The Belkin Play N600 HD Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router (Model F7D8301) is the latest in Belkin's Play series of wireless routers, which includes the Play Max N600 HD that we reviewed last year. If the Play Max was mostly disappointing, the Play N600 HD has its own saving grace. It offers stellar close-range throughput on the 5GHz band and comes with the most affordable price for a true dual-band router that has two USB ports.
In the end, however, the router is cheap for a few good reasons: its feature set is lacking and the performance of the 2.4GHz band as well as the network storage function are mediocre. The router's range isn't impressive and you can't use its Web interface to manage all of its features.
If most of your wireless clients support the 5GHz band (meaning they are based on the 802.11a/g/n chipset/adapters) and you don't care much about range, at a street price of just around $80, the N600 HD is a great buy. Otherwise, for better wireless support and performance and more features, we'd recommend spending a little more for the Linksys E4200 or the Netgear WNDR3700.
Setup and design
The Belkin Play N600 HD router has the same compact design as others in the Play series, with all the antennas hidden within the chassis. The router works only in the vertical position and comes with a detachable base. It can't be mounted on a wall.
On the back it has two USB 2.0 ports, four Gigabit ports for wired connections, and one WAN port for connecting to a broadband modem. The router comes with a CD of software that helps with the setup process and enables some of the router's features.
However, the CD is unnecessary for the setup process if you just want to use the router as a dual-band wireless router, which will be true in most cases. This is because the router comes preconfigured with two wireless networks (one for the 2.4GHz band and one for the 5GHz band). These two networks' names, and their respective encryption keys, are on a label stuck on the side of the router. This means all you have to do is plug the router into an Internet source (such as a broadband modem) and turn it on, and you're ready to go. If you don't like this preconfiguration, you can then log in to the router's Web interface by pointing a browser to 192.168.2.1.
The router's USB port can be used to connect external hard drives or printers. We found the router took a long time, say a minute or two, to recognize bus-power external hard drives. It nonetheless worked with all the drives we tried and was able to power those that drew energy from the USB port. It supports drives formatted in either the FAT32 or NTFS file system.
The Play N600 HD is not actually as cool as it's cracked up to be, since most of the so-called special features shown off on its packaging are just gimmicks or common functions with names that have been exaggerated to sound more enticing.
For example, the Self-Healing feature is just a setting that automatically restarts the router periodically at a given time. Generally, most routers' connection-related problems can be solved with a restart. A good router, however, should be able to work for a long time without having to restart at all.
The Video Mover feature is basically the ability to stream video and music stored on an external hard drive connected to the router's USB port to a media streamer, such as an Xbox 360 or iTunes. Calling it Video Mover is confusing as it suggests that the router would move video files from one place to another. We tried this feature out and it didn't work very well when the streamer was a Mac computer. As it turned out, the router doesn't seem to support Mac network protocols, such as Bonjour.
Unlike Self-Healing and Video Mover, which can be controlled (turned on or off) via the router's Web interface, the Torrent Mate feature requires that a piece of software called Vuze be installed on a computer for it to work. As Torrent Mate allows the router to download torrent files onto a connected external hard drive by itself, requiring the use of a computer to set up the downloads sort of defeats its purpose. It would be much better if you could manage the downloads using the router's Web interface.
Another corny-sounding feature is Memory Safe, which is a backup software application that automatically backs up a computer's files to the router's external storage. We would have preferred it if this were simply called Backup Software.