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Belkin Play Max - full review

As we announced back in April Belkin has now launched the iRouter range Surf, Share, Play and Play Max, and do you know what, they've only gone and snuck another one in there, the cheekily named Surf+. However, today, we're taking a look at the top of the range Play Max.

Belkin Play Max router

So, other than a clear and simple name, what other goodies dose the Play Max bring? The box contains the router, a power adapter, the installation CD, an ethernet cable and an RJ11 phone cable showing this is the ADSL modem version of the router. We're still not sure about the look of the new Belkin range, but at least they're making some sort of nod towards design, unlike say D-Link, and the whole thing feels sturdy enough.

The router itself is a simultaneous dual-band router, with one ADSL2+ port (there is a broadband version for those on cable), four Gigabit LAN ports and two USB 2.0 ports. The USB sockets support USB printers and external hard drives in FAT16/32 and NTFS formats. The router has all the usual standards you'd expect, NAT, UPnP, SPI, WEP, WPA, WPA2 and WPS. However, it also has a couple of tricks up its sleeve, not least of which is the ability to set up a wifi hotspot of your very own with a guest network for everyone else, whilst you enjoy your own network.

The new Belkin range is designed to make things easy for non-technical users and you start to get a feel for this when you take the router of the box. Lots of little instructions are attached to the router telling you what to plug in where, and in which order. Set up is a doddle if you follow the CD instructions, and if that's all you want to do then this is a pretty good router. But if that's all you want, maybe you should look at some of the cheaper routers, as the top of the range PlayMax is aimed more at power users.

Belkin Play Max ports

The unique selling point of Belkin's new range is apps which run on the router. Whilst this is a new take on routers, unfortunately for Belkin, this is where things start to go a bit wrong for the PlayMax.

The concept is the apps run on the router, and will perform useful functions. Included apps are such things as:
 • Torrent GENIE - for downloading bit torrents when your computer is off
 • BIT BOOST - which prioritises different data types
 • MUSIC MOVER - lets you stream music to DLNA devices
 • PRINT GENIE - print wirelessly to a printer connected to the router
 • SELF-HEALING - detects and resolves network probslems.

Alas, most of these end up not being what you'd hope. For most of the apps to work, you need to have installed and permanently have running the Belkin taskbar utility on your PC. For instance without it the NAS feature won't work and you can't launch bit torrent downloads.

The taskbar software itself is an odd collection of web links for things like router configuration, freeware apps and communication with apps that are running on the router.

Much of the software linked to from the taskbar utility is poor. The installation CD includes Vuze (a bit torrent client) and a media player. Vuze (which used to be Azureus) is ad-funded and so whenever you fire up your bit torrent app you'll end up being bombarded with adverts. Normally we'd suggest using a different torrent client (you could do a lot worse than utorrent), however its all tied into the Belkin taskbar so you can't really pick and choose what you want. Oh and you can't start a torrent directly from the router, you need to do that from a computer.

We'd really hoped that Self-healing would save a lot of the questions people have about routers, unfortunately it just tells you there's a problem (Windows 7 does this already).

So, what should have been a simple set of apps running on the router, has turned into a fairly lacklustre taskbar utility you have to run all the time on your computer (draining your system resources). It's a shame as some of the apps could be quite useful, unfortunately this configuration just doesn't work. It is software though, so maybe Belkin can get it right down the line?

Belkin Play Max side view
  
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