Note: This article was first published on 17th December 2015. The content and products tested are still current and applicable.
Routers are getting faster by the day. Just recently, we reviewed two blazing fast AC5300 routers. But aside from AC5300 routers, there ia also a new class of AC3150 routers. The numbers just keep getting bigger and bigger.
For most consumers, we would recommend getting a good AC3200 class router and forget about the new AC5300 and AC3150 routers for the time being. There are few devices that can take full advantage of the new technologies that AC5300 and AC3150 routers bring to the table. These new fangled routers support up to four spatial streams and also MU-MIMO, two new technologies which are scarcely found in today's client devices.
In fact, as we mentioned in an earlier article, even most notebooks today have wireless adapters that support only up to two spatial streams, which means a maximum data transfer rate of 867Mbps - it doesn't matter if you have an AC1900, AC2600 or higher router, 867Mbps is the highest theoretical speed your client device can achieve. As a result, this is why we think AC3200 class tri-band routers offer the best mix of features and performance.
AC3200 class tri-band routers in the market today are all based on Broadcom’s 5G XStream platform. This platform consists of a single 1GHz dual-core Broadcom BCM4709A processor with 256GB of RAM, and three offload Broadcom BCM43602 processors, each dedicated to one of the platform’s three Wi-Fi radios. All AC3200 class tri-band routers, such as the ASUS RT-AC3200, D-Link DIR-890L and Linksys EA9200, use this chipset. As a result, the differences will come down to design, implementation, features and ease of use. That said, let’s take a closer look at the three routers that have been released in the second half of this year, beginning with the Linksys EA9200, and then the Netgear Nighthawk X6 which we are revisiting because of a recent firmware update, and lastly TP-Link Archer C3200 which is the newest in the group.
Note: We have covered this router in a dedicated review earlier, and the contents below were taken from that review.
The first thing that most users would notice about the Linksys EA9200 router is that it only has three antennas, which is unusual considering most AC-3200 routers have six - the Netgear Nighthawk X6and the ASUS RT-AC3200 both have six antennas. To be sure, the Linksys EA9200 router does have six antennas, just that three of them are hidden internally. According to Linksys, the decision to do so was to give the EA9200 router a less busy appearance, plus they were certain that performance would not be compromised.
Unlike most modern high-end routers, the Linksys EA9200 router is actually quite compact and is designed with a stand so that it sits vertically - wall-mounting is not possible. As a result, it does not take up much desktop real estate, though it sits very tall, at around 30cm including its antennas, so make sure you have headroom. In terms of design, the EA9200 router is rather simplistic. Unlike its rivals ASUS and Netgear, whose routers are highly angular and almost aggressive looking, the Linksys EA9200 router looks much more subdued and conservative The front panel is a bare black with a silver panel down the middle with the Linksys’ logo that lights up when the router is turned on, while the sides and rear panels are highly perforated and vented to let heat escape.
Like its E8350 sibling, the EA9200 router does not have LED status indicators on front, which can be problematic if something goes wrong and you are trying to troubleshoot. There are however LED indicators on the WAN and LAN ports and even for the USB ports, but since these are on the back of the router, their helpfulness is limited.
Behind the router, users can find the usual assortment of ports. There is a single Gigabit WAN port and four Gigabit LAN ports, and also a USB 3.0 port and a USB 2.0 port. And looking to the left (relative to the back of the router), we find two buttons - one for WPS setup and another for turning off Wi-Fi.
Inside, the Linksys EA9200 router is powered by Broadcom’s 5 XStream chipset - the same as Netgear’s Nighthawk X6 router. This chipset consists of a single dual-core Broadcom BCM4709 chip running at 1GHz with 256MB of RAM and three offload Broadcom BCM43602 processors, each dedicated to one of the EA9200’s three Wi-Fi networks. This offload processor handles all wireless processing thus freeing the the host CPU for other applications.
Setting the Linksys EA9200 router up was a breeze as the Smart Wi-Fi user interface is arguably the most user-friendly setup interface around. It offers a good balance of ease of use and control, and offers features such as traffic monitoring, QoS, parental control, cloud storage and more. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into its design. An example would be Linksys’ QoS management system, which gives users the option to prioritize connections based on devices as opposed to simply just specifying applications and the ports they use. This is both easier and considerably more practical for most users.
The EA9200 router also features Smart Connect, which is a feature that pertains to the router’s dual 5GHz frequency bands. If enabled, the router will use “5GHz band steering”, which means that it will broadcast a single 5GHz SSID, but devices connected to it will actually be split between its two 5GHz bands to spread the load and reduce congestion. This all takes place automatically and the router will assign devices on its own. However, for users who want more control, the EA9200 router can also be setup to broadcast two separate 5GHz SSIDs.
But maybe the coolest thing about the Smart Wi-Fi system is the ability to remotely control and access your router. This can be done in two ways: via the Smart Wi-Fi app that is available for free on both iOS and Android, or online through the Smart Wi-Fi portal. Both will let you remotely control and edit your router settings, change passwords, enable Parental Control, and even access content on external storage devices connected to the router.