Cisco Linksys EA4500 review
Other than gradual speed advancements, there’s rarely any radical re-imagining in the world of wireless routers. Despite more and more people relying on that blinking box in the corner, most routers remain tricky for inexperienced users to troubleshoot and maintain.
Cisco’s latest cloud-connected, app-enabled router, the Linksys EA4500, is designed to lay that ghost to rest – and to a large extent it succeeds. On paper, the specification doesn’t look unusual. It’s a top-of-the-range, dual-band cable router (for connecting to services such as Virgin Media), capable of maintaining concurrent triple-stream networks over both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The claimed top speed in both bands is 450Mbits/sec, and there are four Gigabit LAN ports on the rear, along with a single USB 2 port for shared storage, a power switch and a button for activating WPS setup.
The really interesting stuff happens when you switch it on. The wizard on the CD takes you through setting up the wireless security and connection to your ISP, and also through online registration, which links the router with Cisco’s Connect Cloud service. The idea behind this is to enable router management from anywhere without the need for a static IP address or a separate dynamic DNS account. With apps available for iOS and Android, this makes it a doddle to run diagnostics, speed tests and even initiate WPS pairing remotely.
The interesting aspect of the system, though, is that Cisco is throwing it open to third parties. This will allow smartphone developers to build other apps that tap into your router. Block the Bad Stuff (69p) uses Connect Cloud to link the Norton ConnectSafe DNS service with your router for rudimentary parental control over web browsing. The free HipPlay app provides access to music, photos, videos and documents on shared storage.
The second thrust of Cisco’s new system is a complete redesign of the UI. Gone are the flat, intimidating table-based HTML pages to be replaced by a modern, altogether friendlier affair with slick graphics and animated menus. Most sections are now explained in plain English.
On the main homepage, the interface features a dashboard populated with, confusingly, more “apps”. These apps aren’t related to the smartphone apps, they’re widgets that can be hosted on the homepage of the web-based front-end. We’re not sure the app analogy works here, but the redesign certainly makes it a friendly router to manage.
Performance is rapid. Copying a series of files over Wi-Fi using a laptop equipped with an Intel WiFi Link 5300 adapter, we recorded an average transfer rate of 12.3MB/sec over 2.4GHz at 2.5m, and 14.35Mbits/sec over 5GHz. At long range that fell to 5.2MB/sec over 2.4GHz and 1.6MB/sec over 5GHz. It’s a performance that would have placed it just in front of our favourite cable router from the last routers group test – the Asus RT-N56U – and it’s quicker than its predecessor, the E4200.
There are shortcomings, however. Read speed from shared USB storage is slow: we recorded an average rate of only 184KB/sec from an NTFS-formatted stick and 693KB/sec when that stick was formatted to FAT32. Write speed was far quicker, giving an average of 19.53MB/sec. Elsewhere, when the router is disconnected from the Cloud Connect service, the widgets disappear, which robs you of the ability to manage USB storage.
The EA4500 is a mixed bag, then. It’s easy to set up and use and quick over wireless, but slow USB read speeds and a questionable reliance on apps undermine all that good work. It’s encouraging to see routers getting simpler, but the Linksys EA4500 isn’t quite there.
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Gigabit LAN ports||4|
|10/100 LAN ports||0|
|WPA Enterprise support||yes|
|Port forwarding/virtual server||yes|
|Dimensions||266 x 158 x 26mm (WDH)|