Although it has yet to be adopted as a standard, Belkin is jumping on the 802.11ac bandwagon with the AC1200 DB Wi-Fi Dual-Band AC+ Gigabit Router. This $149 device has a sleek design, fast speeds and extra features such as well-thought-out guest access. But how does it match up to leading devices from D-Link and Cisco?
Click to EnlargeLike the Cisco Linksys EA4500, the Belkin AC1200 is designed for the non-techies in the world. The all-black bubble design, which only stands vertically, looks trendy and matches up well with modern laptops. The router comes prepackaged with the Ethernet cables already plugged in, a nice touch.
Click to EnlargeUsing the included CD (you can also download the software online) setup took a painless five minutes. Belkin's instructions were clear, and there's even a handy slip that tucks underneath the router with the default network name and passcode.
The included software is also quite useful. Within seconds, a pop-up appeared saying there was a new firmware update. Any time there was a break in the Internet signal, another pop-up appeared offering diagnostic advice. Most of the router configuration steps, such as network name and passcode, are available through this software.
However, advanced settings, such as quality-of-service to manage the apps and websites that should get the bulk of your Internet and local network bandwidth, were only available through the advanced setting. In other words, you need to access the IP address of the router in your browser.
Since 802.11ac Wi-Fi cards have not yet made their way to notebooks, we used two Belkin AC1200 routers, with the second one set up as a bridge, and connected via Ethernet to an HP Envy 17. At a five-foot distance, we clocked 362 Mbps using Ixia Chariot. That's on a par with the Buffalo AirStation AC1300, but about 100 Mbps slower than the D-Link DIR-865L.
A 6GB collection of files took 3 minutes and 26 seconds to copy, about twice as long as the DIR-865L. However, a 1.2GB folder took 35 seconds, about 4 seconds faster than the D-Link. (The speed differences are likely due to fluctuations in wireless signals that can happen at these insanely high speeds.)
Using the 802.11n standard in the 5-GHz band, the Belkin's speeds were more pedestrian. At five feet from the router, we saw throughput of 160 Mbps, which is about 40 Mbps below the DIR-865L and the Linksys EA4500. At 150 feet, the Belkin AC1200 averaged 65 Mbps, on a par with the Linksys AC4500, and well below the D-Link's impressive 170 Mbps.
Belkin uses a quality-of-service technology called Intellisense to manage network performance. One perk is that you can set the download speed for a specific device (say, a laptop) on your network to max out at a certain download speed (e.g., 20 MBps) or upload speed (e.g., 1 Mbps). This means, when you use a preferred device such as an Apple iPad, you can always expect the most bandwidth. We tested Intellisense with an iPad and the HP Envy 17 laptops. While downloading 6GB of files with the laptop, we placed a Skype call with the iPad and never experienced any hiccups.
While most routers have a parental filter, the one included with the Belkin uses Symantec Norton technology and allows you to set multiple levels of blocking. Also, many routers provide guest access over your Wi-Fi network, but the AC1200 offers a unique "café style" mode that has a well-designed login page for guests who need to type in a password in order to gain Internet access. This router also has a handy traffic flow monitoring tool that displays historical graph data.
Click to EnlargeWhile we like the sleek design and easy setup of the $149 Belkin AC1200, this router loses points for not matching the speed of the D-Link DIR-865L. More significantly, though, Belkin's router is not forward-thinking enough. The Cisco Linksys EA4500 and the D-Link DIR- 865L both offer mobile apps you can use to access your router at home or on the road. Still, the Belkin AC1200 is worth considering if you want 8011.ac speeds for $40 less than the D-Link and robust parental controls.