I’ve been using a Linksys WRT54GS since they were released in 2004. The speed was sufficient for my home network needs and, with a couple high gain antennas, the wireless coverage was exceptional. I tried a few different firmware versions, but settled on Tomato. It was both very flexible and easy to use, and allowed me to “ground” the kids from the internet with the click of a button.
I wasn’t really planning on upgrading when Belkin contacted me about testing out their N900 router, but I had noticed more connection and bandwidth issues as we added devices to our network. Last count we had 14 wireless devices between computers, phones, and tablets.
The Belkin N900 router sports a rather large laundry list of advanced features, including one they call Multibeam Technology. While they call it exclusive, it sounds a lot like the Beamforming technology used by the Ruckus APs we have at work. The difference is that the N900 comes in at less than half the price of the cheapest Ruckus.
The N900 also boasts dual band connections using both 2.4 and 5Ghz if your devices supports it (none of my appear to), and Intellistream which is just a fancy name for Quality of Service. It puts a priority on steaming media and gaming packets and my initial tests show that it allows both of those packet types to compete with a high speed torrent download with fewer hiccups than my WRT could.
We dumped cable about a year ago in favor of streaming media through Netflix and Hulu Plus. To give the new router a good real world test we started Netflix and Hulu streams on the Xbox, Wii, and a couple laptops, plus an Amazon stream on a Kindle Fire. The Xbox was the only wired device, the others were a combination of 802.11g and n. All streams ran for over an hour without a single buffering hiccup. To give the QoS settings (aka Intellistream) a test I fired up a couple torrents of the latest Ubuntu. Even as our cable connection approached saturation at 8Mbps the streams continued without a problem.
The router also has two USB ports for sharing drives on the network. Any drive plugged into the USB ports appears on the network on a machine named BELKIN in a workgroup named WORKGROUP. There did not appear to be a way to change either name, or any means of adding security, so be careful what you share.
While the performance definitely lives up to the hype, it is missing three router features that I regularly use. These are: Static DHCP leases, local DNS, and advanced firewall rules. Static DHCP is useful so I can manage the address of devices like my printer, workstation, and NAS from a central place. This also ties in with the local DNS as many routers track both static and dynamic names and serve up the appropriate address when asked. This way my printer is known as “brother” and I don’t have to look up the IP address every time I add a printer to a new device. The advanced firewall rules have been useful for controlling where on the internet local machines are allowed to go. I’ve been able to use OpenDNS for this purpose, but it is more easily circumvented than proper firewall rules.
All the other routing features that you’d expect are there. DMZ allows one machine to be dangled precariously out on the open internet, and port forwarding allows me to forward a few ports into my workstation, but I have had to add firewall rules to my workstation to limit who can connect via ssh.
Overall I’m happy with the N900 because of the wireless performance, but I do wish for a better firmware. Hopefully one of the open firmware options will become available in the near future.
Wired: Great 802.11bgn connections. High speed wireless. QoS for gaming and streaming works well.
Tired: Simplified user interface. Lack of advanced routing features.
The Belkin N900 DB runs about $200 at Amazon.