Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit router: A more affordable MU-MIMO router
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Performance & Conclusion
Our routine test setup includes a desktop PC, the reviewed router, and a laptop to simulate a wireless home network. The desktop system takes on the role of a host machine, while the router acts as a gateway. And lastly, an external Wireless 802.11ac adapter attached to the notebook is used to fulfill the role of a wireless remote client. The router is locked down in N-only mode for the 2.4GHz band, and 802.11ac for the 5GHz band, mainly to prevent the use of varying 802.11 standards. Typically, a channel bandwidth of 40MHz is selected where applicable, while 80MHz is used for the 5GHz AC band.
We'll be using Netgear's A6200 802.11ac USB adapter for our throughput tests to reduce the number of variables involved. The Netgear A6200 USB adapter supports up to two spatial streams for a maximum data transfer rate of 867Mbps - the maximum for USB adapters currently. Hence, if your system has a more advanced wireless chipset that supports three spatial streams, you can expect even higher speeds.
To evaluate, we will be using a mix of synthetic benchmarks and real-world testing. The synthetic benchmark we are using is called LAN Speed Test. As for real-world testing, we will be measuring the routers’ speeds in transferring a 1GB zip file. We will do multiple tests at different distances to simulate use around a typical home. For the 5GHz band, we also measured how performance is affected if two clients are connected and uploading and downloading data at the same time. Here are the test distances we used and what they represent.
- 2m - Right beside the router.
- 5m - In the adjacent room.
- 13m - In the room opposite.
- 17m - To simulate extreme distances
An important thing to note is that we will be phasing out 2.4GHz testing from our benchmarks. For one, 802.11ac is now being widely supported by most if not all mobile devices. If your device supports 802.11ac, it makes absolutely no sense to connect to the router via the slower and more congested 2.4GHz band. Speaking of congestion, our test environment currently has no less than 19 different 2.4GHz networks being broadcasted. The amount of noise and interference makes it very difficult for us to properly evaluate 2.4GHz performance. As such, we'll only be presenting performance from the 5GHz band.
Additional MU-MIMO test
Since MU-MIMO only works with clients with compatible MU-MIMO adapters, we are including additional tests using three specially prepared notebooks outfitted with Qualcomm’s QCA9377 1x1 MU-MIMO adapter (single stream and up to 433Mbps). We will first test transfers speeds using a single notebook and then with two and finally all three notebooks simultaneously. If MU-MIMO works as advertised then what we should see is that transfer speeds should not differ greatly whether the router is transmitting to multiple devices. Since the Linksys EA7500 router supports up to three spatial streams, we should see maximum performance with two connected clients. Remember, MU-MIMO works best when the number is clients is one less than the maximum number of spatial streams.
But of course, this is all theory. As we all know, networking performance in practice is often far from theoretical ideal - the environment and positioning of the notebooks can all affect performance. For this test, we placed the three notebooks at a range of about 2m in front of the router and in a fan shape, to keep the distance of the notebooks from the router equidistant and to prevent cross interference of signals.
We begin our analysis with results from the uplink and downlink speed tests on LAN Speed Test, and the Linksys EA7500 router exhibited very respectable uplink speeds. At closer ranges of 2m and 5m, the EA7500 router recorded speeds that were bested only by Linksys’ own monster WRT1900AC router, and handily beat rivals like the ASUS RT-AC68U and Netgear Nighthawk R7000. The EA7500 router’s speed at 13m was quite good too, and on a par with its competitors. However, its performance dipped quite severely at 17m.
The EA7500 router’s downlink speeds were less exciting, but definitely still in the range of what one would expect from a router of its class. We noticed that it was quicker the EA8500, on which it is heavily based on, but it was no match for the ASUS RT-AC68U, Netgear Nighthawk R7000 and Linksys WRT1900AC, especially at farther ranges.
The EA7500 router’s performance on our file transfer tests were quite encouraging. It was again noticeably faster than the EA8500 router, but its performance on the farther ranges of 13m and 17m were, once again, a tad underwhelming when compared to range monsters like the ASUS RT-AC68U and Linksys WRT1900AC. Nevertheless, its overall performance can be described as decent, and very strong especially at shorter ranges.
In our performance load test, where we downloaded data simultaneously using two notebooks from our host computer, the Linksys EA7500 router managed a speed of 70.8Mbps, which was about the same as the other dual-band routers that we see here. Bear in mind that our notebooks were not MU-MIMO compatible, we are not expecting to see any boost in performance from the EA7500 router. Obviously, it was no match for tri-band routers, which could dedicate individual 5GHz networks to the two notebooks, and can attain speeds of up to 170Mbps easy if the two notebooks were streaming on different 5GHz networks.
Finally, with MU-MIMO compatible notebooks and MU-MIMO enabled on the router, we sought to find out how much of a boost MU-MIMO would made when streaming data to multiple devices. As expected, there wasn’t much of a difference when there was a single client, but with two clients, there was a marked improvement of over 30% thanks to MU-MIMO. With three clients, the improvement was more modest, by only around 10%. The results of this test on EA7500 were inline with those on the earlier EA8500, which is to say that MU-MIMO does provide a small but decent boost to performance.
Your ticket to the world of MU-MIMO
With its lower price, the Linksys EA7500 is positioned as the ticket into the world of MU-MIMO. And unless you have specialized devices that can take advantage of the super fast speeds of the EA8500 router, the EA7500 router is a sensible choice for most consumers.
When we reviewed the EA8500 router last year, we remarked that it was still early days yet for MU-MIMO and that there are little devices that can actually take advantage of this technology. However, a lot has changed since then, and there are now more devices that support MU-MIMO, such as the Samsung’s new Galaxy S7.
In fact, MU-MIMO has gathered steam much quicker than we had expected, and Qualcomm, a leading provider of MU-MIMO technologies, has released a list of new and upcoming devices that will support MU-MIMO, and it includes phones like the Nexus 5X, Lumia 950, HTC One M8; and notebooks from Dell’s Alienware series and MSI’ GT gaming series. With that in mind, users might want to consider future proofing their home networks with the new EA7500 router.
At S$299, the EA7500 router may sound quite pricey, but closer examination actually shows that Linksys has priced the new EA7500 router quite attractively against the top tier of AC1900 routers we're compared against. It’s 25% less pricey than the EA8500, and is priced comparably to its rivals like the ASUS RT-AC68U and Netgear Nighthawk R7000. This makes it an enticing proposition, since it provides the same AC1900-class performance, but with the added benefit of support for MU-MIMO. Plus, the EA7500 also has Linksys’ easy to use Smart Wi-Fi setup interface, which makes it easy to manage for users who are perhaps not quite as tech savvy.
The EA7500 router is not without its shortcomings. Its bland and uninteresting design aside, the benefits of MU-MIMO are not as drastic as we had hoped. But it's still early days yet and there's still a lot of optimization that can be done for the technology to direct signals more accurately and efficiently to MU-MIMO compatible devices. In addition, performance also depends greatly on the users' environment and our test environment (our office) isn't necessarily the most ideal since it's really noisy.
But if these imperfections don't put you off, the EA7500 stands as one of the more interesting AC1900 routers in the market today. If you are looking for considering one, the EA7500 router from Linksys is definitely worth your serious consideration.
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