Belkin AC 1200 DB wireless router
Belkin offers a good first step towards 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but its USB and DLNA features need work
Belkin's AC1200 is part of the new breed of wireless routers that can make use of the 802.11ac specification. It's a stylish unit that's relatively straightforward to install, and its wireless and wired networking performance were both reliable in our tests, but it's definitely not a speed demon.
- Good mid-range performance under 802.11ac
- Gigabit Ethernet ports
- Reliable performer over months of use
- Slow USB ports with no config settings
- DLNA didn't work properly for us
If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive router that supports 802.11ac, Belkin's AC1200 is a decent choice, but it's not the fastest product on the market. Belkin has introduced some new features that should be of interest to some users (automatic QoS and Norton parental filters), but it still needs to work on getting other features, such as the USB ports and DLNA to work better.
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
Set-up and Web interface
The router has been designed to stand upright and its antennas are internal in order to give it a neat look -- as neat as a router can be with Ethernet cables sticking out of the rear. The sides are glossy and the unit tapers from the front to the rear, giving it a svelte overall aesthetic.
The front of the unit has a status LED that can be dimmed if it gets on your nerves, and there is a WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) button that makes it easy to install wireless speaker docks and other devices without having to mess around with passwords. The stand feels a little weak though, but this should be of no concern once you have successfully set it up and placed it in its desired position in your home.
Because the AC1200 is just a router, you will need to plug in your own modem, and it will accept either an ADSL2+ device or a cable device from Telstra or Optus. If you plan to use this router with an NBN plan, note that its WAN port will not support the highest 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload speeds.
Setting up the unit proved to be a simple task. The router is pre-set with SSIDs and passwords for its 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks and a little card with the credentials is placed in a slot on the bottom of the router, which you can use to set up this router wirelessly from your laptop or other mobile device.
Once connected, you can venture to its Web administration page, which is the standard address of 192.168.2.1 for Belkin routers, and set up your Internet connection manually. The password for the Web interface is blank by default and you will need to enable one if you're serious about network security.
To get onto the Internet, simply go to the 'Connection Type' page, which is under the heading 'Internet WAN', select the type of connection you have (PPPoE for most of us ADSL2+ users, for example), and enter your ISP credentials. For us, it took about 30sec to get connected to the Internet after entering our details and letting the router restart.
It's easy enough to change the SSIDs and passwords from the 'Wireless' part of the Web interface, although SSID and password settings are on separate pages. You'll have to apply settings twice, which is about 20sec worth of waiting all up, and that's not too bad at all. That's all the configuring you'll need to do if you just want to get online and share an Internet connection with your wireless devices, but there are some other features to check out, too.
Indeed, the Web interface actually features 'New' labels, which appear next to features that are making their debut in Belkin routers so that you can easily check them out. These are IPv6 support, Norton Web site filters and a feature called Intellistream.
Intellistream is a Quality of Service (QoS) tool that can make sure gaming and other services that require low latency are given more bandwidth than other services on your Internet connection that don't require low latency, such as video streams. It needs to be enabled manually and it runs a speed test in order to gauge the best download and upload settings for your connection. In our test period, this automatic speed test failed every time we tried it. We had to run a speedtest ourselves over the Web and enter the results of that test manually in order to give the feature accurate information. A restart is needed to apply this information and this took around 90sec, briefly disturbing our Internet connection in the process.
The neat thing about this feature is that gives you a real-time graph of the types of traffic that are flowing over your network. You can see at a glance what type of traffic is taking up the majority of your connection at any given time — it's all colour coded to make it stand out.
For security, the Belkin AC1200 makes use of Norton DNS filters, with three protection settings to choose from. The most basic setting is for blocking sites that are deemed to be malicious (phishing, scam and malware sites); the middle setting also blocks adult sites, while the high setting adds blocks to sites that relate to alcohol, drugs, crime, hate, suicide, violence, abortion, tobacco and gambling. Even a relatively simple task such as looking up Lotto results will result in a block.
There is no way to bypass the filter if you want to access a blocked site; you'll have to disable the filter instead. It's far from perfect though, with sites such as Live Leak, for example, still allowing plenty of videos on flagged subjects to be viewed. The seedier parts of Reddit and Imgur were also not blocked. It just reinforces the fact that proper supervision or a lounge room-based PC so that you can see what your kids are up to online is still a better way to keep them from content that you don't want them to be exposed to yet.
