Review: Belkin Play Max F7D4301 wireless router

Belkin’s Play Max wireless router combines several features. At heart it is a wireless-n access point combined with a 4-port router and simple firewall, though it does not include a modem so you will need either an ADSL or cable modem with an Ethernet network port to use it. In addition, Belkin has added a couple of USB ports. You can plug in an external hard drive and access it over the network, provided that the Belkin client software is installed on the PC you are using, and schedule backups to that storage. You can also use the unit as a DLNA media server, so that music files on an attached hard drive are available to DLNA clients on your network such as a PlayStation 3.

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Sounds good; but with the current firmware and software it is hard to recommend this unit, unless you only need its basic features and have the knowledge to configure it. There are several annoyances.

Let’s start with the setup. It is meant to be easy: attach the Belkin to your modem using the special yellow port, install the software on your PC, run setup, and you’re done. The wi-fi is preconfigured with what I presume is an unique WPA password, making it somewhat secure out of the box, though uPnP auto-configuration is enabled by default and the admin password is blank, so I would not describe it as really security-conscious.

Setup probably is straightforward if you have a simple ASDL or cable modem; but in many cases these devices have their own built-in routers in which case setting up the Belkin is a little more tricky. If you need something other than the default networking configuration, the easiest way is to attach the Belkin to a laptop but not yet to the internet, log onto the browser-based setup, amend the settings, then connect it to your ADSL or cable modem or router. In my case I already have a router/modem, and I found I needed to give the WAN port on the Belkin a fixed IP address on the same subnet as the existing router/modem. In this scenario you should set the Belkin to be a wireless access point only and ignore the yellow WAN port. I also tried it with its firewall enabled, connecting the yellow port to the existing router, and manually setting DNS and gateway IPs: this worked too, but in this configuration you are doing double NAT (Network Address Translation) which is not really a good idea.

The underlying point is that Belkin leaves you on your own if do not want the default configuration, which means you will need some understanding of networking to get it working correctly.

That’s fair enough I suppose; but my work was hampered by the Belkin seemingly needing a hard reboot after every change; the built-in soft restart often did not work. It also managed to reset itself to factory defaults on one occasion without being asked. Once configured though, it performed its basic task without any issues. That said, I did not find the range of the wireless N connection any better than my old Wireless G wireless access point, even with wireless N clients – though I was not able to test the 5Ghz wireless channel, only the 2.4Ghz channel. The speed of the network was very good though, faster than before.

I did all this without actually installing the Belkin client software. It had to be done though, so I went ahead. The software is for PC and Mac and installs as a package without any options:

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What you actually get though is not one piece of software but seven:

  • Belkin Daily DJ
  • Belkin Music Labeler
  • Music Mover
  • Belkin Setup and Router Monitor
  • Belkin USB Print and Storage Center
  • Bit Boost
  • Vuze bit torrent client

Installing a bit torrent client without asking is poor practice, though you can remove it using control panel afterward. There is also barely any documentation for the various extra features. I recommend you go to Belkin’s official support site and search for the model number, in my case F7D4301; it is the only place you might find something useful.

I was interested in trying the media and network attached storage features. My first effort, attaching a 1.5TB external drive, seemed to crash part of the router; but after a restart I got it to show up in Windows Explorer and in the Belkin USB Print and Storage Center. However I was unsuccessful in sharing any folders for media streaming.

One support note says you need to use Music Labeler before media streaming will work, so I tried it. I also made sure there were only a few tracks present, in case it chokes on large libraries.

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No great surprise: the Music Labeler, which claims to fix the metadata in your music files, was slow and ineffective with a baffling UI. Even in my small music library there were numerous unknown tracks. And after I ran it, the Music Mover application still could not find the folder for streaming.

I was determined to try this, so I set up a tiny network with just the Belkin, a laptop, and a small drive attached with some music files. It was frustrating: Music Mover reported no drive plugged into the router even when the Belkin USB Print and Storage Center showed two drives attached (actually one with two partitions):

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I rebooted the PC and lo, finally Music Mover detected the drives and the music folder.

I still did not get it to stream. I got close. I enabled streaming in Windows Media Player (Stream –> Turn on media streaming) and successfully connected to the library. However, when I tried to list what was available I got the message “The remote media library did not allow the connection.”

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Well, I am willing to believe that in the right circumstances this might work. In any case, on Windows you could easily play the music directly from the networked drive, so it is no big deal.

There are other annoyances. The date and time in the Belkin is stuck on Jan 1 1970, with no way to change it; it is meant to retrieve the time from an NTP service but this did not work despite trying several different ones. The “self-healing” feature is simply a scheduled reboot, which I take as a vote of little confidence in the stability of the firmware. The client software is ugly and pops up a big dialog every time you start your computer.

In the end the device is reasonable value if you ignore the extra features. Both the software and documentation is poor though, and no doubt a lot of time will be wasted trying to use it.

Note: the rating below is your rating of the usefulness of this review, not my rating of the product.

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Rating: 8.9/10 (14 votes cast)
Review: Belkin Play Max F7D4301 wireless router, 8.9 out of 10 based on 14 ratings

9 comments to Review: Belkin Play Max F7D4301 wireless router

  • Steve

    I too have the Belkin Play Max router. I found it relatively simple to set up – even able to change the default IP address and wireless network details without a problem. But! This router, while it will stream media over its wired connection, won’t do it from the wired to the wireless network. So basically Play Max is Play Minimum – and this is supposed to be a premium product…?

