Sabtu, 02 Juni 2012

Linksys EA2700 Wireless Router Review

Linksys EA2700 Wireless Router Review

Brief review of the Linksys EA2700 Router, which is replacing an older WRT110.

It was time to upgrade my older Linksys WRT110 router with a newer model.  Linksys has a busy array of products, each at a slightly different price point.  I chose the Linksys EA2700 Dual-band N600 Router with Gigabit.  I recommend this product, with minor reservations, described below.

Related article:
Keyliner: First-Time Setup Linksys EA2700

Features:
  • Wireless N for newer laptops
  • Wireless a/b/g for older laptops
  • 2.4ghz + 5ghz dual, simultaneous bands
  • 4 wired gigabit ports
  • Instant Guest Access
  • IPV6 support
  • $100

The real reason for choosing the router was, oddly, for IPV6 support -- which nobody, including me, cares about*.  Starting with Windows Vista, and then 7 and 8, the operating system was configured with IPV6 (a new IP standard).  *Google seems to care.

This was enough to drive the old router nuts because each time a new laptop arrived on the old home network, it crashed the router with an "unidentified network error."  The solution for this is documented in this keyliner article:  Windows 7 Network Problems  -- but I was tired of making the same registry changes when new computers were introduced.  I suspected a newer router would fix the problem.  I was right.

Having a speedier Wireless N and faster gigabit ports (for a future NAS) also drove the upgrade. The EA2700 was the minimum model with gigabit and it was at my price-point of $100. 

Confusing Product Comparisons:

Cisco has purposely built a number of products, each with different features at different prices.  This carefully planned strategy extracts the maximum dollars from informed customers.  With each slightly more expensive model, they add one more interesting feature. 

For an average consumer, figuring out which to purchase should be a challenge and most would purchase solely on price.  Asking the store's help might not be helpful because the clerks were as confused as I was and the best they could do was to spout statistics from the back of the box.  After some pondering, I managed to combine a dozen pages on Linksys's site, into one chart.

Features that I think show significant differences between one model and the next are marked with an underline in the illustration below.  Click for a larger view:   
Click for larger image

In summary: 
  •  All new routers support Wireless N and older protocols.
  • 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz refers to the frequency -- not the throughput.  5Ghz has less interference from other 2.4Ghz devices, such as wireless house phones.  Newer N network cards can use 5Ghz.
     
  • 300 Mbps is a normal N throughput.
  • Most of these routers have 2 speed numbers (e.g. 300- 450): The first is the 2.4ghz speed, the second is the 5ghz speed.  802.11g and older will use the first number. 
  • It costs a lot more money for 450Mbs (first number) and your network card may not support it. 
     
  • More antennas mean more PC's can hog bandwidth without stepping on each other -- but your real bandwidth bottleneck is probably your ISP.  At my house, 4 PC's and a wii ran on two antenna and I have been fairly happy. 
  • 4 antenna is icing on cake.  If you have a lot of active devices, 6 antenna might be useful, but you probably won't notice -- especially if you configure the router properly (opinion, not tested). 
     
  • Gigabit wired ports - are not on all models.  But you should consider this a requirement if you have wired devices. 
  • Use wired when possible.  I laugh when somebody uses a wireless connection for a desktop computer 12" away from the router.
  • USB port: Nice to have, probably un-needed (see below).
     
  • If your current network is bogged down with streaming video, look more carefully at the two higher-end models -- but I'd bet this is not really an issue for most people.  For example, with two teenagers and Netflix, I have not noticed a problem on my old, slow network, let alone on the new.  I am leery of spending money on features I may not need. 
     
  • In three years these routers will be obsolete but there is no reason to upgrade unless the devices can take advantage of the technology.  My old laptops are 802.11g.  Bah!  See this article: Installing a new Laptop 5G Network Card.

For a home-office with an average of 3 or 4 PC's that occasionally streams video or music from other devices, I recommend the EA2700.  This seems to be a good balance between features and price and is somewhat future-proofed for some of the newer devices.  Although this model lacks USB and dedicated streaming channels, this is not as much a concern as you might think.  Read the 'minor regrets,' below, for an explanation.

Setup:

Ignoring the setup CD that came with the router, I like to login directly to the router's configuration screens and manually configure the router. 

See this article for important steps and information, including how to change the Administrative Password: Keyliner article:  Linksys EA2700 - First Time Setup

Total setup time was about 10 minutes.  Very easy, with no surprises.

I still do not understand what the setup CD provides, other than to install another software program on my computer.  I prefer to work directly on the router's built-in setup screens and it only takes a few moments. If you have worked with Linksys routers in the past, the web-based setup screen is similar to previous models.

