Linksys EA6900 802.11ac Wi-Fi router review: Too expensive for what’s delivered
At a Glance
After acquiring Linksys from Cisco, Belkin changed only one element of the EA-series industrial design with the EA6900: The company added adjustable/upgradeable antennas. That design change doesn’t seem to have had the performance impact Belkin was hoping for. The EA6900 is a good router, but it’s certainly not a barn-burner.
Well, it might be in one respect, but you might not care: The EA6900 finished far ahead of the pack in terms of its 2.4GHz 802.11n performance (with the notable exception of when the client was located in my acoustically isolated home theater). Its performance as an 802.11ac router was unexceptional when paired with Linksys’s own WUSB6100 Wi-Fi adapter, only on par when paired with Linksys’s own WUMC710 Wi-Fi bridge, and relatively weak when paired with a second EA6900 configured as a Wi-Fi bridge.
The EA6900 is a dual-band router delivering throughput of 450 mbps on its 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n networks, and up to 1300 mbps on its 5GHz 802.11ac network. As I’ve already mentioned, it features adjustable/upgradeable antennas.
As with several of the other routers I’ve tested recently, the EA6900 has one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port, so it can share both USB storage and a USB printer on your network. It has FTP and SAMBA servers, as well as DLNA and UPnP media servers, but it doesn’t have an iTunes server. It supports VPN pass-through, so you can log into your company’s VPN, but it doesn’t have its own VPN server. You can nonetheless access a storage device attached to the router from the Internet using Linksys Smart Wi-Fi and a third-party DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name System) service.
You may configure the router manually, or you may establish a free account to use all the online features of Linksys Smart Wi-Fi, including remote access to a storage device or an IP camera attached to the router. If you do sign up for a Smart Wi-Fi account, you can link several compatible Linksys routers and manage them all from the same online portal. This is convenient if you’re the default networking tech support for friends or family (provided they also buy Linksys routers, of course).
Smart Wi-Fi also provides better-than-typical parental controls, including the ability to block websites based on their content and establishing time limitations when Internet access is allowed from specific computers. If parental controls are activated, you must provide a password to bypass them. You can operate a guest network on the EA900, but only on the 2.4GHz network.
Like most routers, the EA6900’s Quality of Service capabilities are limited to prioritizing traffic that’s uploaded to the Internet. That’s great for lag-sensitive applications such as VoIP, videoconferencing, and online games, but it can’t manage traffic coming down from the Internet.
Wireless networking performance
The EA6900 can be configured to operate as a router, as a Wi-Fi access point, or—with a recent firmware update—an 802.11ac wireless bridge. Like the Asus RT-AC68U and the Netgear Nighthawk, the EA6900 supports TurboQAM, but I don’t count that as a major advantage because most adapters on the client side don’t support TurboQAM. As a router, the EA6900 proved to be much faster than the Buffalo WZR-1750DHP and the Trendnet TEW-812DRU, but well behind the aforementioned Asus and Netgear devices.
Linksys provided me with early firmware that enabled me to convert a second EA6900 into an 802.11ac wireless bridge, so early firmware might explain why TCP throughput between the two was relatively poor. It came in last at all four locations where I placed the bridge and the client.
My next test paired the EA6900 with the Linksys WUMC710 802.11ac wireless bridge, and it pretty much ran with the pack with the exception of reaching the client when it was in my difficult-to-penetrate home theater. It tied for fourth place at that location.
When paired with Linksys’s own WUSB6100 client adapter, the EA6900 turned in a respectable performance, taking third place overall. Compared to the rest of the pack, it performed better in the two longer-range tests than it did when the client was close by.
Linksys’s router wasn’t nearly impressive as a 5GHz 802.11n router, except when the client was at its furthest distance from the router. It took a first-place finish when the client was in my home office, 65 feet from the router.
The Linksys EA6900 delivered a surprisingly strong performance as a 2.4GHz 802.11n router, beating the rest of the field at three of my four test locations (the one exception being when the client was in the home theater, where the EA6900 placed third).
The EA6900 performed very well as a network-attached storage device. The Netgear R7000 crushed every other device, and the Asus RT-AC68U placed second, but Linksys took a very respectable third-place finish.
The bottom line
The Linksys EA6900 performed reasonably well in most of my tests, and it has a very solid feature set. But its $190 street price is high considering that the Netgear R700 costs just $9 more and delivers far superior performance. The D-Link DIR-868L is also much faster, and it costs a full $40 less. Linksys needs to do better.
After you've finished reading the rest of these reviews, check out 12 of the new routers announced at CES 2014.