Fairly-uninspiring its looks might be, but there's much promise behind the trident prongs. Belkin was one of the companies that preached to us for ages about not subscribing to the philosophy behind accelerated wireless kits.
But, as other manufacturers such as Netgear and D-Link dabbled with bringing out 108Mbps devices (both based on the Atheros chipset) that promised much but delivered little, Belkin brought out its own 125Mbps kit, based on Broadcom technology.
So what are Belkin's Pre-N products if nothing but accelerated wireless kit? Well, before we pass further comment, we should take a look at that third antenna. It's key to the difference between this and other 802.11a/b/g products. It's designed to increase how much data the device can throughput. The technology is called MIMO, Multiple Input Multiple Output.
While the 802.11g standard uses a single 20MHz channel within the 2.4GHz spectrum, MIMO splits the data in half and pushes the two streams down two 802.11g channels. In theory, throughputs are doubled. In theory. Incidentally, MIMO technology was developed by the same firm, Airgo, that helped Apple develop its Airport range. Even so, it's a bit cheeky of Belkin to use the term 'Pre-N' when ratification of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard is a long way off. But 'N' will be based on similar technology to the one in operation here. And this is probably just the first of a long line of Pre-N products.
Time to perform
So that's the tech, but does it make any difference? In our tests - we trialled the router with the laptop adapter (pictured) and also the PCI desktop adapter - the throughputs of Belkin's Pre-N Starter Kit was initially disappointing, but we soon managed to get better figures out of it; upwards of 35Mbps. And in terms of the throughput it can sustain, it's exceptional.
We kitted out two laptops with Pre-N cards and connected them to the router. It produced startling results, with a 50MB transfer between the laptops taking 30 seconds. That's over 1.5 times the speed we've achieved with 11g kit.
But, while the Pre-N kit is supposed to be more resistant to interference from other networks, we didn't find this hugely effective. Digital Home's office has several wireless networks in it, and these markedly interfered with our Pre-N network. Single network homes will fare better.
So, what of range? We tried out our Pre- N enabled laptop in the garden, where the range was tremendous; we got 50 metres away, when previously we haven't been able to get a decent wireless signal outside at all. And, at this distance, it took 90 seconds to transfer the same data file.
So it's great for surfing the net in the garden. And if your walls have been previously too thick for wireless, give it a whirl. But for other devices that stream video, for example, it'll be less useful, since the non Pre-N devices won't be able to connect above 802.11g speeds. Over to you Belkin. And, more importantly, Airgo.