Fantastic technology but a tad pricey for the moment.
The Linksys Max-Stream AC2600 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router EA8500 addresses the problems faced by multi-device households. The router itself is an imposing piece of kit, occupying same amount of desk space as a laptop, with four large, removal antennae. Housed within the chassis is a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, 512MB DDR3 RAM, and 128MB flash memory, providing substance to match its looks.
What separates the EA8500 from other wireless routers on the market is its use of an emergent wireless technology, called Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output, or MU-MIMO. This works to make more efficient use of the available wireless bandwidth this router provides, using its Qualcomm MU/EFX 802.11ac Wi-Fi chip.
Many 802.11ac routers and Wi-Fi access points use Single-User MIMO, or simply MIMO. This means it broadcasts its full Wi-Fi bandwidth to all wireless devices on a network, one device at a time. Full bandwidth sounds great, except most wireless devices simply aren’t capable of receiving this amount of data. For example, a wireless router may have a maximum Wi-Fi rate of 1300Mbps, but an iPhone 6 can only receive a Wi-Fi input of 433Mbps. If the iPhone were to connect to this wireless router, it would still be fed the full 1300Mbps by the router, meaning 867Mbps of bandwidth isn’t utilised.
MU-MIMO works by transmitting and receiving multiple Wi-Fi data rates simultaneously to multiple devices. It’s functionally similar to having dedicated wireless routers servicing separate data rates. The net effect is that a wireless device should only receive the amount of Wi-Fi data that it’s capable of handling. In reality, there aren’t that many consumer devices out there yet that are fully compatible with MU-MIMO, so you won’t get the full download and upload benefits MU-MIMO can potentially provide, but you will still notice a difference. By comparison, dual-band and tri-band routers also promote multi-user support, but because they use of Single User MIMO technology, they’re only broadcasting full signal to multiple devices sequentially, within each radio band.
To test the EA8500’s MU-MIMO capabilities, I wirelessly connected an Apple TV, iPad Air 2, Galaxy Note 4 and an HTC One to the EA8500, which in turn was connected to an ADSL2+ modem, then commenced streaming Netflix on all four devices simultaneously. Playback was seamless, with no buffering or lag, and the quality of the picture on all four devices remained consistently sharp.
Getting the EA8500 up and running can be done with a setup wizard, providing wireless connectivity within minutes, or manually, for those that like to get their hands dirty. Administration of the router can be also done remotely, by creating a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account and registering the device. This also gives you access to administer your router using the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi mobile app (iOS and Android). Its web interface is easy to navigate and intuitive, although network-savvy users may rue the absence of wireless configuration, particularly with frequency settings and band selection.
The EA8500 transmits at the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, so you can choose to specify separate SSIDs for each frequency and segregate your wireless network that way, or choose to use the same SSID for both, and allow the router to automatically allocate devices to their required frequency. While speeds on the 5GHz frequency felt snappy, the 2.4GHz frequency’s speed was average, at best. Having said that, the Wi-Fi range is quite impressive. I measured 90 metres, with a clear line of sight to the router.
Providing further connectivity options are four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back, a USB 3.0 port and an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port. Its capabilities in providing network storage are to be commended, distributing content via file-sharing or streaming protocols. You can also enable secure sharing by creating user accounts. Strangely, however, it doesn’t currently support Apple’s Time Machine functionality. I saw write speeds close to 90MBps and 100MBps for read through the USB 3.0 port, which is dedicated NAS territory.
It’s not cheap at $429.95 MSRP, but if you want to be at the cutting edge of multi-device wireless technology and be future-ready as MU-MIMO compatibility becomes more prevalent, with NAS-level network storage capabilities to boot, you can’t go wrong with the EA8500.