Linksys EA6400 Smart Wi-Fi router review: Nice design, great features, so-so performance

The router's USB 3.0 port can be used to host a printer or an external hard drive of any capacity. In my trials, this worked fine with drives larger than 2TB, formatted in the NTFS (Windows). You can connect a new drive or 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, this generally worked well. You can share data to everyone or use more advanced method in which you can create accounts with access restriction.

The router's Guest Access feature is available only on the 2.4GHz band, and you can't change the name of this guest network. Instead it will take the name of the main network and add the "-guest" suffix to it. This means you have to reveal your main network's name to guests, up to 50 of whom are supported.

The router comes with a nice way of managing connected clients. You can easily add them to specialty lists such as a Media Prioritization list or a Parental Control list. The former is a convenient Quality of Service (QoS) feature that allows you to prioritize Internet traffic to certain connected clients; the latter, as the name suggests is for when you want to restrict access to the Internet to certain clients. Both worked well in my trial.

The Speed Test tool comes in handy when you want to know if you get the Internet speed that you pay for. Shown here is the Internet speed at CNET HQ.
The Speed Test tool comes in handy when you want to know if you get the Internet speed that you pay for. Dong Ngo/CNET

The router has an unique feature called Speed Test that you can run right from its Web interface. This feature basically tests the data speed of the source that the router is connected to, such as a broadband modem. To use this feature, you need to use a computer directly connected to the router in the local network.

Other than that, the router has all the other common features and settings found in most new routers, such as IPv6, DynDNS, a firewall, WPA/WPA2 Wi-Fi encryption methods, and so on.

Performance
After having experienced the lackluster EA6500, I didn't have high expectations for the EA6400's performance, and yet the router still failed to impress me. It's in no way a slow router, but compared with its 802.11ac-enabled peers, it was consistently below average.

I tested it both with 802.11ac and 802.11n clients. I also tested it as a network attached storage (NAS) server.

CNET Labs 802.11ac Performance Scores
(In megabits per second; longer bars indicate better performance)
Long range  
Short range  
D-Link DIR-868L
221 
271 
Netgear R6300
208 
331.32 
Trendnet TEW-812DRU
192.4 
263 
Asus RT-AC66U
178.5 
339.2 
AirStation WZR-D1800H
144 
233.6 
Linksys EA6400
136 
226.7 
D-Link DIR-865L
135.2 
199.2 
Cisco Linksys EA6500
113 
244.5 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
57 
162.6 

In tests with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which is available only in the 5GHz band, the router registered 227Mbps at short range (15 feet) and 136Mbps at long range (100 feet). These weren't slow at all but still significantly far behind when compared with others, such as the D-Link DIR-868L, which scored 271Mbps and 221Mbps at short and long range, respectively.

In tests with 802.11n Wi-Fi, on the 5GHz band, the router scored 195Mbps for short range, which was among the top five on the chart. However, when I increased the distance to 100 feet, its score dropped to just 83Mbps, almost at the bottom of the chart. It was similar when I moved to the 2.4GHz band: at short distance the EA6400 scored 61Mbps, among the top four; but at 100 feet away, it registered just 33Mbps, far below the average.

CNET Labs 5GHz Wireless-N Performance Scores
(In megabits per second; longer bars indicate better performance)
Long range  
Short range  
D-Link DIR-857
172.4 
214.6 
Asus RT-AC66U
166.6 
208.2 
Trendnet TEW-812DRU
160 
195.3 
Linksys EA6400
82.7 
195.3 
WD My Net N900 HD
74 
195 
Linksys EA4500
176.8 
186.8 
Apple AirPort Time Capsule
117.7 
182.2 
Asus RT-N66U
155.3 
181.8 
Netgear R6300
144.8 
178.8 
D-Link DIR-868L
161.5 
178 
AirStation WZR-D1800H
120 
172 
D-Link DIR-865L
121.6 
147.6 
Cisco Linksys EA6500
105.7 
124.6 
CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N Performance Scores
(In megabits per second; longer bars indicate better performance)
Long range  
Short range  
D-Link DIR-868L
55.6 
63.3 
Linksys EA6400
32.6 
61.3 
WD My Net N900 HD
16 
58.1 
Asus RT-N66U
45.5 
55 
Trendnet TEW-812DRU
37 
52.8 
Netgear R6300
41.6 
51.2 
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 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
9.6 
33.5 

As you might deduce from the numbers, the Linksys EA6400 has problems with range. In my testing, at 100 feet most of the time, the wireless clients didn't get full strength, and at 180 feet or more I started to lose the signal. Overall, the router's effective range is about 120 feet or less. Other routers of the same type can offer 150 feet of effective range or longer.

A bit of disclaimer: I tested routers at CNET's office where there are walls and many other Wi-Fi devices that were out of my control. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your mileage may vary depending on where you live.

CNET Labs NAS Performance Scores
(Via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, measured in megabytes per second;
longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  
Belkin N900 DB
17.6 
9.1 
D-Link DIR-827
15.8 
8.5 
Linksys EA6400
15.23 
5.9 
Asus RT-56U
13 
11.9 
D-Link DIR-868L
12.81 
12.5 
Asus RT-N66U
11 
16.5 
Asus RT-AC66U
9.6 
16.7 
Netgear WNDR4500
8.2 
7.9 
Netgear WNDR4000
7.2 
6.5 
Belkin N750 DB
6.9 
2.7 
Linksys E3200
4.5 
4 

The EA6400 passed my 24-hour stress test easily and didn't disconnect once.

As a NAS server, I tested the EA6400 with a USB portable drive, and via a Gigabit wired connection it scored 6MBps for writing and 15MBps for reading, about the same as a typical router with comparable features. These were fast enough for light network storage and media-streaming needs.

Overall, the EA6400 is not a slow router, but still I wish it offered better performance or cost $30 or so less.

Conclusion
Easy-to-use, good-looking, and offering a stable Wi-Fi signal, the Linksys EA6400 Smart Wi-Fi Router's only significant shortcoming is its Wi-Fi data rate. Unfortunately, this is a big shortcoming that definitely keeps it from being an excellent router. It still makes a good buy, but only for those living in relatively small places.

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