Belkin Wireless Cable/DSL Gateway Router, Desktop Wireless PCI Network Card & Wireless Notebook Network Card

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, PhD., send e-mail
Manufactured by: Belkin Wireless Products, go to the web site
Requires: Router - Computer with network card; Wireless Notebook Card and/or Desktop Card - Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000; compatible with MacOS X and lower, AppleTalk
MSRP: $249.99 (router); $103.99 (PCI card); $109.99 (PCMCIA card)

Have you ever looked forward to something and then when it finally arrived found that it truly did live up to your expectations? Maybe I'm a bit cynical when it comes to computers, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised as Murphy's Law took a coffee break. Simply put, the Belkin Cable/DSL Wireless Gateway Router and accompanying wireless desktop and notebook cards delivered exactly as promised.

The router allows you to network computers and peripherals with any 802.11b compliant wireless devices as well as through its built-in, 3 port, 10/100 base-Tx Ethernet switch. In addition the router comes with a NAT firewall to help protect you from outside attacks and an IP Sec pass-through for remote access through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). In my tests I tried both the remote and wired connections and they performed identically well.

Prior to installing the Belkin products I had two (sometimes three) computers networked through a hub, a couple of network cards, Microsoft's Internet Connection Sharing and a cable modem. Generally speaking this worked okay. However, setting it up was hardly a pleasant experience and I've had to fix the setup on more than one occasion. In fact, just prior to installing the Belkin products, my laptop had been separated from the network and try as I might I couldn't get it to share the Internet connection. Needless to say the arrival of the Belkin products could not have come at a better time. The products were reviewed on a cable modem connection, a desktop computer running Windows 2000 Server and a Dell Latitude laptop running Windows 2000 Professional.

The router is compatible with both Mac and Windows platforms. After installing the router I figured the association with Macs must have rubbed off and left some Macintosh fairy dust behind, because after installation, everything actually worked! Okay, Windows products are better than they used to be, but hey, this was a pleasant surprise especially given my previous network woes.

Although barely needed, the instructions for installing the router and card were very clear. They kind of reminded me of Dell's how-to-put-the-computer-together sheets - basic enough so that even a complete novice will have success. Since installing the products I've yet to experience a single problem. Without thinking I even popped in the notebook network card one time after the notebook computer was turned on, a few seconds later I was on the Internet and surfing away with hardly a hiccup. The wireless system has a stated range of about 1800 feet, which was more than enough to cover my entire home and porch without any signal loss.

Although the router and cards passed my basic tests with flying colors I decided to take my examination one step further. At times I like to use an application sharing program called VNC. It allows people to see your computer desktop. One drawback to this program is that in order for it to work, computers outside your network must be able to see your computer's IP address. When using a router this presents a challenge because the outside world can usually only see the router's IP address, not the internal IP addresses the router assigns to your computer(s). It's one of the ways a router provides some protection. To make VNC work you must configure the router so that when it receives a certain port call it will direct the traffic to a specific computer in your internal network. Although not a terribly difficult concept, it is one that countless people on the VNC mailing list have reported struggling with. After perusing the users manual I was able to figure out how to set this up and in less than 5 minutes I had success. I have to tell you, after hearing the trouble others went through to accomplish this, this left me just a bit giddy.

The bottom line is the Belkin wireless products passed each of my tests with flying colors. The products were simple to install, worked right out of the box and performed exactly to specs. Accessing advanced options was easy and worked as promised. Other than giving the product away for free, I really don't see much room for improvement! One final feature, which given the router's performance seems like overkill, is that each of the products comes with a lifetime warranty and free 24-hour technical support. Considering my experience I am guessing that Belkin tech support people are about as lonely as the Maytag repairman.

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