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Michael Brown

Sep 24, 2011

Linksys E4200

At A Glance

MEANINGFUL CONNECTION

Strong performance on both frequency bands; in-line PSU; easy installation for novices.

MINDLESS HOOK-UP

Novices wont get great performance; underpowered USB port.

We weren’t impressed with the last Linksys-branded router that passed through Maximum Lab North. The dual-band Linksys E3000 (in reality, a rebadged Linksys WRT610N) delivered humdrum performance and lacked a number of important features we expect to find in a high-end router. The E4200 fares better, but we’re still scratching our heads over some of Linksys’s decisions.

The first thing you’ll notice about the E4200 is its minimalist industrial design. Plug in its inline power supply (no wall wart!) and you’ll find that it’s almost devoid of front-panel idiot lights: There are no LEDs to indicate an Internet connection, which of its radios are operating, or even which of its ports are in use. The only thing that glows on the front panel is Cisco’s logo. There are port-activity LEDs on the back of the router, but even these can be turned off via the router’s web interface.

Cisco’s Linksys E4200 looks pretty, but we value function over form.

We like that. In fact, we liked the entire low-profile design—at least until we tried to plug in our Ethernet cables. That’s when we discovered that the top of the router’s housing blocked the vinyl hoods covering our cables’ RJ45 connectors. We had no problem fitting cables outfitted with bare connectors, but that’s pretty lame. Also lame: providing a USB port that doesn’t deliver enough power to spin up a 2.5-inch USB hard drive (we tested it with a 500GB Verbatim Clon drive). Oh well, at least the router supports NTFS drives (the E3000 didn’t).

Linksys claims the E4200 is capable of a “maximum speed up to 300 + 450 Mb/s.” Translation: The E4200 supports two spatial streams (with 150Mb/s of bandwidth each) on its 2.4GHz radio, and three spatial streams (also with 150Mb/s of bandwidth each) on its 5GHz radio. But as we found with the E3000, the E4200 comes from the factory with both radios broadcasting the very same SSID. And while Cisco has made a number of important improvements to its Cisco Connect software (which can turn any USB thumb drive into a wireless client configuration tool), the utility still doesn’t inform you which radio it’s connecting the client to. Unlike the E3000, however, you can easily access the E4200’s web interface and change the SSIDs, as well as other critical aspects of the router’s configuration.

In addition to assigning discrete SSIDs to each radio, we also enabled channel bonding on the 2.4GHz radio (an admittedly neighbor-unfriendly move, but we wanted to see what it was capable of; besides, we don’t have any neighbors). Channel bonding on the 5GHz radio was enabled at the factory.

We used Trendnet’s new TEW-684UB wireless client adapter to benchmark both the Linksys and Netgear routers. This is the first USB adapter to feature three transmit and three receive antennas. Without that third antenna, the client can receive only two spatial streams. As you can see from our benchmark charts, the E4200 trounced Netgear’s WNDR4000 on both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands at almost every test location. Indeed, the router delivered the fastest performance at 5GHz of any router we’ve tested.

So why aren’t we awarding the E4200 a higher score? Three reasons: We shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to enable the router to perform at its best, the router should provide enough power to its USB port to support any 2.5-inch hard drive, and we shouldn’t be limited to using hoodless Ethernet cables.

$160 (street), www.cisco.com

Editor's Note, August 8, 2011: Cisco released a firmware update that added IPv6 and support for USB printers after we finished testing this router. The spec chart has been updated to reflect this information, but it doesn't impact our numerical verdict.

SPECS

Linksys E4200
Radio Frequencies
Concurrent dual-band: 2.4- and 5GHz
Transmit/Receive Antennas
3 x 3 (note: delivers three spatial streams on the 5GHz radio only)
Guest Network
Yes, but on the 2.4GHz radio only
IPv6 Support
Yes
DLNA-compliant Media Server
No (UPnP only)
USB Ports
One (for sharing storage or a printer)
NTFS Drive SupportYes
WDS Bridge/Repeater SupportNo
Benchmarks

Linksys E4200 Netgear WNDR4000
Netgear WNDR3700
2.4GHz Band   
Bedroom 1, 10 feet (Mb/s)
113
85.3
143
Kitchen, 20 feet (Mb/s)
117
89.9
135
Patio, 38 feet (Mb/s) 108
53.8
39.6
Bedroom 2, 60 feet (Mb/s) 84.2 39.5
41.5
Home Theater, 35 feet (Mb/s)
64.5
25.535.4
Outdoors, 85 feet (Mb/s) 24.9 4.63.2
5GHz Band   
Bedroom 1, 10 feet (Mb/s)152108154
Kitchen, 20 feet (Mb/s)12683.4100
Patio, 38 feet (Mb/s)90.860.551.8
Bedroom 2, 60 feet (Mb/s)54.449.537.4
Home Theater, 35 feet (Mb/s)26.76.317.6
Outdoors, 85 feet (Mb/s)3.2N/CN/C

TCP throughput measured using JPerf. N/C indicates no connection at that location. Additional benchmarking methodology at bit.ly/16w27O.

THE VERDICT

Linksys E4200

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