It’s always pleasing when a company takes reviewers’ criticisms seriously – and that certainly seems to be the case with Cisco’s new Linksys E4200 top-of-the-range router. When we reviewed the previous flagship model, the E3000, in 2010 we found many deficiencies in the Cisco Connect software (which comes with all E-series routers) – but we’re happy to say that all the points we made have now been addressed.
Three streams are better than two
Billed as a maximum performance’ model, the E4200 is notable mainly for its 450Mbit/s 802.11n capability, the first time we’ve seen this in a consumer router. The 802.11n standard supports a wide range of speeds, depending on how many data streams are used. Each stream is 150Mbit/s, so a standard 300Mbit/s models use two streams with two transmitting antennas (one for each stream) and either two or three receiving antennas. These configurations are referred to as 2×2 and 2×3 respectively. The E4200 is a dual-band, dual-radio router, and the 5GHz radio (a Broadcom BCM4331) is a three-stream, 3×3 device capable of 450Mbit/s connection. However, the 2.4GHz radio is a standard 300Mbit/s 2×3 design using a completely separate Broadcom BCM4718 chip.
The upshot of this is that the E4200 contains six internal Wi-Fi antennas (three for each radio), located around the periphery of the very stylish dark grey and silver case. This new design is part of a complete refresh of the E-series routers, and the soft-touch matt paint is a nice antidote to the high-gloss finishes of recent years. It doesn’t have a built-in DSL modem, but does have four Gigabit LAN ports and a separate Gigabit WAN port.
Simple to setup
As we mentioned earlier, the Cisco Connect software shipped with the E3000 was a nightmare, but in the E4200 all the points we raised have been fixed. You can now easily change the passwords without fear of locking yourself out of the router, and the 2.4GHz guest wireless network access and parental controls can be configured using the software or via the web interface. Now that you’re free to use either, it’s easy to see the strengths of Cisco Connect – it really does make setup and basic configuration a doddle, even for the most technophobic user.
Advanced settings need to be configured in the web interface, which retains the familiar Linksys layout. It’s fairly easy to use, with a good help link on every page. The worst part is the poorly designed menu for managing shared folders on USB storage devices (there’s a single USB2 port for this). We gave up trying and used Explorer instead. The E4200 can also use USB storage as a UPnP media server, a feature lacking in the E3000.
Given the high price and 450Mbit/s capability, you’d expect the wireless performance to be good. We found it to be nothing special using the 2.4GHz band, averaging 65Mbps at 1m and 13.4Mbit/s at 25m in a noisy domestic environment (using Passmark Advanced Network Test). But using a 450Mbit/s-capable client (an Intel 5300AGN adapter) at 5GHz it delivered a massive 110Mbps near-field throughput and even managed to connect at 25m, albeit at a pathetic 20Kbit/s (previously, we’ve rarely managed to get a 5GHz connection at much more than 10-15m).
Even more impressive, we got very similar performance (106Mbit/s) using a 2×2 300Mbit/s Fritz WLAN adapter – we normally see much better performance on the clutter-free 5GHz band, but even this was almost 50 per cent higher than we could achieve with the same adapter and a Fritz!Box 7390 router.
There are, however, a couple of things missing that you might reasonably expect at this price. Support for other USB devices such as printers would be nice, although Cisco is promising a Virtual USB’ feature in a firmware update later this year. You don’t get WDS support, either, so users wanting to chain routers together for added range will be disappointed. QoS settings are fairly basic, and there’s no IPv6 support yet, although again it’s promised as a firmware update.
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- Outstanding 5GHz performance.
- Shared storage settings are confusing to use.
A very capable router with an attractive new design, the E4200 performs adequately at 2.4GHz and exceptionally well at 5GHz. It is expensive, but if Cisco honours its promises to add some of the missing features, it would make it a great choice if you need a high-bandwidth Wi-Fi connection.