Linksys EA8100 router review: Possibly the best ISP-bundled router right now
Linksys EA8100 router review: Possibly the best ISP-bundled router
What’s the Linksys EA8100?
Linksys' EA8100 is a dual-band AC2600-class router that is exclusive to StarHub (world’s first for the telco, too). It is given free to customers who sign up for or renew their StarHub 1GBps fiber home broadband and HomeHub Plus plans. Its pièce de résistance is that it has DFS capability.
DFS? What is that?
DFS stands for Dynamic Frequency Selection and routers with DFS capability are able to use special 5GHz channels that are typically reserved for radar use by government services.
What’s so important about that?
To answer that you need to understand that one of the causes of poor Wi-Fi is channel congestion. This occurs when there are many Wi-Fi networks using the same channels. In Singapore, they are 25 channels in the 5GHz spectrum but only nine are available for public use. The remaining 16 are reserved for use by government services. Performance degrades when multiple networks are using the same channel and with just nine channels to go around, you can imagine how bad congestion can be. DFS combats this by tapping into the restricted 5GHz spectrum. In doing so, it is able to use channels that most other routers cannot use. This ability to use ‘clean’ Wi-Fi channels should, in theory, enable the Linksys EA8100 to achieve better Wi-Fi performance.
If DFS is so amazing why do so few routers support it?
Good question. I suspect that costs have a large role to play. You see, to support DFS, a router has to constantly scan its environment for signs of radar. When there is a radar in the vicinity, it has to vacate the DFS spectrum and use one of the publicly available Wi-Fi channels. To do this requires a special chipset and firmware, which obviously add costs to the router.
So what chipset is inside the EA8100?
Linksys hasn’t disclosed it but based on specifications that we do know, there is a good chance it is using the MediaTek MT7621 chipset. This has an 880MHz dual-core processor with 128MB of flash and 256MB of RAM.
That sounds promising, so what kind of performance should I expect?
The EA8100 is a dual-band router that has an AC2600-class speed rating. This means it can deliver speeds of up to 800Mbps on its 2.4GHz network and 1,733Mbps on its 5GHz network. This is all theoretical, of course.
Right, let's talk about design. It looks kind of boring doesn't it?
Yeah, unfortunately, Linksys’ routers aren’t known for being lookers but at least the EA8100 router has an inoffensive design - so it shouldn’t look too out of place on a side table or table counter. After all, it is essentially just a black rectangle box with four large antennae sticking out of it.
What ports does it have?
The Linksys EA8100 comes with the usual single gigabit Ethernet WAN port, four gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a single USB 3.0 port, and a single USB 2.0 port.
Is it easy to setup?
The EA8100 router uses Linksys’ Smart Wi-Fi software stack and I would say that, amongst traditional routers, it is possibly the most user-friendly router management interface. You can’t tweak the EA8100 as much as you can with an ASUS router but the EA8100 provides a good balance between ease of use and features.
What features does it have then?
To begin, the EA8100 router can be controlled and managed remotely using the Smart Wi-Fi app (free for iOS and Android devices) or through the Smart Wi-Fi web portal. The app is quite powerful and lets users do the following:
- Manage Wi-Fi networks and passwords
- Create guest networks
- Set device priorities
- Parental controls
- Show connected devices
- Port forwarding
- Update firmware
You can do all of the above using the traditional web interface too and a couple more, including:
- Dynamic DNS
- VPN USB file and printer sharing
- Enable/disable NAT
- Enable/disable RIP (Dynamic Routing)
- DMZ host
Overall, it doesn’t offer as many features as ASUS’ routers but it has all the options that most users would need and it is considerably more user-friendly and less intimidating to use.