Linksys E1200 Vs. Belkin N300
Wireless-N router showdown!
Here I compare two recent router purchases I made in an attempt to break into Wireless-N at a reasonable price. While neither router ultimately met the needs of my home network configuration, most users won't have a problem with either model.
[Image Credit: http://www.slashgear.com...]
The Linksys E1200
The Linksys E1200 Wireless-N router comes in a sleek and smaller package compared to its predecessors. Aesthetically, the E1200 fits smoothly in just about any home technology center. The low profile, aerodynamic stance belays its true nature, and would be a welcome appearance were it not even plugged in. The unit is devoid of any indicator LEDs on the front of the unit, reducing the light pollution caused by so many twinkling devices when the lights go out for movie night.
The configuration interface is a familiar sight for those accustomed to Linksys products, and hasn't changed in nearly a decade. Configuration is a breeze, but there are features missing that were once standard on routers from about five years ago. The most noticeable discrepancy is a lack of WDS support for wireless bridging. This one missing feature forced me to return the unit, though I couldn't complain about much else. For those with multiple, non-wireless devices throughout a household, bridging multiple access points is a much better option than running cable through the attic. This feature used to be common on most low cost routers, and now it seems only available on the higher dollar units.
I also found the wireless signal on this unit to be under-powered, especially for 802.11n. Sitting with my laptop, approximately fifteen feet away from the router, I only had about 75% signal. Compared to the old Belkin Wireless-G router I was replacing, this was pathetic. Don't get me wrong, this was still adequate and performed well, but not seeing a full array of bars on my wireless signal indicator was a bit of a shock.
I spent 54.99 on this router at Best Buy. The price was reasonable, the features good for basic usage, but I was disappointed in the lack of an expected feature, and a weak signal. The lack of WDS appears to be common in many low-end routers, so I can't really blame this model for this lack. The signal weakness is actually pretty typical for Linksys units I've used in the past. In fact, I replaced a WRT54G Linksys that had add-on antennae boosters for a cheaper Belkin unit with a single, built-in antennae and noticed a marked improvement in signal range.
[Image Credit: http://homestore.cisco.com...]
The Belkin N300
Aesthetically, the Belkin N300 isn't much to look at. They tried, that you can tell, but I've never been a fan of vertical hardware. The casing is very thin, and the construction seems fairly cheap overall. The unit has two multi-colored indicator LEDs on the top by the WPS button. The light glow blue when where is internet connectivity, and orange when there is not. The LEDs are very discrete and do not create much, if any, twinkling light pollution in a darkened room. I actually think it's good to have some sort of light indicator on the front of the unit just so you don't have to lift it up to figure out if it's really on. In this area, the Belkin loses out to the Linksys E1200 in pure aesthetics.
Much like the Linksys, the N300 web interface should be very familiar to Belkin users as the only difference I can see compared to my older Wireless-G router is that the theme has changed from blue to grey. I've never had an issue with the Belkin interface though it is not as well designed as the Linksys, it is functional. My only complaint here is the inability to completely override what nameservers are provisioned in the DHCP scope. Belkin routers like to assume the role of primary DNS, and this creates resolution delays on my older router. I found the same limitation on the N300, which is 5 years newer, but did not notice the same resolution delay.
What I found sincerely disturbing was the lack of WDS support. I swapped the E1200 out for this unit since I was using WDS on my older Belkin router, and I had discovered a misleading eHow article using this router to setup wireless bridging. Again, I am sorely disappointed with the recent generation of low-end routers for lacking WDS. I now have to resume using my old Belkin as an access point only to maintain the bridge to my home office, and hope it holds out long enough for me to find a sub-$100 router that meets my bridging needs. Considering this feature seems to be lacking on all models in its category, I can't exactly blame the router, but this will force me to return it as I have no desire to have an extra wireless device sitting on my media tower for a purpose that should be met by the wireless router itself.
The N300 does work very well. The signal strength is 25% better than the Linksys I replaced at ~75% of the cost. I returned the E1200 and actually got 16 bucks back from Best Buy for my trouble. If I had not accessed the web interface and found, to my shear disappointment, that there was no wireless bridging configuration, I would be pleased to use this router until it catches on fire if necessary. I found the "Self Healing" app a bit gimmicky, after all, it simply reboots itself on a schedule and auto-updates its firmware. Not bad features, but I hate gimmicks.
Overall, I would say the N300 is a great price competitor to the E1200. Considering the better signal strength, it's a definite win if you have a poor line-of-sight from your wireless devices to your router. I have yet to truly test the full range of this router at Wireless-N, but given the better signal at even 15 feet, I can say that the E1200 is a bit under-powered in this regard. If you're going for looks, and a solid router overall, then the E1200 is a good buy. But if you're not too concerned with what the Joneses think about your rats nest of technology, and are looking to save a few bucks, the N300 can't be beat.
[Image Credit: http://www.belkin.com...]