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Linksys EA9200 802.11ac Wi-Fi router review: Solid feature set; mediocre performance

Michael Brown | Feb. 10, 2015
The router industry got a bit over its skis when it started shipping so-called "wave 2" 802.11ac routers. The hardware is real, but the firmware to turn it on still isn't available. If you have a lot of wireless clients in your home, and you use a lot of them for streaming music and video, buying a so-called "tri-band" router is a better strategy.

The router industry got a bit over its skis when it started shipping so-called "wave 2" 802.11ac routers. The hardware is real, but the firmware to turn it on still isn't available. If you have a lot of wireless clients in your home, and you use a lot of them for streaming music and video, buying a so-called "tri-band" router is a better strategy.

I call products like the Linksys EA9200 so-called tri-band routers because they still use only two frequency bands: 2.4GHz for 802.11b/g/n clients and 5GHz for 802.11ac clients. They'd be more accurately classified as tri-radio routers, because they split the 5GHz spectrum between two radios.

That enables you to operate three discrete wireless networks (with the 2.4GHz radio operating the third) to significantly reduce wireless congestion and contention. Like most late-model 802.11ac routers, the EA9200 also supports beamforming to concentrate its signal on a client and increase its wireless throughput.

What makes the EA9200 unique is its ability to automatically move 802.11ac clients between its two 5GHz networks to balance the load, a feature Linksys calls Smart Connect. When you survey the available wireless networks the EA9200 is operating, you'll see only the one 2.4GHz network but you'll also see only one 5GHz network. You can disable this feature if you prefer to choose which 5GHz network you want 802.11ac clients to connect to. You can also operate one guest network on each frequency band.

The EA9200's vertical form factor houses six antennas, three of which are external and upgradeable and three of which are mounted inside its enclosure. There's just one LED on the front of the router, illuminating the Linksys logo. There's a WPS button on the right-hand side of the router, and a second button that enables you to turn off all three of its Wi-Fi radios. The back of the router hosts one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port, so you can share both storage and a printer on your network. The usual four-port gigabit switch and gigabit WAN port are also located here, as is a power toggle.

This being an EA-series router, the EA9200 offers Linksys's Smart Wi-Fi technology, which means it can run first- and third-party applications. Many of these apps can be managed with an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, in case you don't own a PC. The router itself can be managed locally or remotely via the cloud.

Performance

For all the advanced features the Linksys EA9200 has to offer, its 802.11ac performance disappoints. When paired with a notebook client equipped with a 3x3 Asus USB-AC56 Wi-Fi adapter, it finished in last place in all four of the rooms I tested it in. Interestingly, its sibling 802.11ac router — the Linksys WRT1900AC — stands head and shoulders above the other four high-end routers I compared it to. And Linksys charges less money for the WRT1900AC. As of this writing, it was selling for $250 at the Linksys online store, compared to $300 for the EA9200.

 

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