit switch.

But the big plus is that the N1 has finally cracked the code on making draft 802.11n wireless neighbor-friendly. Other vendors need to follow suit ASAP before the interference scourge they are currently creating spreads too widely.

On balance, however, the N1 hasn't changed my position that draft 11n products should be left on the shelf. Although the N1 and Atheros have moved one step closer to having draft 11n products that deserve to be on store shelves, we're not there yet.