Belkin’s N+ Wireless Storage Router (F5D8235au4) is an attractive wireless router that's easy to use and has a useful set of features. Not only can it distribute your Internet connection across wired and wireless computers, it can also be used to share a USB hard drive across your local area network. It has a built-in Gigabit Ethernet switch, and it can even tell you — through a Knight Rider-like gauge — how much of your ADSL2+ bandwidth is being used up by your downloads.
Setting up the router is effortless; there is no need to worry about VPI/VCI or other cryptic settings. You just select the type of connection you have (PPPoE for ADSL2+) and enter your username and password. We were up and browsing the Web in a matter of minutes. You will need to have a modem plugged into this router so that you can access the Internet; this can be a standalone Ethernet-based modem or a modem/router. If it’s the latter, you have to set it to bridged mode before you can unplug it from your current setup and plug it into the Belkin N+ Wireless Storage Router
The lovely blue icons on the front panel tell you what’s going on with the router and are handy for troubleshooting. When the blue computer icon is visible, you’ve established a wired connection to your PC; when the blue modem icon is visible, then you know that the modem is connected; when the blue Earth icon is visible, then you’re on the Internet. There is even a blue light to let you know if wireless security is enabled.
Our favourite icon is the download speedometer, which shows you, at a glance, how much of your available Internet bandwidth is currently being used. We used PC World's Broadband Speed Test and the speedometer lit up completely as our ADSL2+ connection hit 15.6 megabits per second (Mbps). It’s definitely a handy indicator for letting you know if someone — or everyone — connected to your network is currently downloading large files. A fully lit speedometer means they are, whereas one bar means they are just browsing basic Web sites; when it gets to two or three bars, they’re watching videos on YouTube!
Wireless networking is supported for 802.11b/g/n devices and there are three antennas in the router; two of them stick out from the top of the unit. When setting up wireless access, you’ll notice that the encryption settings are ordered from highest (WPA-PSK) to weakest (WEP 64-bit), which is a nice touch. You can select from plain WPA mode, up to a combination WPA/WPA2-PSK mode using TKIP+AES algorithms. If you don’t want to play with the settings, you can use the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button to find and automatically implement a commonly supported wireless setting across all of your other wireless devices (as long as they also support WPS).
We achieved good results when testing the wireless speed and range of the router with a Centrino 2–based laptop. From 10m away, the laptop connected at 130Mbps and averaged a transfer rate of 6.54 megabytes per second (MBps), which translates to 52.32Mbps. This is slightly faster than the ASUS RT-N15 SuperSpeed N Wireless Router and Edimax Wireless 802.11n ADSL2/2+ Modem Router, which are both 802.11n routers.
In our range tests, the Belkin N+ Wireless Storage Router (F5D8235au4) provided a usable signal for browsing the Internet up to 30m away, which is also on par with what we have seen from other 802.11n routers, such as Belkin’s own N1 Vision Modem-Router.
The Belkin N+ Wireless Storage Router comes with a built in Firewall that’s enabled by default. It has a virtual server setting and a DMZ, so you can configure it to work with applications such as BitTorrent or online games, and you can also set up a Dynamic DNS account. However, there are no settings for VPN passthrough.
A USB port on the rear of the Belkin N+ Wireless Storage Router can be used to plug in an external hard drive, which can then be shared across your network. For it to work properly, you need to install the supplied Belkin Storage Manager software on each computer that you want to be able to access the hard drive. The attached hard drive will then show up as a network drive in My Computer. There is no way to implement security for the drive, such as read and write permissions for specific users. There is also no way to partition or format the drive through the Belkin Storage Manager, nor the router itself. In fact, the router’s Web interface does not have any options pertaining to attached USB storage devices.
Nevertheless, our attached USB storage device worked well enough, but we do wish the Belkin Storage Manager software had an interface. As it stands, it is just a tray utility that does nothing when you double click it and which gives you two options when you right click: unmount the network drive or shut down the utility. Copying files to an attached 1TB hard drive was a slow affair at a rate of approximately 1.7MBps for large files. You will definitely want to copy TV shows and movies to the hard dive by using a direct USB 2.0 connection, which will be accomplished at the much faster rate of 30MBps, and then connect it to the router’s USB port for sharing. It will easily stream music and standard-definition videos to your networked computers, but high-definition video files might stutter.
If you want a simple to install router that will let you share a hard drive on your network, the Belkin N+ Wireless Storage Router (F5D8235au4) is a good choice, especially since it comes with a lifetime warranty.