Skip Navigation


Belkin F5D7630-4A ADSL modem with built in 802.11g wireless router review

The F5D7630-4A is Belkin's latest all singing and dancing router. As well as an ADSL modem, the package includes a wireless router running the 802.11g (54Mbps) standard, and a four port Ethernet switch. This router is suitable for use with single IP address ADSL accounts, with an identical set-up for static and dynamic IP addresses.

The router has a fairly standard NAT router embedded in it, with support for virtual servers (port forwarding) and IP filters to provide additional firewall functionality. The router supports WEP (64 and 128bit), WPA-SPK and WPA wireless security modes.

What you get for your money

The package follows the usual pattern and is fairly heavy due to the amount of metal in the construction of the router itself. The list of supplied components is:

  1. The router itself
  2. RJ45 Ethernet patch lead for connecting to a PC
  3. RJ11 to RJ11 plug lead for connecting the router to a microfilter
  4. A microfilter, with both ADSL and telephone sockets.
  5. Power supply
  6. Warranty card
  7. Quick set up guide (in multiple languages)
  8. Leaflet advertising assisted set up service
  9. CD-ROM with full copy of manual

The reason for the heavy industrial feel to the router is the metal chassis used, as shown below. The picture also shows the antenna, which are permanently attached. There does not appear to be an easy method for wall mounting of the router.

The front of the router features no less than eight LEDs, the purpose of each is as follows:

  1. PWR - illuminated if the unit is powered up
  2. ADSL SYN - indicates the router is synchronised with the exchange
  3. ADSL DATA - shows that there is a data connection to the service provider
  4. WLAN - flashes to indicate traffic on the wireless network
  5. LAN 1 - LAN 4 matched to the four Ethernet ports at the rear of the router

The business end of the router is well labelled, and features, the two antennae, the four port Ethernet switch, a recessed reset button, power socket, and an RJ11 socket for the ADSL line. The reset button appears to just restart the router, rather than a full reset to factory defaults. The factory defaults can be restored via the web interface.

In use, the router does seem to run pretty hot compared to many other units. We would not recommend placing the router on a heat sensitive surface, as the metal underside can get uncomfortably hot, although it never seemed to bother the router itself.

Configuring the router

Many people see a CD-ROM in a routers contents and immediately think that you will be tied to using a software based set up. Fortunately, like most routers, the configuration of the Belkin is all carried out via a built-in web server and should be possible on any operating system that will run a reasonably standard web browser. The other useful thing to note, is that the wireless network is enabled by default, with no security turned on. This means the initial configuration can be carried out using a wireless link if you so wish.

This Belkin router is the first we have seen that offers an engineer assisted set up. For a fee of £89.95, someone will visit and carry out the basic configuration for the unit and a small network. Given the popularity of the Belkin hardware in shops the option for an assisted set up is very useful, though obviously it does come at a price. That said the set-up of the router is very easy to do, and the majority of people should get online with no problems.

The first job when setting up the router is to plug all the leads in and switch it on. The set-up for this review was have carried out totally over a wireless link, but you can of course use Ethernet if you want. For the wireless set-up to work, you must have your wireless network card set to Infrastructure mode, and it should be connected to the routers default SSID network name of belkin54g. The IP address range that the router uses is 192.168.2.2 to 192.168.2.254, with the router taking 192.168.2.1.

On pointing your web browser at http://192.168.2.1, you should see the router login page below. As no password is set by default, you simply need to click the submit button.

At this point, if you have an ADSL line plugged into the router you should find the ADSL SYN led is permanently on. If it is flashing, the router is trying to lock onto the ADSL signal, i.e. sync to the exchange. If the LED is not on, this suggests you do not have a working ADSL line, the leads are plugged in wrong, or possibly some other fault exists. To set up the router, click the Wizard link on the top menu bar.

For a UK ADSL connection, you will need to select PPPoA (Routing mode, for multiple PCs) even if you are only going to connect a single computer, then click the next button.

The next step is to enter your username and password that your service provider has provided you with. To try and ensure the password is entered correctly it must be entered twice. The VPI/VCI values of 0/38 are the correct ones for a BT Wholesale ADSL line. If you are using another telephone provider check the settings required. Click next again to continue to the next phase in the wizard.

The next step does not actually require the user to enter any information, it is simply a summary screen of what you have entered so far, and allows you to verify that you have the details correct. Click the Apply button to store these settings in the router. The process of storing the settings in the router is fairly slow, and takes around one minute, but a progress bar is displayed so that you can tell the process has not halted. If the settings are correct, and the router is able to log you onto your provider, you should see a screen like that below.

