Published on August 14th, 2013 | by Greg0
Linksys: Speedy 802.11ac Router, Great Powerline Options Cover Everyone
Wireless networks are all of the rage, and have been for quite some time. It’s easy to see why- installation is easy, and you can worry about one less cable being strung along or inside your walls. But wired networks offer some advantages- security, stability- and wireless network equipment still needs to be upgraded regularly so that you can support the latest devices and handle the growth in traffic (Netflix streaming can take a toll on any router).
We’ve got two great solutions from Linksys, their first major set of products since they were acquired by Belkin after years under Cisco ownership. In fact, our models still had the Cisco logo, but expect that to change in the near future. Belkin is a great fit for the brand, and it was a natural combination that appears to be working out well so far. We’ll start with the Linksys AC1600 router, model EA6400, a slight step down from last year’s EA6500 that we reviewed not too long ago.
The look and feel are quite similar, and that’s not a bad thing- the sleek matte black and metallic look good and our router continues to hold up well to our network load, which can regularly include ten or so active devices simultaneously (though typically only half of those wirelessly). As with most new routers, this is a dual-band model that supports the new (and not yet widely supported) draft 802.11ac standard, and with a separate one for 2.4GHz and 5GHz, plus backwards compatibility with older devices running 802.11a/b/c/g/n. It’s a little slower, theoretically, than the AC1750 models that support a faster 450 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band- this one is rated at 300 Mbps. But we noticed improved performance, slightly, on the slower band when running in dual-band default-setup mode, and actually a small decrease in throughput in 802.11ac bandwidth when compared with it’s predecessor.
It’s minor though, and basically not noticeably different- in a 5 GHz 802.11n only-mode at fairly close range, we clocked close to 150 Mbps and only a bit more than that with the EA6500. We used a few different 802.11ac and 802.11n adapters to test, including those that worked well with the fastest-yet-tested TRENDnet router and network adapter. Note that the AC1600 is a “2×2″ model with four internal antennas instead of it’s big brothers “3×3″ with six internal antennas.
Of course, setup is similar- the interface is easy to use, and the cloud management features are available but not required, so you can manage all settings locally. Open firmwares, like DD-WRT, offer more options as always, but this one feels immediately intuitive and sturdy. There are simple parental controls, a guest mode, and QoS (quality of service) controls for media prioritization, important to make sure your videos stream seamless even if someone is downloading files. There is also a USB port (versus the EA6500′s pair), and Belkin/Linksys wins points for it being USB 3.0 to support faster devices, important for external storage like larger hard drives. It’s all combined into a package that makes this one of the best mid-tier routers, fast and capable while coming it at an attractive price point of $150.
For those contemplating a larger house or office, walls and floors and ceiling can bedevil even newer, high-power routers. When you have more than a couple of floors, you can try to use wireless boosters and repeaters. But we suggest an alternate option, setting up a PLEK500 Powerline AV2 kit, which allows instant gigabit speeds without worrying about signal strength, wireless protocols, passwords, or interference. It’s been a while since we checked out a piece of gear like this- using your built-in electrical system to carry network traffic- but they’ve improved quite a bit. Linksys has released an update spec (hence the AV2 designation) that worked wonders.
There’s still little to set up or configure, and thanks to push-button encryption, you don’t need to worry about security. Just press a small button on one unit, and then the same button on the other of the pair within a couple of minutes. Plus, speeds get up to 500 Mbps, earning this set the title of “fastest powerline gear” available. It even beats wireless speeds for most situations and circumstances, especially at range, though you of course would need to add wires to and from the powerline adapters- just not change out your whole home’s infrastructure. And the best news: it’s still backwards compatible with previous powerline components. At the moment, we weren’t able to find individual units, just the pairs, but the kit is a necessary start and we’re sure that they will expand the range soon. The Linksys PLEK500 AV2 is worth the price tag, if you need speed and cannot use wireless, and runs $120 or so online and in stores.