The new Belkin Wireless G is a four port wireless router (hardly exceptional in this day and age) with a key selling point; it's also got a simple USB print server inbuilt, along with a single USB port for connecting up compatible printer models.
The router itself is a visually plain model for the most part, with a pair of fixed stubby antennae at the back. Special mention must be made of the router's rear ports. While they're what you'd expect at the back of a router -- four standard ethernet ports, one Modem/Network connection port and a single USB port -- they're all not only colour coded for ease of use, but also labelled. And not labelled as in "port 1" or some such, but group labelled in plain English with titles like "Connection to Computers". It's a very simple design step, but for networking novices it's such a huge confidence booster that we wonder why more router manufacturers don't adopt this KISS-style labelling.
The router's features are essentially run-of-the-mill in this day and age; it's an 802.11b/g router with WEP and WPA security features, four wired ports and an interface that, like the labelling on the back of the router itself, is quite well suited to those who aren't completely familiar with networking terminology.
Installation of the router itself can be managed either through the Web interface for network old hands, or via the supplied installation CD, which provides simple diagrams and steps users through setting up a wired or wireless network for the first time. Once you've confirmed your location, it'll even step you through connecting up to an ADSL or cable modem using standard Australian or New Zealand settings, which is a good bit of localisation to offer.
While it's easy enough to use and install, that's probably not enough to sell the Belkin Wireless G; it's the inbuilt print server features that are the real hook. While it's entirely possible to share a printer through any PC with most modern operating systems, that entails leaving the "host" PC in an always on state; this sidesteps that issue and simply lets you connect up and print at will for as long as the router itself has power. There's one catch here: according to the documentation that comes with the unit, Windows XP is the only currently supported operating system for print sharing. There's a possible workaround for that problem, which we'll get to shortly.
As a wireless router, the Belkin Wireless G had average signal penetration and strength in our test environment; as with any wireless router that's a factor that's variable depending on a number of environmental conditions. It'd be nice if the antennae were removable, but that's a minor quibble that many other routers suffer from.
Setting up wireless print serving on this unit is quite a simple process, thanks to the included wizard. In our tests with an HP PSC2210 All-In-One printer, it was as simple as connecting to the router, running the wizard software and selecting the correct detected printer and driver at the right time.
It's worth noting, however, that the print server will only work on PCs with the full driver installation; in our testing one of our PCs had been connecting to the same printer with a generic print driver, and the unit wouldn't pick that up as a suitable driver. Belkin maintains a list of compatible printers for its print server line which can be found here. Our test printer wasn't on that list and worked fine for basic printing tasks, for what that's worth.
Adding additional printers is then a matter of running the supplied print sharing application on each PC you wish to print from, and that's the fundamental reason why the Belkin Wireless G only offers Windows XP Print Sharing, as the application is Windows XP only. Naturally, those with the newer Intel-based Mac products could try working around this with Boot Camp or other virtualisation products, although that was outside the scope of our testing procedure.
There's absolutely no shortage of basic 802.11g routers on the market at the moment, and in many ways this unit falls into the same average position as the vast array of available options. It does stand out for its simple print sharing functionality (although there are other models, such as the more expensive Netcomm NB620W that offer the same thing) and overall ease of use, which makes it a good option if you're keen on wireless networking but a touch daunted by all the terminology and technology that you need to wrap your head around.
Belkin Wireless G Router with Built-in USB Print Server