- Reliable performance
- Good interface and easy remote access
- Supports 802.11ac
- Performance was slower than we expected
- Keyword filters didn't work for us
The Linksys EA6500 offers 802.11ac support, a clean and easy interface, simple FTP access to attached USB drives, and it even ships with an NFC card containing its pre-determined wireless settings. It proved to be a reliable router during our tests, but we feel as though it should have performed faster.
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The Linksys EA6500 is a wireless router that features the new 802.11ac wireless networking standard. This standard can allow for wireless transmission speeds up to a theoretical maximum of 1300Mhz and it's perfect if you want to use your wireless network for copying large files or streaming high-definition video content. The router itself is also quite user friendly, with a clean interface that won't overwhelm you with features.
Setting it up
As the Linksys EA6500 is just a router, you'll need to supply your own modem for it, and this can be either an ADSL2+ or a cable modem, depending on the service that you subscribe to. We used a Billion ADSL2+ modem with it, which gave us no problems whatsoever during our test period. We set up the router by right-clicking on the 'Cisco' device that showed up in the Networking section of our Windows 7 test computer, and selecting 'View device Web page'. Alternatively, we could have used the supplied CD if our system had an optical drive. The login password for this router is simply 'admin' and, once we were in, it was just a matter of entering our ISP credentials in order to get online. We were up and running in a few seconds, and this is the best experience we've had in a while.
We set up the router from a PC that was connected to the router via Ethernet, but the wireless networks for the router are pre-set so that you can use the supplied password to log in to the router from a wireless laptop or other mobile device. In the Web interface, it's very easy to change the wireless settings; both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz settings are on the same page, and you can change SSIDs and passwords in one hit. Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) is also supported, and this makes it even easier to connect wireless devices to the router simply by pressing the WPS button on the wireless device and the router, respectively.
Furthermore, Linksys makes use of NFC technology by shipping the router with an NFC card that can automatically give an NFC-enabled device the right credentials to access the wireless network. The NFC-enabled device will need to have the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app installed from the Google Play store before the NFC card can be used. Rather than tapping the card on the phone, we sat the phone on the NFC card after opening the Smart Wi-Fi app, at which point the phone connected to the router's secure wireless network automatically. The NFC card won't work if you've already gone in and changed your Wi-Fi settings. The point is to use the NFC card for the initial installation of the router.
Setting it all up and using the EA6500 with your existing gear is one thing, but if you've bought this router, you've bought it for its speed. To harness its 802.11ac speed, you'll need to add a client device to your network that can support this speed. At the time of writing, the client device that was available to run at 802.11ac speeds was the WUMC710, which is an 802.11ac bridge that has four Gigabit Ethernet ports built in to it — and a price tag of $200. It's not an ideal solution for a laptop computer, but it's great for a desktop PC or for a home theatre set-up where you have multiple devices that you want to connect to the Internet. Connecting your TV, console, PVR or other types of devices via Ethernet to the bridge will allow those devices to get the fastest possible wireless transmissions that are available for them.
This NFC card can give the router's default Wi-Fi information to any NFC-enabled devices.
In a typical home environment, we tested the Linksys EA6500 by sending its 802.11ac signals to the WUMC710 bridge, which was then connected via Gigabit Ethernet to our test laptop. Setting up the bridge is remarkably easy: press the WPS button on the front, and then press the WPS button on the router. The two devices will see each other and realise they need to work together. We were up and running in about one minute.
We transferred a selection of video and music files from our server (a desktop PC with a 7200rpm hard drive) using 802.11ac, with the channel setting and channel width both set to 'auto'. It should be noted that we didn't see noticeable variations in performance when we set the width to 80MHz and selected channels manually. Transferring almost 10GB worth of video files (some greater than 1GB in size) from our server to our laptop was accomplished at a rate of 26.9 megabytes per second (MBps) from 2m away from the router. From a distance of 10m away, not a whole lot was lost, with the same transfer registering a rate of 25.58MBps. We also transferred just over 2GB worth of MP3 files, which recorded a faster rate of 26.11MBps than the video file transfers from 2m away, but a slightly slower rate of 22.88MBps from 10m away.
