Reviews
Linksys EA9200 AC3200
Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi Router

By Jorge Figueiredo - February 1st, 2015

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Nobody can doubt the convenience of having a wireless connection. Sure, wired connections are always more secure and usually faster, but they also limit you to staying in an area. We have reviewed a number of routers from Linksys, including the EA6500 and the WRT1900AC. Both of those routers were (and still are) strong contenders for your hard-earned dollars – so if you’re in the market for a solid hub for your wireless (and wired) network, you can’t really go wrong with either one. However, if you have a lot of devices in your house contending for valuable bandwidth (and if you have extra money burning a hole in your pocket), you might want to consider the Linksys EA9200 AC3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi Router, which is pretty amazing thanks to its easy-to-use interface and powerful features. Unlike the other two, the EA9200 has three bands (2.4 Ghz, and 2 x 5 Ghz), which gives you a little bit more overhead in terms of wireless bandwidth; however, there are some small drawbacks that need to be considered.

Back in 2013, I reviewed the Linksys EA6500 and noted that it didn’t look like routers that I was used to. Since that time, I have seen a number of interesting router designs; and true to the trend Linksys seems to be getting even more adventurous with aesthetics, as the router actually sits vertically with the three high-performance antennas on top (rather than the usual horizontal placement with the antennas placed along the rear of the unit). On the back of the router, there is a Gigabit Ethernet WAN (Internet) port, 4 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a Power Switch, the Power Port and a Reset button. There are also two USB ports: one is USB 3.0 while the other is USB 2.0 – each of which have an LED indicator tied to them. Along one side of the router is the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button, as well as a Wireless Network toggle button (to enable/disable your wireless communications to and from the router. Finally, on the front of the unit, the Linksys logo acts as a status indicator; if it’s doing something other than being ready, it will blink (slow for controlled updates/functions, rapidly for problems).

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Box contents.

Though the orientation of the router is a little different, the Linksys EA9200 comes packaged with the usual kit that can be found contained in the packaging of most routers: an Ethernet Cable, Power Adapter, a CD-Rom full of documentation and a Quick Start Guide. As with with other Linksys products that I have reviewed before, setup is super-easy. Simply attach the antennas, plug in the cables (RJ-45 to WAN Port for internet from modem, RJ-45 between a LAN port and your PC), and start your browser. The GUI for the EA9200 setup should pop up (if not, you can manually enter the address to get it going) and you’re off to the races.

Linksys’ Smart Wi-Fi application is truly a great way to interact with your router – and you don’t have to have a lot of technical know-how to use it. In my opinion, this is one of the advantages of the Linksys line. It simplifies all of the functions of the router into easy-to-use menu options. One of my favourites is the Network Map, which shows your router surrounded by all of the devices that are currently accessing it. The router software does a pretty good job of figuring out the function category of each device and assigning appropriate symbols (IP phones get a phone icon in the map, while game consoles get a console icon) – and for those that it can’t figure out, you can edit the profile yourself. The Network Map also lets you check out all of the network-related information for your devices and even do one-click reservations, which come in handy when you want to assign prioritization to anything in your network (like phones, for instance). On top of this functionality, Linksys enables you to access the router remotely with your web browser using the same interface as the local access, allowing you to check out your network using the internet while you are at a different location.

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High performance antennas.

Hypothetically, the maximum speed of the router is 3.2 Gbps, which is the sum of the top-ends of the three different bands: 600 Mbps (2.4 GHz) and 1300 Mbps (for each of the 5 GHz bands). Running concurrent tests for each band shows that the router is definitely capable of approaching that speed; I managed to get a reading just shy of 3 GHz, but outside of a lab one would be very hard pressed to meet the theoretical number. I managed to achieve the number that I did through a single floor sitting directly above the router. Of course, the speed of the router is only one part of the equation – thanks to the on-board 1 GHz dual-core processor (2.96 GHz of computational goodness when you also count the co-processors) and three different bands to play with, even device-intensive houses will have a smooth experience when connected to the EA9200. Thanks to beam-forming technology, the router will push signal to your devices much more effectively, as well.

The premise behind the Tri-Band configuration is to cater to different usage categories. The 2.4 GHz band remains the same as it always has; however, there are two distinct 5 GHz bands that each cater to a different “class” of devices. One of the bands is reserved ‎for devices that use the higher-speed band occasionally, while the other is earmarked for more “extreme” usage devices. The on-board dual processor determines the optimal band for device, making the most efficient use of your airwaves. For instance, let’s say you have a number of different devices that can take advantage of the 5 GHz band (an equal mix of gadgets that support 802.11n and 802.11ac) – the EA9200 will most likely assign the 802.11n devices to one of the 5 GHz bands while the 802.11ac devices get the other. It’s a great way to keep the data flowing to all of the devices in your house without hiccups.

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USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports offer two points of connectivity for peripherals.

So how does all of this technical mumbo-jumbo help you out? I checked out the raw data delivery of the router using packet tests, and I found that it could push out information just above 3 Gbps, which is impressive, considering I ran these tests in the room above my router location. This is not the true data transfer rate, of course, and while the actual wireless data transfer rates are not close too that maximum, they certainly are respectable. Data transfer rates in 2.4 GHz range were slightly better than the D-Link 868L (and definitely better than the EA6500). Data transfer to Wireless N devices was around the same as the 868L, while Wireless AC devices were marginally better. However, this was at closer range. My EA6500 used to let me connect wirelessly and stream HD videos while standing on the sidewalk across the street from my house (while the DIR-868L let me do it on the opposite street corner). The EA9200’s range seems to be about 20 feet less than the EA6500. However, like the EA6500 comparison to the DIR-868L, the EA9200 allows me to stream multiple devices from that location, whereas I could only really stream HD to one device using the EA6500.

As mighty as the EA9200 is, it has a little bit of an issue with attached storage devices attached. Utilizing the USB 3.0 port with an HDD doesn’t give you quite as much throughput (averaging around 92 MBps) as throwing an HDD onto a USB 3.0 port on your computer (averaging around 112 MBps). Performance to a NAS (QNAP TS-212-E with on-board Western Digital Red SATA drive) is a bit different, and clocks in at around 42 Mbps. This is fine if you don’t have to perform speedy file-swapping operations – but if you are trying to move mission-critical stuff under a tight deadline, you had better start managing expectations. Still, performing these file operations didn’t noticeably impact performance of the wireless functionality; not to mention that the EA9200 has built in DLNA-supported, so you can access media files on an attached hard drive from any of your household streaming devices. Also? You can set usernames and passwords to create your own network-enabled mini-server.

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Handily-placed WPS and Wi-Fi enable/disable buttons.

The Linksys EA9200 is dear at a price of around $300. Is it worth the money? First of all, the functionality of the interface is brilliant. Whether accessing locally, via the internet from a remote PC, or using the app for your handheld – it offers a lot of control. Whether or not the router is worth it also depends on how many devices that you have in your house contending for the precious airwaves that your router offers. In this new frontier of the “internet of things”, as well as more advanced hand-helds and multi-user households and offices with large streaming requirements, having a router that can handle all of that switch-boarding is a great thing. I don’t think that I have come close to even tapping the potential of this beast, but I am pretty sure that as my needs grow, the EA9200 will be right there waiting to help me out.

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