Linksys EA6500: A user-friendly 802.11ac router with decent performance

The Linksys EA6500 is a very good consumer router for mainstream users who don't need a lot of bells and whistles

Cisco arrived late to the 802.11ac party, but its Linksys EA6500 (its hard to say the entire namethe Linksys Video Pro AC1750 Smart Wi-Fi Router EA6500in a single breath) is a very solid, easy-to-use dual-band router with one unique, gee-whiz feature.

This feature is called SimpleTap, and it uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to enable you to join NFC-enabled mobile devices to your network by tapping them with a provided plastic card. That simple physical action instantly provides the device with the routers security credentials. Unlike with WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), you never need to touch the router when using SimpleTap. It does, however, require you to install a Cisco app on the mobile device. But we call it a gee-whiz feature because relatively few mobile devices are NFC enabled (Samsungs Galaxy S III smartphone being the most notable). The SimpleTap card is something of a security risk unless you lock it away, and the feature is easily disabled if you dont want to use it.

The EA6500 remains easy for inexperienced users to set up even if you cant take advantage of SimpleTap, although this entails installing software on a client PC and creating an online account with Cisco. Experienced users who dont want to use this cloud-based solution can log directly into the router to perform its initial configuration without setting up an account, but they wont be able to take advantage of Ciscos Smart Wi-Fi cloud service. The Smart Wi-Fi cloud service allows you to manage the router remotely from anywhere you have Internet access. It also enables you to remotely access data stored on an attached USB device (the EA6500 has two USB 2.0 ports, so you can share both storage and a printer on your network. You don't need Smart Wi-Fi to enable local clients to use connected USB devices.)

Linksys also offers a collection of Smart Wi-Fi apps. These run on the router and/or your mobile devices to provide evertyhing from parental controls (so you can control when your children can go online, where they can go, and what they can do while they're there) to media aggregators, device monitors, and IP camera viewers. These apps are a far simpler alternative to jiggering port-forwarding, static routing, DMZ, and other settings, but Cisco doesn't prevent more advanced users from configuring any of these settings manually.

The dual-band router arrives from the factory with easy-to-remember, pre-assigned network names for its 2.4- and 5GHz networks: Ours were named OrangePanda and OrangePanda5, respectively. Wireless security is disabled by default, but youre warned of this at the outset and establishing security is one of the first steps in both of the assisted setups. If youre installing the router on your own, youll have to hunt for the security settings because they dont reside under the Security tab where you would expect to find them (you must click the Wireless tab, instead).

The Linksys EA6500s 802.11ac performance was fairly comparable to that of our current favorite router, the Asus RT-AC66U; in fact, it was slightly faster when the router and client were at close range (nine feet apart and in the same room). At this location, the EA6500 delivered TCP throughput of 460 megabits per second (mbps) compared to the RT-AC66Us 449 mbps. The Linksys was slightly slower171 mbps versus 190 mbpswhen the client was in our home theater (35 feet from the router, with several walls in between), but both routers delivered 232 mbps when the client was in our home office (65 feet from the router with several walls in between).

With the client operating on the 2.4GHz network, however, the Linksys router was more than 30 percent slower on average than the Asus product when we benchmarked the two devices at the same three locations.

In terms of reading and writing to a USB hard drive attached to the router (we used a 500GB Western Digital My Passport drive), the Linksys held its own against the Asus when reading both a single large file and a collection of small files, but the Asus clobbered the Linksys when writing those files to the attached hard drive.

If you intend to use a USB hard drive for backing up networked client PCs, youll be much happier with the Asus. If youre looking to stream media from a drive attached to the router, either model will do (unless youre looking for an iTunes server, as well discuss next).

Cisco delivers far fewer features with the EA6500 than Asus does with its RT-AC66U. Both routers support UPnP and provide a DLNA-certified media server and an ftp server, for instance, but Asus also provides an iTunes server, a SAMBA server, an onboard download manager for automated BitTorrent downloads, and VPN pass-through for secure remote network access.

And where Cisco provides a guest network on only its 2.4GHz band, Asus allows you to run guest networks on both frequencies simultaneously. With the possible exception of the iTunes server, however, most mainstream consumers wont miss those advanced features and might favor the EA6500s relative simplicity and ease of use.

This story, "Linksys EA6500: A user-friendly 802.11ac router with decent performance" was originally published by PCWorld.

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