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Feature wise, the EA4500 is your standard four-port gigabit Ethernet router, with a single WAN port, supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. It is, for all intents and purposes, a rebadged 4200 with new software on-board.
The router itself continues Cisco's "lounge-room" look, and it doesn't come with wall-mounting holes. One particularly large shortcoming is the lip that overhangs the WAN port, along with the curve of the router itself, which blocks access to the ports with thicker Ethernet cables.
The top curve of the router, and the lip above the WAN port interferes with some gigabit Ethernet cables. You'll have to make sure the terminator sleeves aren't even remotely bulky for a clean fit.
Specs at a glance
|Firmware tested||188.8.131.52 build 131047|
|Highest wireless security||WPA2|
|Ethernet ports||4x gigabit, 1x gigabit WAN|
|USB print sharing/storage||Storage (FAT32, NTFS, HFS)|
|Accessories||Ethernet cable, installation CD|
Cisco has usually been pretty far ahead of the pack when it comes to easy-to-use client-side software for networking. It was really only a matter of time before it moved everything to the cloud.
Not that it's had an easy time of it, with its new Connect Cloud software. Those who left auto-update on their old routers had the new regime pushed on them, and a ridiculous terms of service telling people what they could or could not browse. It also came with the usual cloud caveat: it'll store information about you, and will track your habits.
The company eventually did some furious backpedalling, saying that it intended to let users continue to use the local router administration if they prefer it over Connect Cloud.
Given that we received this review sample before all of this furore occurred, we were curious to see whether we could access the router without having to sign up to Connect Cloud. Ensuring that the router wasn't online, we hooked up a router and hit the gateway IP. We were told that the router wasn't set up, and that we'd need to run Cisco Connect Cloud. After clicking continue, we were then taken to the router interface.
Yep, just as planned.
(Screenshot by Craig Simms/CNET)
Settings didn't go beyond the exceedingly basic — clearly, Cisco had piled all of its options in Connect Cloud. No option was present to disable Connect Cloud and only maintain local access, but we were pleased to see that Cisco now offers a custom firmware version, eradicating the online necessity and bringing back the "classic" interface.
Er. Well that's a disappointing lack of features.
(Screenshot by Craig Simms/CNET)
Uploading the firmware (which is seemingly a modified EA4200 firmware from the file name), we were told that the update had failed — only to be presented with the classic Cisco interface, bringing back-port forwarding, parental controls, QoS, MAC filtering, firewall control, UPnP, guest network and USB management; all things that should be standard.
Flicking back to the Connect Cloud firmware, we came across our first problem: as always, the router is quite stupid in terms of detecting an internet connection, and will only do so if the WAN port is connected. Daisy chain off another router using a LAN port, and Connect Cloud doesn't work at all, only giving you access to the basic web interface.
This presents another problem: if you don't want to live with NAT'd access to the rest of your network (which definitely got in the way of our wireless benchmarking), you're going to have to not use the WAN port — which means no access to all of the router options. The same rule applies if you want to run a DHCP server from elsewhere.
The router detection and set-up software is, sad to say, laughable. For a start, it will only connect over wireless, not via a wired connection. Crazier still, the router ships with an open Wi-Fi connection to enable this. Yes, the risk is minimal if the user sets it up straight away, but it's a mindless decision. Of course, this made setting up the EA4500 on our desktop without wireless utterly impossible. Force-resetting the router to turn DHCP back on, we tried once more.
Success! The program is smart enough to connect over wireless without the user needing to do a thing with the Windows settings. As a smart first move, it asks us to set the wireless SSID and password. But the password box doesn't accept greater or less-than symbols, even though they're valid in the classic interface, and they work perfectly fine in Connect Cloud's web interface. Hmm.
Entering another password, we were eventually sent to Cisco's web page to sign up ... where there was a check box on whether we wanted to receive advertisements to our email. No thank you.
At this point, we discovered that the software had put a text file on our desktop containing our SSID, along with the router administration and wireless password. Mind boggling.