This screen tells you what your Internet IP address is (the WAN IP), and you will note that the menu bar at the top of the page now shows the Internet Status as connected. For the review, there is really one bit of configuration left to do. During the course of reviewing hardware we tend to swap kit in and out several times, we generally prefer to run the routers on the same IP address (192.168.0.1). This is easily accomplished by clicking the LAN Settings link on the left hand menu of the Belkins web setup and altering the routers IP address.

The router is clever enough to alter the DHCP server IP ranges to match the new LAN IP address of the router. Once the changes were applied it took around a minute for the router to restart, during which time the wireless signal dropped, but once this reconnected the PC was assigned an IP address in the new range of 192.168.0.x.

Configuring Virtual Servers

The vast majority of users will not need to worry about using the Virtual Server menu of the Belkin. Virtual Server refers to the routers ability to forward unsolicited packets from the Internet to a specific machine on the local network. With no virtual server rules, all the computers on the local LAN are protected from incoming attacks and probes, which provides a basic level of security. Opening up holes in this protection can carry risks, and should only be done if you have a specific application that needs a port forwarded to operate. Some examples of applications that need port forwarding are: running your own mail server, a games server, peer to peer applications.

The Belkin supports just 20 virtual server rules. This may prove limiting for people who run lots of applications that need forwarding. The web interface does not make it obvious, but by specifying a range of ports in the LAN port and Public port fields it is possible to use port ranges, e.g. 9100-9200 would forward all the ports between 9100 and 9200. The syntax for this becomes more obvious if you look at how ports are specified in the Application Gateways section, which also shows that a comma seperated list of individual ports is also possible. This makes the 20 rule limit less of a problem.

To set up a rule, you must define what the local network IP address the computer running the service is using. It is best to manually assign the IP address to the computers network card when setting up a service, otherwise if you use a dynamic IP address the IP address may alter and at some point in the future the service stop working. The protocol type depends on the service, two options are available TCP and UDP. The LAN port and Public Port will usually be the same value, e.g. TCP port 80 is the standard port for a web server to run on. Once you have filled in the fields press the Set button and the router will start to forward the appropriate packets. You can disable a rule but leave it in the list by clearing the Enable checkbox, or to delete a rule press the Clean button.

For times when the 20 rules is not enough, there is the option of making a single computer into the DMZ machine. When you set the DMZ the computer at the specified IP address on the local network will receive all unsolicited incoming traffic, and therefore be fully visible to the Internet. This can help with getting some video conferencing or games that require hundreds of ports forwarded to work. Though the downside is that the computer is then fully open to attack across the Internet, so a software firewall becomes a neccesity for that machine.

Advanced Firewalling and Configuration

The router includes more than basic port forwarding, it also has support for Application Gateways (ALG). An ALG is a clever way of controlling port forwarding, since it allows a set of port forwarding rules to be pre-defined, but only to become active when traffic on a specific outgoing port is seen. An example can be seen below, this uses one of the pre-defined rules, which shows that as soon as an application talks to the Internet using UDP port 28800 that the ports 6667, 2300 to 2400, 47624 and 28800 to 29000 will then be opened up in the incoming direction to the computer that originated the request.

The list of popular applications holds a set of pre-defined rules to make using the Application Gateways simpler. Also hidden away under the System Settings menu is the option to turn UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) on and off. UPnP is a way for software applications to talk to a router and inform it of what ports it will need and open them accordingly, Generally it is only Microsoft software like MS Messenger and some Direct Play games that use it.

The Belkin does include a degree of firewalling. The firewall is appears to be aimed at the parental control market, but with its degree of customisation, people should be able to configure it to do much more. The firewall comprises of three areas and these all control outbound access to the Internet:

  1. Access Control - a list of pre-defined and custom services that can be blocked, e.g. block HTTPS
  2. URL Blocking - a list of URLs that can be blocked, it can also operate on keywords
  3. Schedule Rule - a system for creating periods in the day for when applications can be blocked or allowed

With some careful thought and testing it should be possible to lock down a PC fairly tightly. Obviously for this to be any use for controlling peoples access you would be advised to set a strong password in the System Settings page of the router, otherwise people will be able to log into the router and turn the blocks off. The ability to block sites by keyword is useful, but with just 30 URLs allowed, and no ability to create a list of approved sites it is somewhat limited.

A final trick up the routers sleeve security wise, is the ability to control who has access to the Internet at all. The MAC Address Filtering on most hardware just applies to computers using the wireless side of the router. With the Belkin it also operates on computers connected via the Ethernet ports.

The screenshot shows that just one computer is allowed network access, every other machine is blocked. To make building the list a bit simpler, the DHCP Client List drop down will hold the details of all the computers getting an IP address via DHCP. To add it to the allowed list, simply select a row number to copy the MAC address to, and the interface will fill in the MAC address automatically. The MAC address is a unique identifier every network card has.