We didn't achieve results that compared favourably to the Netgear R6300 in the same tests — the Netgear turned out to be much faster, to the tune of almost 20MB. It should be noted that used two R6300 routers in that review (one as the router and one as the bridge), rather than a client adapter. Basically, the Linksys EA6500 with the WUMC710 bridge put up results in 802.11ac mode that are more comparable to what the Netgear router got when used with its own N900 (450Mbps) USB adapter plugged in to our test laptop. However, when we used the Linksys with the Intel Centrino 6300 wireless adapter in our laptop to test its 450Mbps performance, we obtained 14.67MBps in the short-range test and 6.85MBps in the long-range test. The short-range result is great, but the long-range result shows a dramatic drop-off. That said, when we used the Linksys to serve up media wirelessly to our Smart TV over the 5GHz, 802.11n network (also at a mid-range distance to the router), the performance was problem-free. Standard-definition and high-definition files streamed to the television without any noticeable dropped frames or stalling.
Storage and remote access
There are USB ports on the EA6500 that can be used to connect up to two hard drives, which can then be shared over your local network or over the Internet. Conveniently, there is no need to set anything up in order to get them to work. Simply plug in a hard drive and the router will do the rest. You'll be able to access files off the hard drives from computers and mobile devices on your local area network, and because the router supports DLNA, you'll be able to see the router on any DLNA-compatible devices on your network, such as Smart TVs and gaming consoles. You can secure the hard drives if you wish so that their contents can only be accessed by authorised users. This means enabling folder security and forcing users to enter username and password information to access them.
To access files off attached hard drives remotely, you need to enable the FTP setting. It's not as glamorous as other 'personal cloud' solutions that we've seen, but it was very reliable in our tests, and it's perfect when all you want is to transfer files off your home or work network from a remote location. The Linksys EA6500's interface is actually cloud-based, which means that if you create an online Cisco Cloud Connect account during the router's initial setup, you can then log in to your router from a Web browser on any computer that's connected to the Internet. Not only can you log in remotely to change router settings, you can also quickly grab the IP address of your router so that you can log in to attached hard drives and transfer files over FTP (either through a dedicated FTP client or a Web browser -- we used Chrome without any problems). The interface turned out to be quick and files off hard drives transferred as fast as our iiNet upload speed allowed (we averaged around 74KBps downloads).
We've been a bit sceptical of the Linksys cloud interface in the past, but on this router it worked without a hitch and, as mentioned previously, it was swift. It's not often that you'll need to use it to change settings, but it does come in very handy for when you need to use FTP and want to find the IP address of your router remotely. The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app for phones and tablets also comes in very handy in this situation. We can see the virtues of being able to log in remotely without having to know anything about how it's done -- the router basically handles all the background stuff for you and there is no need to enable remote access or to configure ports and dynamic DNS settings.
In terms of other features, the Linksys has a built-in SPI firewall, there is VPN passthrough support, you can forward ports and create a DMZ and there is also support for DynDNS. You can also use the Media Prioritization feature to give specific devices on your network higher priority for certain tasks (based on either the pre-supplied list of applications or manually selected ports). The interface for this prioritisation is graphical. Devices that are authorised on your network will appear as little boxes, and you can select the application that you want to prioritise and then drag the device that will run that application up into the priority zone.
Linksys likes to talk about apps that are available to use with its new router, but the majority of these are only for the iOS platform, which is strange given that Linksys has also embraced NFC tiles. There are remote storage, IP camera viewing, security and monitoring apps that are available for iOS, with the only Android app available at the time of writing being a security app called Netproofer.
There are built-in Internet filters that are based on Symantec lists, and these can block pornography sites or anything else that is deemed harmful. The blocking works based on the URL rather than keywords. There is a keyword filter that can be enabled in the router, but when we enabled it and flagged some specific words, it did not seem to work properly. A firmware update during our test period didn't fix this issue either.
While the Linksys EA6500 may not have shown superior speed during our wireless tests, it did provide stable and reliable results. It performed well enough to allow large files to be transferred over a mid-range distance within a reasonable time frame, especially when used with the Linksys WUMC710 bridge, but its performance in our mid-range test when using an Intel Centrino 6300 Ultimate adapter wasn't as good as we'd hoped it would be. As for ease of use, the Linksys' interface is clean and logical and, most importantly, responsive, whether you access it locally or over the Internet. Not all features worked properly for us (for example, the keyword filters), and we wish there were more Android apps available since Linksys is pushing apps for this router, but overall it's a decent product that can only get better.
Note: Linksys released an 802.11ac USB adapter just as this review was completed. We have not yet had a chance to test with the new adapter.