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Published on January 24th, 2011 | by Alicia


Routers And Access Points: Faster Wireless For All

With all of the coverage on sexy gadgets like tablets and smartphones, it’s easy to neglect he key infrastructure that makes much of it work well- your networking equipment. And it doesn’t matter if you have DSL, cable, or satellite- any high-speed broadband internet user needs a router. They serve multiple purposes, primarily allowing you to share your connection to multiple devices, wirelessly and wired. We’ve tried out our fair share of models, and today have some of the latest offerings from Belkin and TRENDnet.

“Belkin”:http://www.belkin.com/ bills its “Play N600 HD Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router”:http://www.belkin.com/IWCatProductPage.process?Product_Id=522112 as providing the “ultimate performance for gaming and home theater video streaming.” Its purpose in life is to maximize speed and performance for all your media-intensive applications with speeds up to 300Mbps, and handle large torrent downloads, like those illegally downloaded movies you just couldn’t resist. The Play has the most features of any Belkin router, though many are standard: it runs on dual bands simultaneously, has dual antennas for full coverage, easy set-up, a two-year warranty, four LAN ports, a WAN port to connect to your DSL or cable modem, and two USB ports.

Despite these promises, we’re sorry to say but we weren’t very impressed with the Belkin Play. The touted apps run on host machines, not the router itself, and while an interesting idea in concept we weren’t impressed by any of them in execution. The DLNA media server, for instance, doesn’t run from the router itself oddly. And though you can plug in an external hard drive to convert the unit into an inexpensive NAS, the performance was sluggish at best. The included software required for setup was not impressive, and setup seemed unnecessarily complicated.

While Belkin has a good customer support team that’s available 24/7, perhaps it would be better to design a router that doesn’t require it. Further, the reliability of the router’s connectivity is spotty at best. Numerous resets of both the router and the modem were necessary in our testing, and we came up against several issues- needing self-powered USB drives, some printer driver issues, some odd configuration choices. Also, the Play did not deliver on speed like we were hoping, coming in behind our other router head-to-head and behind some previously-reviewed models. We did update the firmware, to one recently released, and it fixed at least one issue we found with Bonjour support, but we still cannot recommend this unit highly. “The Belkin Play retails for around $100″:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0047T7AIU?ie=UTF8&tag=trulyobscure-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0047T7AIU, but you may be better off potentially considering their other models or another brand.

Let’s switch gears slightly to “TRENDnet’s”:http://www.trendnet.com/?todo=home release of the first access point to offer a wireless speed of 450Mbps, the “Wireless-N TEW-690AP”:http://www.trendnet.com/products/proddetail.asp?prod=100_TEW-690AP&cat=157. (TRENDnet also boasts the first “450Mbps Wireless-N router”:http://www.trendnet.com/products/proddetail.asp?prod=215_TEW-691GR&cat=157.) An access point adds wireless capability to a non-wireless router or network and does not have routing functionality. It’s primarily useful for legacy wireless or even for upgrading slower 300Mbps wireless-N networks- so if you have a router that only handles 802.11a/b/g then this is a perfect fit for additional coverage and speed without a lot of fuss. Supporting advanced multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology, it has three antennas in total, and features the single gigabit ethernet port to enable its blazing speed.

Of course, if your older router only supports 100Mbps, you’re in trouble- but most routers made within the last few years should be fine. Also, keep in mind that the 450Mbps speed rating is theoretical- you’ll need to use an adapter that can handle the speed as well to make the system truly reach peak performance, and almost none available can actually do so. When we reviewed the router in the middle of last year, no adapters were available. And while we’re happy to say that some have now been released, you won’t notice the speed on your iPad, iPhone, or Mac laptops for instance (nor any other PCs without the higher-speed adapters, which are fairly large but plug in via USB).

We’re tempted to recommend simply purchasing TRENDnet’s excellent router instead for only a bit of additional cost, but those with existing networks will find an access point handy instead. The “Wireless-N TEW-690AP will set you back $200″:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004GOKZ1A?ie=UTF8&tag=trulyobscure-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B004GOKZ1A and comes with a hardy three-year warranty.

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