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Published on September 19th, 2011 | by Greg

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Cisco’s Linksys E4200: Snazzy and Snappy

Reg­u­lar con­sumers might be for­giv­en for not know­ing Cis­co. One of the largest net­work­ing equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, in 2003 they pur­chased a com­pa­ny and brand that pro­duced some of the best routers ev­er made. Be­fore 802.11n was avail­able, the clas­sic Linksys WRT54G was one of the best-known routers, and thanks to open source firmware like Toma­to and DD-WRT, al­so be­came su­per-ca­pa­ble with plen­ty of in­ter­est­ing fea­tures. Time have changed though- 802.11n is now stan­dard for most peo­ple, and Cis­co went from min­i­miz­ing the Linksys brand to re-launch­ing it with their lat­est hard­ware.

That’d be the Linksys E4200 Du­al-Band N Router- their cur­rent top-of-the-line con­sumer router. As with many of the lat­est it­er­a­tions, the an­ten­nas are ‘in­vis­i­ble’ and it looks less like a piece of bor­ing net­work­ing equip­ment and more like a sexy set-top box or piece of home en­ter­tain­ment equip­ment. Even their mar­ket­ing sug­gests this, with plen­ty of sug­ges­tions that it is “home the­ater ready” and men­tions of In­ter­net-ready TVs. Of course, oth­er routers and net­work­ing firms are of­fer­ing com­pet­ing prod­ucts- and our lat­est re­view of TREND­net’s high­light­ed the hard­ware and du­al-band range that could both op­er­ate at 450 Mbps. The E4200 won’t quite hit that mark, of­fer­ing a 300 Mbps band and a 450 Mbps one, though in prac­tice we can say that it doesn’t ac­tu­al­ly end up mat­ter­ing much.

On the hard­ware front then, the E4200 sup­ports cre­at­ing net­works on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHZ bands- the lat­ter is su­pe­ri­or, but not sup­port­ed by all de­vices (like the iPhone 4 for in­stance). Oth­er no­table fea­tures are fair­ly stan­dard: 3×3 MI­MO an­ten­nas means three streams can be eas­i­ly han­dled con­cur­rent­ly, four gi­ga­bit eth­er­net ports, sup­port for WPA2 en­cryp­tion and WPS (wifi pro­tect­ed set­up). But at least one fea­ture is a bit more un­usu­al and de­serves spe­cial at­ten­tion- the built-in USB port. Handy for plug­ging your flash drive in and shar­ing it, it al­so works in con­nec­tion with the me­dia serv­er func­tion­al­i­ty (via what ap­pears to be Twonky even!) al­low­ing you to pop in your thumb drive and stream me­dia with­out the need for a com­put­er handy. The fea­ture was a bit hard­er to set­up than we liked and re­quired in­stalling the Cis­co Con­nect soft­ware; it worked fine on a few drives that we tried, but would not work through a USB hub. Don’t ex­pect per­for­mance to equal that of a true NAS though- we not­ed mediocre speeds. An­oth­er fea­ture of note: you can eas­i­ly set­up a sep­a­rate guest net­work for those who need in­ter­net ac­cess but not ac­cess to shared me­dia or files. One con­cern: Cis­co’s page sug­gests that USB print­ing will be sup­port­ed via a firmware up­date in ‘Sum­mer 2011′, but we had trou­ble get­ting it work­ing.

The force is strong in the lat­est from Linksys- we were im­pressed by the strength of the sig­nal, reach­ing even to far cor­ners and through walls and floors in our of­fices. Don’t ex­pect mir­a­cles- the range was on­ly slight­ly greater than the last few routers we’ve tried. But es­pe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the hid­den an­ten­nas and fair­ly small foot­print, we were hap­pi­ly sur­prised. The unit does get hot though- don’t try hid­ing it! Fur­ther, through­put speeds were im­pres­sive, out­do­ing ev­ery router from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, and av­er­ag­ing in the 50-80mb/s range once con­fig­ured.

The E4200 is par­tic­u­lar­ly no­table for im­prove­ments in the soft­ware. Of­ten, router firmware is hard to use and un­der­stand, and there can be plen­ty of room for con­fu­sion. But the us­er in­ter­face and fea­ture set this mod­el above many com­peti­tors. Linksys does of­fer a va­ri­ety of oth­er op­tions, if you don’t need all of the fea­ture set in the E4200. For those who don’t need USB and most­ly use wifi, try the E2500 and save more than 50%. The next step up is the E3200, which is a bit awk­ward­ly placed- a few steps short of this mod­el but with­out enough of a price dif­fer­ence to rec­om­mend.

For those in need of a sol­id router, look no fur­ther- the E4200 does al­most ev­ery­thing right. It isn’t per­fect- more con­fig­u­ra­tion op­tions like those com­mon in open-source firmwares would be great. DDNS and VP­Ns worked per­fect­ly, and though not specif­i­cal­ly la­beled as DL­NA cer­ti­fied we had no is­sues stream­ing to our Xbox 360 and PS3. Con­fig­u­ra­tion for novices is sim­ple, but pro users will be dis­ap­point­ed in the Cis­co Con­nect soft­ware and tools. It’s al­so fair­ly pricey- at $160, we rec­om­mend­ed up­grad­ing on­ly for those who are us­ing a router more than a cou­ple of years old. As al­ways, make sure to up­date the firmware to the lat­est ver­sion, and if you have any is­sues, try chang­ing the ‘chan­nel’ in the router’s set­tings- it can work won­ders.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.



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