  • Bart

    Same problem overhere, with my previous router (linksys wrt-54g) i had no issue with DLNA. Once I swapped to the Play Max, the only device my PS3 or Philips TV is able to see is the integrated server (but way too slow to stream any video).
    Created a ticket and now waiting to see how they will react.
    Quite surprised that this can happen with such a high-end product.

  • Simon

    I have similar issues, the labeller/mover see’s an old/cached version of my local itunes library and it more worryingly totally over-rides the link between the ipod/ipad “remote” application to allow my ipod/ipad to work as a remote control for your itunes library, something to do with the media serve stuff i guess. I reverted back to my older N1 belkin router and it worked perfectly (same 128bit security/firewall etc, all out of the box settings too), even with the belkin play-max s/w running in the background so it is obviously a router setting or something hidden deeper (ports maybe?). Spent 90mins on phone with apple support who eliminated everything to do with them, over now to Belkin, I have logged a ticket and am awaiting a reply.. very annoying and the mover/labeller both seem very flaky/crashy/basic so I agree with the misnomer, should definitely be play-min not play-max! shame it is price-max not price-min.. :(

    Credit to the vuze transcoders though, very useful getting stuff onto my ipad and my xbox360, very hassle-free, though their bittorrent runs at about a 5th the speed of utorrent using the same trackers?!

    (..and yes, i have obviously tested by taking all WEP security/firewall/autofunctions off of it, disconnected it from my ISP, etc etc, so much so that it was acting as a simple switch at one point?!)

    Has anyone else seen the itunes remote functionality being overridden/blocked by the new play-max modem/router?

  • I’m facing failed to update the latest firmware ( x.x.28 ) .

    Right now i can not connect to this belkin wireless router , and even the yellow / green led is doesn’t show at all , i think is died already .

    Btw , would you mind to share to me about how to perform reset / format this belkin with the original factory firmware setting ? it suppose there is a short cut to perform auto format and install the rom right ? thanks .

  • GuyM

    I obtained the Play Max as a replacament for an N1-Vision that was constantly dropping pcs. The Play Max is great on on networking side, however my itunes sharing is now crippled. The Itunes dedicated folder on a WD MyBook World is now no longer visible, and none of my Home Shared computers are visible. seant an e-mail, no response …. not happy, Belkin :((

  • Adam Pilborough

    I am very disappointed in this product. The thing is with Belkin, you get good hardware, their support is very helpful and they try to resolve your issue (and they replace products with no hassle). BUT! Their software department is completely out of it. the firmware is riddled with bugs, and their hopeless when it comes to supporting new windows OS systems.

    I have tried to get their software to run on two win7 and three vista computers. sadly no luck. :( In the end I had to used XP mode in win 7, and it worked like a treat. But having to run a VM to run this software? really?

    And don’t get me started on the firm where. The port forwarding page on this router has a major bug. If you enter a port in lane 1, it comes up saying “No2. The IP you have entered is invalid.” (Note that the second lane is blank and not enabled. fill in lane 2, it comes up saying “No3. The IP you have entered is invalid.” and so on and so fourth.

    But this is the kicker! I got the Play Max as a replacement for a N1 vision (Another buggy pile of faeces). It got stuck in a reboot loop and flashing it did not work. But when you pressed the reboot button for a 10 seconds, it went into “download mode” and I figured it was a way to flash the ROM if all else failed. BUT NOT ONE PERSON AT BELKIN SUPPORT KNEW WHAT THE HELL IT WAS FOR! (Serious lack of communication between departments).

    I have to say that I have had it with Belkin. I have gave them the benefit of the doubt three times, and all three have failed me in some way. This leaves me having to say “Never under any circumstances buy a Belkin router. EVER!”

    Hope this helps people make the right choice in networking peripherals and devices.

    Have a nice day :)

  • John

    I have had many of the same problems. The most frustrating is the “print function”.

    The Modem/router Max platy is supposed to be able to act as a file and print server for all the computers in the network. Well, the printer just simply will not work as the software must have been designed in XP and with XP in mind!
    When you attach a printer, it goes through the motions and then asks you now to install the printer driver, giving you options to CANCEL and REMIND ME !

    Well, given Vista and Windows 7, do not come with disks and drivers are automatically loaded when you contact the printer! and given that I had already connected the printer, there is nothing else you can do!

    The BL……DY GARBAGE Belkin Max Rubbish software can not even handle Printer device driver loading properly!

    My 12 year old could write better software than Belkin!

    Considering the Belkin software is now VERSION 5, Maybe they will eventually get the software to work at least 50% of the time by VERSION 25 !!

    Alternatively, they can let my 12 year old write the correct and working software for Belking in 5 days!

    Belkin, Great product company has become the great disaster company!

    I have just returned my second product back for a full refund and will never touch them again, I would rather use two cans and a string to communicate!

  • alan

    So Tim, what was your review based on?

    Your 8.7/10 seems to be hugely misplaced based on all these negative comments!

    Or was the assessment funded by Belkin?

    Please try to be objective and try the product again for “basic functions” such as HDD connection (File server) and USB printer connection (Print Server) with 2 PCs and then see what your new rating would be?

    Specially when you realise that you have to do everything on every pc again and again and then it still does not work!

  • tim

    @alan

    I did not recommend the router; the score at the end is a reader rating for the quality of the review, not my rating for the router.

    I agree it is confusing and I’ve added a note to that effect.

    Tim

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