The Linksys EA6900 AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router ($249, MSRP) is currently the best router to come from Linksys since its acquisition by Belkin. Although Linksys’s ownership may have changed, this piece of hardware, including its branding, indicates that Belkin is allowing Linksys to retain significant control over its networking products.
This is a smart move, because the EA6900 is an exemplary router, providing unprecedented performance in range and throughput in my testing. Its interface and feature set are ported from Linksys’s prior release, the EA6400. In some features, however, the directly competing Netgear Nighthawk, a newcomer to the router market, has an edge. Yet, for just pure speed, range, and surprisingly speedy NAS performance with a drive connected to its USB 3.0 port, the EA6900 is the more powerful router—but you’ll pay for that, with its list price $50 higher than the Nighthawk. One caveat: You will need an 802.11ac adapter or a wireless adapter with a 3×3 MIMO antenna configuration to get the maximum performance from this router.
Specs and Design
The EA6900 looks almost identical to the EA6400, save for the addition of three external dual-band dipole antennas that attach to the device (they are included in the package).
It’s sharp-looking, with a black housing and silver metallic decoration. I did notice that this metal strip can get a bit warm to the touch after several hours of uptime. Also, Linksys has completely dropped the Cisco logo, which was still on the EA6400 because those units were produced right before Cisco sold the Linksys division.
The EA6900 is a more robust router than the EA6400 when it comes to specs. This is a concurrent, dual-band router with a 3×3 transmit/receive antenna configuration on each band. The 2.4GHz band supports up to a theoretical 600Mbps and the 5GHz band supports up to 1300Mbps.
The router has a USB 2.0 and a 3.0 port for connecting to printers and USB storage devices, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Setting up the Smart Router
Even people who are inexperienced in setting up routers will be able to install the EA6900 using the included Quick Start Guide and setup disc.
Setup is completed in five steps: (1) Power on; (2) connect the Internet cable to the WAN port; (3) wait for the router’s LED to turn a solid green; (4) connect to the pre-configured SSID (the SSID name and password are printed in the setup guide) or connect an Ethernet cable from a laptop to one of the router’s LAN ports; (5) open a web browser to complete final settings. You have to type in linksyssmartwifi.com as the URL.
When I did this, I was directed to the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Setup Page. From this site, a wizard walks you through configuration and you have the option to skip setup and configure manually.
The wizard is very thorough: It checks to ensure that your Internet connection is properly configured. In fact, when my Internet cable connection accidently disconnected, the wizard detected a problem with my connection and urged me to re-check my cable (that’s how I discovered the loose cable). This guided setup is great for newbies.
Interface and Features
The management interface has not changed since I last took a look at the EA6400. As soon as I opened it, the software reported an available firmware update and I updated without a problem. You can manage the router locally or remotely through the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi cloud service.
While testing, I was pleased to see that no matter if I made settings changes locally or remotely, those changes took affect and were consistent across both the local and cloud interfaces. Linksys has managed to take the clumsy foundation that its cloud service was built upon, the Cisco Connect Cloud and turn the cloud management into an evolved, user-friendly and easy way to manage your home network (or another network, say, Mom or Dad’s, using a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi router), remotely.
The software will ask if you want to set up a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account, which you need for the cloud management portion.
As with the Linksys EA6400, the interface offers a list of devices—both wired and wireless—connected to the router, guest access, parental controls, media prioritization, and more.
Enabling Media Prioritization reduced the wait time after clicking the Play icon on a Netflix video to seeing the video and hearing audio from 9 seconds to 4 seconds. This QoS capability probably becomes more apparent and beneficial as you have more devices connected to the EA6900 at one time.
With Media Prioritization (which is Linksys version of QoS (Quality-of-Service)) you can select from a list of devices displayed (these are devices that have connected to the router) and drag-and-drop them into either the High Priority section or the Normal Priority section of the QoS interface.
Devices dropped under High Priority will be automatically given the highest network bandwidth priority. There is also a drop-down list of online games including World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy that you can drag and drop into High or Normal Priority. A second drop down list allows you to do the same with applications such as Xbox Live or iTunes, but I was surprised to not see Netflix listed. The Nighthawk seems to have a few more current and widely used services listed within its QoS interface. I mean, Linksys lists pcAnywhere as one of the applications you can set priority and I haven’t seen anyone use pcAnywhere since 1998!
Tech-savvier users can also manually add applications and services to this QoS. The EA6900 also supports WMM (Wi-Fi MultiMedia) and you can manually set downstream bandwidth.
Parental controls work efficiently. You can only control access by device and can completely block Internet access, or selectively block based on a schedule. You can also block by specific website, which also worked in testing. But for ultimate parental controls in a router, look to Skydog, where its best feature is content and Internet access management (though this offers nowhere near the speed of the EA6900).