Wireless Configuration

Little has been said about the routers wireless capabilities so far. It supports 802.11b (11Mbps) and 802.11g (54Mbps) and a mode called 'g nitro'. The 'g nitro' mode is intended to help 802.11g networks to run at closer to their maximum speed when used in a mixed mode, i.e. when 802.11b clients are also present.

The Belkin allows the usual parameters to be changed, i.e. to switch to a pure 802.11g network, change wireless channel, and hide the wireless network name (SSID). An unusual parameter you can change is to set the maximum transmission rate. The security of the wireless connection is covered under a different screen.

A number of security modes are supported, you can turn it off, use WPA-SPK, 128bit WEP, 64bit WEP or WPA (with radius server). Generally, any of the methods other than disabled, will keep a casual passer by out of the network, but the preferred methods are WPA-SPK and 128bit WEP encryption. WPA-PSK is relatively new, and to use it with Windows XP you need to download the patches from Microsoft, and have a wireless network card that supports WPA. A useful webpage on the Microsoft site that covers WPA can be found here.

To show how easy WPA-SPK is to set-up, we will run through what you need to do, assumming you have a compatible wireless card. One caution as always when setting up wireless security, it is best to have one computer that can access the router via an Ethernet connection, as it is very easy to forget what the keys were or mistype them and lock yourself out of the router. The first step is to select WPA-PSK (no server) on the router, and enter a key. Unlike WEP, this can be a nice and easy to type phrase for example 'Today is Hot'. To make configuring a little easier, the Belkin offers the option to obscure the key or not when typing it in.

Notice how for the Windows XP wireless configuration you have to select TKIP for the data encryption. If you do get the keys correct then you should find the computer is given an IP address from the router, and that Internet access will work. There is no indication in Windows that you have got the key wrong, which can mislead people at times. At least with WPA there is not the confusion caused by hexadecimal and ASCII input methods.

Performance

To provide some idea of how fast the various 802.11g and 802.11b based routers are we have done comparisons of the maximum wireless speed by copying a 229 MegaByte file across the wireless network from a PC connected via Ethernet. For the sake of simplicity we have listed the fastest speed recorded for the various routers. In all the tests the wireless network card was a Netgear WAG511 Wireless PC card used in a 1GHz Sony Vaio laptop.

Wireless Performance Measurements

Wireless device

Time for 229MB file copy (seconds)

Average transfer rate (Mega bits per second)

Belkin F5D7630UK4A

134

13.67Mbps

BT Voyager 2000

387

4.73Mbps

Buffalo WLI-CD-G54

98

18.63Mbps

Linksys WAG-54G

100

18.32Mbps

Linksys WRT54G

107

17.1Mbps

Netgear DG834G

194

9.44Mbps

U.S.Robotics 9106

128

14.31Mbps

BT Home Network 1250

389

4.72Mbps

Wireless router percentage of detectable signal

Router

1st Wall

2nd Wall

4th Wall

Belkin F5D7630UK4A

80%

13%

0%

BT 1250 (2Wire)

100%

54%

26%

Linksys WAG-54G

93%

53%

6%

Linksys WRT54G

93%

26%

0%

Netgear DG834G

100%

60%

26%

U.S Robotics 9106

75%

20%

0%

Wall 1 comprises double brick construction with bathroom tiles
Wall 2 comprises of double brick construction with kitchen tiles
Wall 4 is the next measurable point, due to an old coal bunker between walls 3 and 4.

Unfortunately, after what is otherwise flawless performance, the Belkin router is let done by under par 802.11g wireless performance. It is likely that it is faster with Belkins own brand of wireless cards. Though 13.67Mbps across a wireless connection is plenty enough to run decent quality streaming audio and video material from a central server in a house. The range of the unit appears to be somewhat lower than some of its competitors, making it really only good for use through one or maybe two solid walls.

Conclusions

The Belkin F5D7630-4A is actually a bit of a dark horse in the router market place. It manages to offer a great deal of functionality for a low price, and the interface would appear to be fairly user friendly in that a degree in IT is not needed to work it. After the slightly flaky offerings from other providers in the 802.11g router market, the Belkin is showing some maturity and should be a reliable recommendation. The 802.11g performance may worry some people, but should only concern those moving large amounts of data across the local network.

The firewall may not be up to the standard that hard-core users need, but that is not really the target market for this device. The assisted set-up makes the router ideal for first time wireless networking users, since there is the option of help in your house, though at a price.


Prices: £62 – Belkin F5D7630-4A (£73 including VAT)
Links: http://www.belkin.com/uk/
Where to Buy: See our DSL Hardware FAQ

Andrew Ferguson


andrew@thinkbroadband.com

The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision - You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider and hardware supplier.