Linksys EA9200 802.11ac Wi-Fi router review: Rich features, poor performance

Linksys EA9200
Credit: Michael Brown
At a Glance
  • Linksys EA9200 Tri-band Smart Wi-Fi Router

    TechHive Rating

    So-called tri-band routers are a good solution for households with lots of 802.11ac clients, but Netgear's Nighthawk X6 is faster and Asus's RT-AC87U is cheaper.

The router industry got a bit over its skis when it started shipping so-called “wave 2” 802.11ac routers. The hardware is real, but the firmware to turn it on still isn’t available. If you have a lot of wireless clients in your home, and you use a lot of them for streaming music and video, buying a so-called “tri-band” router is a better strategy.

I call products like the Linksys EA9200 so-called tri-band routers because they still use only two frequency bands: 2.4GHz for 802.11b/g/n clients and 5GHz for 802.11ac clients. They’d be more accurately classified as tri-radio routers, because they split the 5GHz spectrum between two radios.

Linksys EA9200 Michael Brown

The EA9200 has six antennas; three are hidden inside the enclosure.

That enables you to operate three discrete wireless networks (with the 2.4GHz radio operating the third) to significantly reduce wireless congestion and contention. Like most late-model 802.11ac routers, the EA9200 also supports beamforming to concentrate its signal on a client and increase its wireless throughput.

What makes the EA9200 unique is its ability to automatically move 802.11ac clients between its two 5GHz networks to balance the load, a feature Linksys calls Smart Connect. When you survey the available wireless networks the EA9200 is operating, you’ll see only the one 2.4GHz network but you’ll also see only one 5GHz network. You can disable this feature if you prefer to choose which 5GHz network you want 802.11ac clients to connect to. You can also operate one guest network on each frequency band.

Linksys EA9200 Michael Brown

The back of the EA9200 has the usual four-port Ethernet switch and WAN port, both of which can operate at up to gigabit speeds.

The EA9200’s vertical form factor houses six antennas, three of which are external and upgradeable and three of which are mounted inside its enclosure. There’s just one LED on the front of the router, illuminating the Linksys logo. There’s a WPS button on the right-hand side of the router, and a second button that enables you to turn off all three of its Wi-Fi radios. The back of the router hosts one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port, so you can share both storage and a printer on your network. The usual four-port gigabit switch and gigabit WAN port are also located here, as is a power toggle.

This being an EA-series router, the EA9200 offers Linksys’s Smart Wi-Fi technology, which means it can run first- and third-party applications. Many of these apps can be managed with an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, in case you don’t own a PC. The router itself can be managed locally or remotely via the cloud.

Performance

For all the advanced features the Linksys EA9200 has to offer, its 802.11ac performance disappoints. When paired with a notebook client equipped with a 3x3 Asus USB-AC56 Wi-Fi adapter, it finished in last place in all four of the rooms I tested it in. Interestingly, its sibling 802.11ac router—the Linksys WRT1900AC—stands head and shoulders above the other four high-end routers I compared it to. And Linksys charges less money for the WRT1900AC. As of this writing, it was selling for $250 at the Linksys online store, compared to $300 for the EA9200.

Linksys EA9200 Michael Brown

Why is that? Despite its audacious form factor, the WRT1900AC is in some respects a more conventional 802.11ac router. It has two radios to the EA9200’s three, and it doesn’t offer Linksys’s Smart Wi-Fi features. So you can’t run apps on it and you can’t manage it via the cloud. In the WRT1900AC’s favor, at least from the perspective of hardcore router enthusiasts who like to tweak settings, you can install open-source firmware on the WRT1900AC, something you can’t do with the EA9200.

The EA9200’s 5GHz 802.11n performance was a little more impressive, at least at close range. When the notebook client was in the same room as the router and connected to the router’s 802.11n network (via the client’s Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 Wi-Fi adapter), I saw TCP throughput of an impressive 281Mbps. That was 38Mbps faster than the second-place finisher.

The EA9200 finished third when I moved the client to the kitchen, 20 feet from the router, with one wall in between. And it took last-place finishes when the client was in my home theater (35 feet from the router) and in my home office (65 feet from the router).

Linksys EA9200 Michael Brown

If you have 2.4GHz 802.11n clients to support, the EA9200 once again delivers very good close-range performance, but is weak at longer range. It delivered the highest throughput of the five routers when I benchmarked it with the client in my bedroom, and the second-highest performance when the client was in my kitchen. But the router couldn’t reach the client at all when the client was in my difficult-to-reach home theater, and it trailed the field by a wide margin when the client was in my home office.

Linksys EA9200 Michael Brown

Should you buy one?

As I said up top, tri-band routers are a good idea if you have lots of 802.11ac clients that will be streaming media across your network. And Linksys’s Smart Connect feature that automatically distributes 802.11ac clients across its two 5GHz networks does work. But the performance of those networks doesn’t justify this router’s $300 price tag.

This story, "Linksys EA9200 802.11ac Wi-Fi router review: Rich features, poor performance" was originally published by TechHive.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    So-called tri-band routers are a good solution for households with lots of 802.11ac clients, but Netgear's Nighthawk X6 is faster and Asus's RT-AC87U is cheaper.

    Pros

    • Very easy to set up and configure
    • Can be managed remotely via the cloud
    • Two independent 5GHz radios

    Cons

    • Very expensive for the performance delivered
    • Poor range on all three radios
    • Vertical form factor renders it prone to tipping forward
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