We tested this router for over two months while we waited for Belkin to release an 802.11ac USB adapter so we could do some more speed tests and, as far as Internet and network connectivity are concerned, it proved to be a solid router that we never had to reset or troubleshoot during that time. Part of that could be due to the 'self-healing' feature, which was enabled to restart the router every Tuesday at 3am. We used it with a Billion BiPAC 5200S RD ADSL2+ modem.
While the router supports conventional simultaneous dual-band operation for 802.11n clients, you'll need 802.11ac clients on the other end of this router if you plan to make use of its fastest wireless speed, which is rated at 867 megabits per second (Mbps). The fastest 802.11n standard in the 5GHz spectrum is 450Mbps.
We tested this router's 802.11ac performance using a Belkin AC Wi-Fi dual-band USB adapter that we plugged in to a Dell laptop. That adapter is able to take advantage of that 867Mbps 802.11ac speed. We also tested with an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6300 wireless adapter in the same Dell laptop, and that's an adapter that can run at up to 450Mbps in 802.11n mode. This particular Belkin router only goes up to 300Mbps in 802.11n mode though.
The results we obtained are definitely in favour of the 802.11ac set-up, which recorded transfer rates of 20.58 megabytes per second (MBps) in our short-range test (2m away from the router) and an even better 20.78MBps in our mid-range test (from 10m away from the router). However, these results make it slower than the Linksys EA6500, which is the other router we've tested with an 802.11ac wireless client on the other end. That router recorded 26.9MBps and 25.58MBps in the short and mid-range tests, respectively.
We had to fiddle a little with the channel selection in order to get the 802.11ac network to run swiftly, but in the end the 'auto' selection in the router returned the best results. We're impressed that there was barely a drop-off in performance at the mid-range distance. Using the Belkin USB adapter, you should be able to supply fast wireless performance to a desktop PC or other network-capable devices that are a reasonable distance away from the router.
If you only plan on using 802.11n in the 5GHz network band, then you'll still be able to get good speeds out of this router, albeit with a noticeable drop-off in performance at mid-range distances. In our tests using the Intel Centrino adapter, the router transferred data at a rate of 17.6MBps over a short range, but it recorded a rate of only 12.18MBps over a mid-range distance.
If you want to go even more basic in your network set-up, you can opt to use 802.11n in the 2.4GHz band. In our tests, this configuration topped out at 8.8MBps over a short range and 8.6MBps over a mid-range distance.
Harnessing the extra bandwidth of the router by using an 802.11ac USB adapter is only practical for static devices; it can be inconvenient to use a laptop with the USB adapter plugged in, primarily because of the way it sticks out, which can be uncomfortable if you want to use a laptop on your lap, or if you're moving around a lot. Installing the adapter on an Ultrabook or another type of computer without an optical drive will also be inconvenient because Belkin supplies the adapter's drivers on a CD-ROM.
You can attach up to four wired devices to the router's Gigabit Ethernet switch on the rear, which can provide an average throughput of around 50 megabytes per second when transferring files between two typical PCs with 7200rpm hard drives.
Two USB ports allow the Belkin AC1200 to be used for sharing hard drives across a network, but these ports are painfully slow. We achieved a maximum rate of 1.8MBps when copying data from an attached hard drive to a laptop on the wireless network. Playing video streams up to 720p off an attached hard drive over the network was easily done though without any stuttering.
DLNA is supported by the router and it was detected quickly by our LG TV in our tests. However, every hard drive that we connected to the router could not be viewed properly through the TV, nor through our test laptop's media player. Only fresh USB sticks with media on them worked.
There aren't any settings for the USB ports in the router's Web interface, only a simple 'Media server' setting that can be enabled and disabled. We've expressed disappointment in the way Belkin implements USB ports on previous products and the AC1200 has left us feeling this way again.
Media sharing from our desktop PC, which was connected to the router via Gigabit Ethernet to our TV, which was wirelessly connected up to 10m away was a very good experience though. We were able to stream standard- and high-definition content over the 5GHz 802.11n network without any stuttering or drop-outs.
Belkin's AC1200 wireless router turned out to be a reliable worker during our test period and we didn't have any problems while setting it up — it was a smooth experience from the get-go. Its 802.11ac function is a little slow for our taste, especially considering the competition has higher speeds available, but it's a baby step towards the next best thing in wireless networking, and more affordable than most other 802.11ac products at the moment, too. We just wish it had better USB ports and better DLNA support.
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