Initial Login:
Using your browser, connect to 192.168.1.1
Use these credentials for the first-time login: "admin/admin" 

See also these articles for more detailed steps:
Linksys EA2700 - First Time Setup
Router Setup Steps - 5Ghz

Click for larger view


5G and 2.4G Setup Notes:

There are two configuration sections for 2.4G and 5G.
Be sure to set different SSID's names for each, with similar names but with an appendage, something like this:

wolfhouse5g
wolfhouse24g

Synopsis:

For the 5G side:
Network Mode:  Wireless N only
SSID:  wolfhouse5G (or some such name)
Security Mode: WPA2 Personal
All other fields at default, including Broadcast SSID

For the 2.4G side,
Network Mode: Mixed
SSID:  wolfhouse24G
Security Mode: WPA2/WPA Mixed Mode  (for compatibility)
This way, older devices, such as wireless printers will still work properly.
All other fields at default, including Broadcast SSID

Here is my setup:

Click for larger view
Note: Why Broadcast SSID?  Some new Windows 7 / 8 features will not work well without a broadcast SSID -- and hiding the SSID won't help keep the bad guys off your network.  This can be sniffed in a heartbeat.  If they are good enough to break the encryption, they have the SSID and your Mac addresses already.  Quit wasting your time.

Minor Issues:

A minor issue was the power-cord was about 6" shorter than the older Linksys.  Naturally, it was 5" too short.  The old linksys cord was the same rating, solving this minor problem.

Another minor issue:  According to the manual, the Cisco logo on the top is supposed to glow, giving network status; my logo is dark.  There are, however, a myriad of blinky-lights on the back.  It may be the more expensive models light up.

When configuring the router, or occasionally if the DSL or cable circuit was down, you may need to reboot the router.  As usual, shy of pulling the power cord, there is not a good way to reboot the box.  In a dark closet, this is always a challenge.  However, all of the new routers are now rebootable from the configuration screens -- provided you can reach the device from your browser during the downtime.


Guest Access:

New routers support easier guest access, which is also configurable in the wireless section.  With this, the guest behaves as if it were on the other side of the firewall and you no-longer have to give away the keys to the kingdom for a short, one-time-connection.

Visitors can see your network's broadcast and with a simple password, they can connect and browse while you sit there, smiling, knowing you don't have to worry about other devices in your house.  In practice, this is elegant for both you and your visitors. 

To the visitor, the wireless network looks like this (Windows 8; other versions similar):

And as soon as they connect to the Guest network, they are presented with a simple login screen. 


While on the guest network they are blocked from all internal traffic, shares and printers.  If the account is hacked, they cannot do any real damage except to hog bandwidth.  Be sure to set the guest password differently than the regular encrypted password.  Guest access is only on the 2.4G network.

More details can be found in this related Keyliner article: Router Setup - 5Ghz


Internal Components:

Beneath the metal RF Shield plates, are a normal array of IC chips.
Note the multiple wire antennas.
Ventilation seems adequate, but I recommend propping the bottom edge to give more air underneath the case.  My friend reports after watching a movie, the router is warmer than usual.


The router is the size of a small plate and despite all of the photos showing a thin, pancake-like leading edge, the device is the same thickness throughout.  Underneath, the edges curve inwards, giving an illusion of a thin face.


Minor Regrets:

More expensive versions of this router have a built-in USB port and at first blush, I seriously considered this a required feature.  The USB port would allow a direct-connect of external NAS drive and possibly a printer.

But consider this:  A NAS / Drive Array would have better performance if connected to the gigabit ports, making the USB less-than ideal.

Connecting a printer to the USB port strikes me as odd.  If the printer were close enough to the router for a USB cable, then you could connect it with a Cat-5 network cable, again making the USB port unnecessary.  If all four all network ports were occupied, you could spend $35 and buy a hub, which would expand your network and this would be more flexible than a more expensive router.

The other more expensive models can also stream video on separate channels, freeing contention with computer traffic.  My current (old) router runs Netflix over the wireless without any problems.  Adding these features raises the cost another $40 to $90, exceeding my wallet's tolerance.


Future Features:

This summer, Cisco promises new software which will allow access to the home network from anywhere on the net and this is only available on the EA2700 and better routers.  I'll review this when it becomes available.  It is odd the vendor's webpage discusses this feature, but the box does not.  I am looking forward to seeing this.


Summary:

This is a recommended product that is well placed in the market.  Linksys / Cisco has been a reliable brand in the past and I am now on my third-generation of Linksys routers.

The router installed with ease and was fully operational in about 10 minutes. It works exactly as expected, with no issues.

The range seems better than previous routers and having faster speeds will be nice.  Having gigabit and 5ghz "future-proofs" the router as I get newer equipment.  To upgrade older laptops to run over the faster network, see this article: Installing a new Laptop Wireless Card

Advert: Linksys EA2700 Smart Wi-Fi Router App enabled N600 with Gigabit



Related Links:
Linksys EA2700 - First Time Setup
Router Setup - 5Ghz - detailed instructions
Installing a new Laptop Wireless Card

Setting up a Home DSL Network - Older Routers
Windows 7 Network Problems
Brother Wireless Printer Fails after Router Upgrade

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