Easy to set up and manage remotely – but clearly still a work in progress
On paper, the specification for Linksys’ EA4500 doesn’t look unusual. It’s a top-of-the-range, dual-band cable router, capable of maintaining concurrent triple-stream networks over both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The claimed top speed in both bands is 450Mbits/sec, and there are four Gigabit LAN ports on the rear, along with a single USB 2 port, a power switch and a button for activating WPS setup.
The really interesting stuff happens when you switch it on. The CD takes you through setting up wireless security, and also through online registration, which links the router with Cisco’s Connect Cloud service. The idea behind this is to enable router management from anywhere without the need for a static IP address or a dynamic DNS account. With apps available for iOS and Android, this makes it a doddle to run diagnostics and even initiate WPS pairing remotely.
The interesting aspect of the system, though, is that Cisco is throwing it open to third parties. This will allow smartphone developers to build other apps that tap into your router.
The second thrust of Cisco’s new system is a complete redesign of the UI. Gone are the flat, intimidating table-based HTML pages to be replaced by a modern, friendlier affair with slick graphics and menus. Most sections are now explained in plain English.
Performance is rapid. Copying a series of files over Wi-Fi using a laptop equipped with an Intel WiFi Link 5300 adapter, we recorded an average transfer rate of 12.3MB/sec over 2.4GHz at 2.5m, and 14.35Mbits/sec over 5GHz. At long range that fell to 5.2MB/sec over 2.4GHz and 1.6MB/sec over 5GHz. It’s a performance that would have placed it just in front of our favourite cable router from the last routers group test – the Asus RT-N56U – and it’s noticeably quicker than its predecessor, the E4200.
There are shortcomings. Read speed from shared USB storage is slow: we recorded an average rate of only 184KB/sec from an NTFS-formatted stick and 693KB/sec when that stick was formatted to FAT32. Write speed gave an average of 19.53MB/sec.
The EA4500 is a mixed bag, then. It’s easy to set up and use and quick over wireless, but slow USB read speeds and a questionable reliance on apps undermine all that good work. It’s encouraging to see routers getting simpler, but the Linksys EA4500 isn’t quite there.