Linksys EA6500 Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 HD Video Pro review: Firmware upgrade is a must

Features
Similar to the EA4500, the new EA6500 is first and foremost an N900 router, offering Wireless-N speeds of up to 450Mbps on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands at the same time. The EA6500, however, also simultaneously supports the three-stream setup of the 802.11ac standard to offer up to 1.3Gbps when connected to 802.11ac Wi-Fi clients. There are not many 802.11ac clients on the market yet, but it's expected to become more popular next year. That said, the EA6500 supports virtually all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of their standards, be it 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, or 802.11ac. (You can find out more about different Wi-Fi standards in this post ).

The router's two USB ports can be used to host printers or external hard drives of any capacity. In my trials, this worked fine with drives larger than 2TB, formatted in the NTFS file system (Windows). However, it's best that you get one of those storage devices and printer on this supported list.

The Linksys EA6500 allows for connecting a drive with existing content to the router and sharing that content with other network devices, either via regular file-sharing protocol or streaming. The router supports UPnP and DNLA streaming standards. In my testing, the router took a rather long time -- about a minute -- to recognize the connected drive.

The router also supports third-party mobile apps that can add more to what you can do with the router when you're out and about. So far, however, since Cisco Cloud Connect was released back in June, there haven't been many third-party apps developed for the Linksys EA series. The few that I have tried don't seem to add a lot of value to the routers. Still, the main Cisco Connect Cloud app is an excellent way to manage your home network on the go. The only complaint I have is that it lacks support for streaming digital content stored on the connected drive. Hopefully this feature will be added in future releases.

The Linksys EA6500's storage feature worked as intended. The router was able to provide enough power to run any bus-powered portable drives I tried with it (including a few that weren't on the supported list). It supports sharing data on the drive both the easy way, where everyone on the network has the same level of access to the entire drive, and a more advanced method in which you can create accounts with access restriction.

The router's Guest Access feature, available only on the 2.4GHz band, remains the same and still doesn't allow you to rename the guest network. Instead it'll take the name of the main network and add the "-guest" suffix to it, meaning you'll have to reveal your main network's name to guests. The EA6500 can handle up to 50 guest users. It also supports common features and settings found in most new routers, such as IPv6, DynDNS, a firewall, WPA/WPA2 Wi-Fi encryption methods, and so on. For the rest of the router's features, check out the review of the Cisco Connect Cloud platform.

Performance
I tested the router with the Linksys WUMC710 802.11ac media bridge, which was made available at the same time as the EA6500 (and is the only 802.11ac client from Cisco for now) and a few other 802.11n (Wireless-N) clients. Since previous routers from Cisco (such as the Linksys E4200 and Linksys EA4500) did very well in testing, I expected a lot from the EA6500. With the latest firmware, the EA6500 some what lived up to the expectation.

The Linksys EA6500 and the Linksys WUMC710 802.11ac media bridge used for testing
The Linksys EA6500 and the Linksys WUMC710 802.11ac media bridge used for testing Dong Ngo/CNET

When used with the 802.11ac clients, the EA6500's performance was very fast, though not the fastest among its peers. At close range (15 feet or less), it scored 245Mbps, making it the third-fastest router I've seen. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, it now registered some 113Mbps; not slow, but below the average for 802.11ac routers.

The router was less impressive with Wireless N (802.11n) clients, which account for the majority of Wi-Fi clients on the market. On the 5Ghz it scored 125Mbps and 106Mbps for close and long range, respectively. While the former was just normal, the latter was comparatively very good. On the 2.4Ghz, the latest firmware didn't help make any difference and the router scored similarly to its performance with the previous version of the firmware: 49Mbps for close range and 34Mbps for long range.

The good news is the new firmware fixed all of the problem I originally found in the router. It now no longer disconnected randomly and was able to pass the 48-hour stress test without any hiccups. Most importantly, the router no longer slowed down the connection to the Internet.

The router's network storage performance when coupled with an external hard drive is about the same as that of the Linksys EA4500, with speeds of about 10MBps for both reading and writing. Via a Gigabit Ethernet connection, it was fast enough for light network storage and media-streaming needs.

Overall, once updated with the latest firmware the Linksys EA6500 now make a good router in terms of performance. Considering its cost, I wish it could offer better performance relative to its less-expensive peers, however.

CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Cisco Linksys E4200v2
35.8 
148.5 
Trendnet TEW-692GR
31.3 
77.8 
Netgear WNDR4000
23.9 
67.8 
Linksys EA4500
41.6 
62.4 
WD My Net N900 HD
16 
58.1 
Asus RT-N66U
45.5 
55 
Netgear R6300
41.6 
51.2 
Belkin N750 DB
26.6 
50 
Cisco Linksys EA6500
33.6 
48.8 
D-Link DIR-857
29.6 
47.8 
Netgear WNDR4500
31.1 
45.3 
Asus RT-AC66U
15.2 
36.8 
D-Link DIR-865L
22.1 
36 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
9.6 
33.5 

CNET Labs 5Ghz Wireless-N Performance Score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Cisco Linksys EA6500 (with 802.11ac clients)
113 
244.5 
D-Link DIR-857
172.4 
214.6 
Asus RT-AC66U
166.6 
208.2 
WD My Net N900 HD
74 
195 
Belkin N900 DB
138.2 
189.6 
Linksys EA4500
176.8 
186.8 
Cisco Linksys E4200 v.2
122.2 
185.6 
Asus RT-N66U
155.3 
181.8 
Netgear R6300
144.8 
178.8 
AirStation WZR-D1800H
120 
172 
Netgear WNDR4500
92.7 
152.8 
D-Link DIR-865L
121.6 
147.6 
Cisco Linksys EA6500
105.7 
124.6 
Trendnet TEW-692GR
105.8 
116.1 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
79 
116.1 

Conclusion
With the latest firmware, the Linksys EA6500 Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 HD Video Pro makes a good buy for anyone needing an advanced and future-proof Wi-Fi router. It's not the best deal compared to the competition, however.

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