Home routers are pretty much commodity products these days, and most users just want to just plug them in, enter a couple of ISP account details, then leave them to get on with their routing magic. So anything that promises to simplify the out-of-box experience is to be welcomed. Some vendors, such as Belkin, have certainly got it down to a tee, so how does Cisco’s new Linksys E3000, an updated version of the WRT610N, fare?
We quickly realised that the setup routine is geared towards Wi-Fi. It doesn’t explicitly tell you this, but a ‘wireless network enabled PC’ is listed as one of the minimum system requirements. Wired setup works, using one of the four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, but this option is not mentioned anywhere, which could confuse less savvy users. We got there in the end, with the new and easy-to-use Cisco Connect configuration utility happily installed.
Our cable ISP account (the E3000 doesn’t have a DSL modem) is tied to the MAC address of a long-dead PC, so we needed to change this. Clicking ‘Advanced settings’ in Cisco Connect launches the web configuration interface, where we easily made the changes. At the same time we changed the default admin password and wireless SSIDs for the twin 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios. This was a bad idea.
On exit, Cisco Connect wouldn’t work, announcing that since the router password had been changed, we were on our own. We reset to factory defaults, but Cisco Connect still refused to talk to the router and, even worse, we couldn’t access the web GUI either as we didn’t know the default password. This is in the manual, which isn’t on the CD; there’s just a web download link.
We eventually prevailed and decided to bypass Cisco Connect, only to find it’s needed to configure some handy features, namely the 2.4GHz guest wireless network and per-device parental control settings. These settings are bafflingly omitted from the otherwise admirably comprehensive web interface.
Cisco Connect also insists on setting the same password for admin access and both wireless connections, whereas in the web GUI you can make them all different. But if you change one, Cisco Connect will again wash its hands of you.
This Kafkaesque interaction between the software and hardware is a crying shame, as the E3000 has many good features, and wireless performance from the 2 x 3 internal antennas is outstanding. For a 2.4GHz connection we measured record Passmark network throughput values of 70Mbps at 1m and 24Mbps at 25m, and at 5GHz we saw almost 100Mbps at close range and 30Mbps connections possible up to about 12m.
To be fair, less technical users will appreciate Cisco Connect’s simplicity, and advanced users will find many business-class capabilities. The hardware is sleek and well constructed (although our sample did have a sticking WPS button) with plenty of status information from the top-mounted LEDs.
A couple of additions would make it almost perfect, namely support for 3G dongles and printer sharing on the USB port in addition to the existing NAS and UPnP media streaming features. Also, allowing guests to connect without having to sign in via a web page would allow browser-less devices to connect.
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