Review: Linksys EA6500

Cisco's Linksys EA6500 supports the latest 802.11ac standard, for theoretical speeds up to 1100MBit/s.

NameDual-band Wireless-ac router: Linksys EA6500
At a glance:Good performance on 2.4GHz and 5GHz,Needs optical drive for quick setup,Wireless-ac speeds are good, provided you have an adapter
Summary:An impressive wireless-ac router, that has features galore.

A few months ago, we tested the Linksys EA4500 from Cisco, which was a wireless-n router. The EA6500 is like its bigger brother, in more ways than one.

Take, for example, the EA6500’s design. It’s like a beefed up version of the EA4500 – it’s the same except for being about 50% larger. Also beefed up is the USB support. You now get two USB ports rather than one, which means you can now plug in both a printer and an external hard drive.

Of course, despite the cosmetic changes, the biggest change is the addition of support for the new wireless standard, 802.11ac, which promises faster-than-ever speeds on the 5GHz band, as well as fewer issues with wireless interference. It also has IPv6 support.

We used an 802.11ac adapter to test speeds on 5GHz wireless-ac, but other testing was done using the inbuilt wireless on an Intel ‘Sandy Bridge’ model laptop.

As with the EA4500, the EA6500 comes with a setup CD – which is great if you have a CD drive. We used the disc to set up the EA4500, and found it straightforward, and since the EA6500 uses the same Cisco Connect Cloud interface, it should be just as simple to use. My laptop doesn’t have a CD drive, however, so I had to set things up manually. Fortunately, having done the setup on the EA4500, I knew what I was doing, but you may find it a little tricky to get going if you don’t have an optical drive.

Once up and running, you can set up the apps for your smartphone that allow you to control the network. As previously, this offers some great parental controls, but the range of apps available is still very limited.

When we tested the router at close range, we were able to transfer our standard folder full of photos at a relatively pacy 95Mbit/s (11.8MByte/s) average, with the range of speeds varying between 60 and 106Mbit/s.

Once we got a bit further away from the router, and with a wall in-between, we managed an even faster 158Mbit/s (19.75MByte/s) average, with top speeds reaching 212Mbit/s. On 5GHz, speeds were faster still, reaching 250Mbit/s.

We were expecting even better of the wireless-ac, and once we’d set up the adapter, got to work trying the same tests using 5GHz wireless-ac. There’s nothing quite like seeing your data fly along at 412Mbit/s (51.5MByte/s) to give you the feeling that your wireless network is actually, well, speedy. Okay, so it doesn’t match the pace you’ll get using a decent USB 3.0 flash drive, but it’s still plenty zippy.

The fact that it’s not as zippy as a USB 3.0 drive gives you an idea as to why, despite all the other high-end features this wireless router provides, it still uses USB 2.0. It’s not for cost-saving so much as that USB 3.0 would be overkill even with wireless-ac. Although, if the router truly reached the 1100Mbit/s that Linksys claims it’s theoretically capable of (emphasis on the ‘theoretical’), then USB 3.0 might just be worthwhile. I kind of wish that there were more gigabit Ethernet ports, though. If you’re going to go overboard with features, you may as well include enough Ethernet for all the smart gear that most high-end buyers have, such as game consoles, smart TVs, media players, and the like.

It’s a solid router, with lots of excellent features. However, it’s a little bulky, and I consider the wireless-ac overkill for the moment, especially with the cost of the adapters on top. If you’re in the market for a good wireless-n router with two USB ports, though, this might just be your next purchase.

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Tags wirelessWiFiWi-Firouter802.11n802.11ac802.11wireless-ac

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Zara Baxter

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