The top-of-the-line Linksys EA4500 continues Cisco’s tradition of delivering highly attractive, yet unobtrusive, routers packed with a tonne of features. It’s about the size and heft of a Kindle, with a silver band down its centre, matte-grey wings and a textured base. The device itself has four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a USB storage port. It’s an n900 router – meaning it’s capable of the fastest wireless-n speeds – and runs both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency wireless bands.
Setup is via a CD, so you’ll need an optical drive-enabled computer. In my case, I borrowed a laptop with an optical drive.
The sequence of setup steps to follow was clearly spelled out by the software, and it scanned for my wireless network, located it and validated it. Then it provided me with a name for the new wireless network along with a pregenerated strong password for both the router and network. Once I’d changed the SSID and both passwords it finalised the setup and invited me to create a Cisco Connect Cloud account. A Cisco Connect Cloud account allows you to configure the router from anywhere, as well as providing access to apps developed for the router.
If you don’t want a Connect account, you just untick automatic updating, and finish. To create the account, you add your name, a password and your email address. Cisco sends a verifying email and once the account is verified, you can log in. I tried logging in from my tablet, but it said I needed to log in from a computer associated with the router. This is apparently so it can update the firmware via the account. Back to the borrowed laptop; when I logged in, there was no prompt about a firmware update, and there was no firmware update available when I checked settings, so I’m not entirely sure what that was about.
Still, the settings for the router are easy to navigate in Cisco’s well laid out tabbed settings. I also found it easy to navigate the Connect Cloud aspects I was able to add storage – though the EA4500 only has USB 2.0 not USB 3.0 – and connect remotely without issue. Having an easy, pre-configured guest account is one of the things that made me keen to try out this router, and it works seamlessly. The parental controls allow you to block by device, and to block either by site or by time. (You can also block internet access altogether for a device. I’m not entirely sure my partner appreciated his wi-fi being cut off between 5pm and 7pm during testing, however.)
Given that I like to stream video, I set up my router to have a separate 5GHZ SSID for me to use and then with the media prioritisation settings, I could drag and drop my preferred applications into the number one spot to ensure that I didn’t get cut off.
Performance was disappointing. I achieved average speeds of 2.16MB/s when transferring photos between two current generation laptops. Admittedly, this is in an environment with some 20 wireless networks that could cause interference. On the plus side, even with a wall and 10m between the laptops, speed didn’t drop below an average 1.96MB/s. Top speeds pushed out to 4.51MB/s (36Mbit/s), but I never saw it drop lower than 1.6MB/s. Streaming video using Windows Media Player was without hitch.
While the speeds I got weren’t fabulous, everything else about the Linksys router was great – but it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend.
Cisco is distributed in New Zealand by Express Data, Ingram Micro and Westcon.
This review was first published in the September edition of New Zealand PC World.