The EA6900 is missing two advanced features that the Nighthawk has: full VPN service, and the ability to be flashed with open-source firmware. Overall, the EA6900 is a speedy router targeted to those who would appreciate a more user-friendly network device to manage.
The EA6900 has some NAS functionality, since you can attach a hard drive to the USB port and share data throughout a network. The NAS interface is very simple to use and straightforward. I connected a Western Digital My Passport drive. The “USB Storage” widget is what you click to manage storage. In this interface, I could see used and free space on the external drive. You are also shown the path for accessing the default folder share from a PC or a Mac. Management capabilities include enabling secure folder access, setting up FTP, and configuring the media server functionality—for streaming multimedia from the attached drive.
I tested Read and Write performance with a drive attached to the router using a movie clip and a laptop wired to one of the EA6900′s LAN ports. Surprisingly, I got some of the best performance I’ve tested using a router’s USB NAS functionality. Write speed averaged 14MBps (I usually only see an average of 11MBps with Write operations to router-connected USB drives). Reads did even better (as Reads usually do) at 27MBps but that is far better than the average test result I get—about 13MBps. I tested with the USB drive connected to the router’s USB 3.0 port. I noticed a better overall user experience working with the NAS functionality in the EA6900 than with the EA6400. With the EA6400 I received a strange error attempting to delete a file off a shared folder:”File in use. Try again.” I couldn’t get rid of this file until I removed and then reconnected the USB drive. Thankfully, no such issues with the EA6900.
The killer feature of the EA6900 is its speed and range. It’s the fastest router I’ve tested. In 802.11ac mode using Linksys’ WUSB6300 Wi-Fi Wireless AC Dual-Band AC1200 USB Adapter the router hit just shy of 400Mbps testing. I’ve never seen anywhere close to that speed in our testing environment.
The second fastest router we’ve tested is the Trendnet AC1750 Dual Band Wireless Router (TEW-812DRU). That router reached over 300Mbps testing with a high performance testing script, but did not get close to the EA900′s 400Mbps mark.
Overall though, the Trendnet holds its own with a standard throughput test using Ixia’s IxChariot testing software when compared with the EA6900: At 15 feet the Trendnet router managed 283Mbps compared with the Linksys at 238Mbps. Not a huge difference; for me, it’s that 400Mbps for high throughput testing that sets the EA6900 a bar higher than the Trendnet when comparing both at 5GHz in 802.11ac mode.
The Linksys EA6900 also gave superior performance in 5GHz 802.11-N only mode. The Linksys device sustained range well, also. It did fine as well in 2.4, in fact, giving again some of the highest numbers I’ve seen among 11ac routers.
However, I ran into a troubling issue testing the EA6900 in 2.4GHz mode at a distance of 30 feet or more from the router—the connection kept dropping. This is only when I tested with Linksys’ newest 11ac wireless USB adapter, the Linksys WUSB6300. When I tested using my laptop’s native on-board Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN adapter I received slower throughput results but I did not have any connection drops 30 feet and farther from the router.
Linksys representatives tell me that connection drops are because the WUSB6300 adapter will switch from USB 3.0 mode (I had it connected to a USB 3.0 port) to USB 2.0 mode when it detects interference. That performance load balancing is fine, but it should not disconnect the client from the router. You can read the details about the adapter in its dedicated review.
While this problem with the adapter does not impact the review of the EA6900, it is unfortunate because the EA6900 paired with the WUSB6300 gives killer performance. Until Linksys irons out issues with the adapter, my suggestion would be to only use the Linksys USB adapter at the 5GHz band, and use your wireless client’s native wireless adapter for connecting to the EA6900 at the 2.4GHz band. I’m confidant Linksys will have a firmware update in the near future to fix the adapter issues.
Meanwhile, click on the links below for full performance results of the EA6900 compared with other 11ac routers:
Check out 5GHz throughput results for the EA6900
Check out 2.4GHz (802.11N-only Mode) throughput results for the EA6900
Check out 2.4GHz (Mixed Mode) throughput results for the EA6900
If you are looking for a high-performance yet fairly simple to manage router, the EA6900 is a fit. I would recommend placing it somewhere that gets good air circulation since it runs a bit warm. This is a good choice as a home router, and for users who do not need very advanced networking features like full VPN or have no need or desire to tweak granular networking settings. It’s suited for multi-device home networks that like to stream video, Skype, play online games and any of the other online stuff we like to do at home. It earns four out of five stars and an Editors’ Choice for consumer routers.
|Networking Options||802.11ac draft, 802.11ac draft|
|Access Control Lists Based on MAC Addresses||No|
|Stateful Packet Inspection||Yes|
|Security||WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), WPA2-Enterprise|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc