External antennas are passe, if recent offerings from Linksys are anything to go by. Dressed in matte black shell with a grey "metallic" band slapped across the middle, the E4200 is by far the sleekest and classiest router we've laid hands on. It's a little less ostentatious than the glossy ASUS RT-56U, with a little more class to boot. One obvious upside is you get to display this router like a decorative accessory instead of stowing it away from view. Unlike conventional designs, this minimalist networking unit is also devoid of status indicators, save for a white LED-backlit Cisco logo which serves as a power indicator.
The back panel features four standard Gigabit LAN ports, plus a single Gigabit WAN port for the modem. Crossover cables aren't required since auto-crossover features (Auto-MDIX) are supported as well. Additionally, a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button and a sunken Reset button are also catered for. Further to the right sits a USB slot which serves various purposes. For starters, you may use it to share data from external storage devices via the router's NAS-like feature. Alternatively, transmission of multimedia content across the home network is also possible with the integrated UPnP Media Server. The E4200 is packaged with a Cat 5 cable, a 12V power adapter, and a CD containing the Cisco Connect software if you prefer to setup the router in a snap.
Surprisingly, the installation process wasn't as quick as anticipated. In fact, the setup took more than eight minutes before the router was finally initialized. On the up side, Cisco Connect enables you to configure the E4200 for basic usage without any prior networking knowledge. For example, it allows you to add computers to your network, set guest access, or enable parental controls with much ease. On the other hand, its limited functionality may frustrate enthusiasts since it does not provide access to the meatier advanced settings. The web browser can still be used for this purpose, fortunately. One minor gripe is the initial prompt to install Cisco Connect on the browser's splash page. We observed this only happens with the new native firmware (build 13). Also, a single SSID is given instead of discrete SSIDs for each frequency band.
The router comes with a default IP address of 192.168.1.1, with "admin" as its ID and password assuming Cisco Connect wasn't used previously. For its web interface, Linksys has retained its sterile white and blue layout, although the detailed field settings and practical Help tips are a definite plus. We applaud features like its customizable QoS prioritization, guest access (up to ten clients), IPv6 support (with manual options for 6rd tunneling), VPN pass-through, plus an UPnP media server for streaming. Linksys' detailed Internet Access Policy (IAP) filtering system is worth a mention too, especially if you have kids at home. Essentially, you can restrict access from networked computers on a weekly schedule or block applications via various network protocols. The Disk Management application enables you to share specific folders or the entire drive. However, you can't assign specific read or write rights.