Review: Cisco/Linksys E4200 Dual-Band N-Router
Product: Cisco/Linksys E4200 Dual-Band N-Router
Original MSRP: $179.99
As some know, I’m not just a podcaster/crappy writer, but that my “day job” is that of a 15-year veteran in IT as a Systems Engineer (among other things.) I have a ton of devices that require a connection to the Internet, including 3 PS3′s, a 360, a Wii, 5+ PC’s/Laptops, a tablet, my new Panasonic 3DTV etc etc. My old reliable WRT54G Linksys router took a dive a while back, and fortunately Cisco offered to send me the E4200 to run through its paces.
This thing is a beast in terms of features. Not only does it have have 2 radios and support for Wireless-N at both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, but it also includes 4 gigabit Ethernet ports, advanced configurations, and even the ability to setup wireless for Guests that are completely segregated from my internal network. I’ve had this for a while now, and I purposely waited for Extra Life to pass before I posted a full review. That was the perfect opportunity beat the heck out of it, and the results are incredibly favorable.
This model is the top of the E-Series line, and pretty much anything you want in a home router is here. This is actually the first home router with 2 distinct radios, making a true Dual-Band wireless router. Not only does it let you separate 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz devices, but it also allows you to logically separate certain devices from others, like keeping devices that stream video so that one band doesn’t get overworked while the other sits virtually idle. Also, speaking of streaming, they’ve also included a USB port that you can plug a portable drive into. The router itself has a true UPnP media server built-in, and will stream media from that USB drive to your favorite compliant device (Yup, it works with the PS3.) The streaming works very well, and really if you have any issues, it’s probably because of the limited Wireless-G built-in to your PS3. Also, your ease-of-use does depend some on your file structure on the USB device. In other words, keep it simple.
Since I don’t have many Wireless-N devices in the house, I’ve set my bands-up a bit differently, using Wireless-G (and B) on one, and setup the other in Wireless-N only, using the 5Ghz band. This helps keep thing much more pure, as running G with N on the same radio can slow performance on most devices. By keeping N all alone, I get maximum performance on my devices that utilize that protocol. Unfortunately, I have run into limitations with the Wireless-G in my old 60GB PS3, and performance isn’t really great at all. It definitely works, but download speeds are pretty poor overall, and grabbing a rented video from the PSN store is slow enough to force me to let it preload for almost an hour before I start watching. It’s still better than nothing, and I did confirm that the bottleneck is not on the router. (I tested these same functions using powerline adapters to connect to the router physically. It was much faster, but still sluggish to a device built for Wireless-N.)
The remaining wireless devices in my house run beautifully though (except for my old 360 with the first wireless adapter that they offered, its performance is pretty bad.) With my Macbook Pro, Motorola Xoom, and wireless bridge (separate review coming very soon for that) work wonderfully with this router, and the great thing is, configuration couldn’t be simpler.
Of course, being a Linksys, they simply the setup (almost too much for a nerd that likes to tinker) with an included cd. Once the initial setup is complete, you can log-in to the very familiar web-based management interface. There you will see that this device can do a lot! Wireless is a breeze, allowing you to have completely separate wireless networks, each with their own security, setup in minutes. You can even setup a third network just for guests, with a password or without, that keeps any of those connections completely locked-out of your internal network. It’s quite snazzy, and worked without a hitch during our Extra Life weekend, as anyone that had a phone, laptop, or tablet used the “guest” wireless with great success.
Really, the only potential negatives that I can see are two. One, as with many home routers, this thing runs pretty hot. You need to make sure that it’s sitting in a well ventilated area, and make sure that you don’t block any potential exhaust ports etc. The other, for some, is the price, which has dropped since the initial launch. When the E4200 hit a few months ago, it was priced at around $180. Nowadays, a quick Google search shows quite a few new units starting at around $125, which honestly, is an awesome price for what you’re getting.
I’ve been through many home networking units over the years, and this is definitely the best one I’ve used. I haven’t had any instances where I’ve had to bounce it because it “froze-up,” and with the numerous devices that I use, and the fact that I have a pretty fast connection, I’ve had Zero problems with it. The biggest “gotcha” is actually the possibility that you don’t have any devices that run at full Wireless-N. If so, your getting a great device, but you may not be able to use it at its full potential. Keep your eyes out for my review on the WES610N Wireless Bridge though, because it may help you make your decision in certain situations.