Testing and analysis by Tim Higgins
I used our standard open air test method described here to test the Valet's wireless performance. Testing was done using our standard wireless test client, an Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300 AGN mini-PCIe card in a Dell Mini 12 running WinXP Home SP3 and version 188.8.131.52 of the Intel drivers with all client-side defaults left in place.
The Valet was loaded with 1.00.0 firmware. All factory default settings were left in place, except setting channel 1 for the 2.4 GHz band.
I started with running quick tests with the Valet set to WEP 128, WPA / TKIP and WPA2 / AES wireless security modes and found that the router properly limited link rates to 54 Mbps when using WEP and WPA / TKIP. Given the ease of the Cisco Connect software, I didn't bother running a WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) test. Anyone buying this product would just be using the magic setup key to add any new wireless clients.
Figure 15 shows the IxChariot aggregate plot for all 2.4 GHz band downlink tests using 20 MHz channel width. Throughput variation is about the same as I've seen with other N routers, although it does settle down a bit as signal levels drop.
Figure 15:Cisco Valet wireless throughput - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, downlink
The Valet didn't set any wireless speed records, even when using 40 MHz bandwidth mode. Highest speed measured was 65.2 Mbps (Downlink, 40 MHz bandwidth, Location A). Although it was able to stay connected in all six test locations, throughput in weakest signal Locations E and F sometimes dropped below 1 Mbps, which would be barely usable.
For a competitive comparison, I generated a Performance table selecting a few other single-band N routers: D-Link DIR-655 [A4], ASUS RT-N13U and the Linksys WRT160NL, which use Atheros, Ralink and Atheros chipsets, respectively.
Figure 16: Wireless Competitive Comparison
The clearest winner in this comparison group is the ASUS RT-N13U, which uses a single-chip Ralink chipset. Looking at the Average throughput charts, which average together results from all six test locations into a single number, the Valet tends to sit in the lower half to lowest one-third of the rankings.
Use the Wireless Charts to further compare and explore the Valet's performance.
There's a lot to like about the Cisco Valet: the easiest setup on the market; an attractive design that doesn't need to be stuffed into a closet to gain spousal approval; guaranteed wireless security as part of the basic setup; built-in, subscription-free parental controls; a guest wireless network; and a cleanly designed package that looks great on retail shelves.
Though it adds a bit of cost, the Cisco Connect program, supplied on a USB key, really does provide easy installation and client connection for either Windows or Mac OS machines. And, the use of a USB key also means that netbooks, which lack a built-in optical drive, will also set up nicely.
From a performance standpoint, the M10 doesn't break any speed records. But routing throughput is good for even fiber-based connections and "N" technology will most likely provide coverage for most homes for browsing and email. But I wouldn't count on it—or any other N router—for whole-home HD video streaming.
My main concern is that the use of the same password for both router admin access and wireless security is a shortcut that perhaps Cisco should not have taken in the name of easy setup. Or at least they should not have made it so easy to see the password via multiple methods.
I was initially prepared to not like a simple, non-techie device like the Valet. After all, I've been reviewing wireless routers for years, and put myself in the "features freak" category, i.e. you can't have too many of them. But I also understand that the Valet products are designed for a very different market than the hard core geek.
For its intended market, the Valet really nails it; from the consumer-friendly packaging, the attractive aesthetic colors, to the bullet-proof setup. You do, however, pay a premium. The very, very similar (Cisco doesn't like to compare the two product lines) Linksys E1000 lists for $20 less than the M10 Valet. And although the E-series products don't come with the USB key, they all do include the same Cisco Connect software on the install CD.
As a technical guy whose phone number seems to be on speed dial for friends and family, I'll be recommending the Valet M10. The simple set up, as well as the wizards that guide people through adding additional computers, both work as advertised. Most likely, if they follow my recommendation, my phone won't ring for setup support. For that, Cisco has a published 800 number.