Linksys EA4500 Media Stream N900 Smart Wi-Fi Router review:

Linksys EA4500 Media Stream N900 Smart Wi-Fi Router

Like the E4200 v2, the EA4500 is a true dual-band router, meaning it has two separate access points -- one for the 2.4GHz band and the other for the 5GHz band -- that can work simultaneously. Each band of the router offers up to 450Mbps Wi-Fi speed, effectively making it an N900 router. The router's USB port can host an external hard drive of any capacities. In my trials, it worked fine with drives that are larger than 2TB, formatted in NTFS file system (Windows). This means you can connect a drive with existing contents to the router and share that to other network devices, either via regular file sharing protocol or streaming. The router support UPnP and DNLA streaming standards. The router doesn't support hard drive formatted for Mac, however.

The biggest features of the router, as well as that of the EA series, is the Cisco Connect Cloud solution. This allows the router to be managed via the Internet, using the Cisco Connect Cloud portal or Cisco Connect Cloud mobile app, available for Android and iOS devices. On top of that, the router also support third-parties mobile apps that add more to what you can do with the router when you're out and about.

Since the in-depth review of the Cisco Connect Cloud can be found here, I will not repeat all that you can do with the new solution, but rather just what the EA4500 can do. And because the EA4500 is currently the main router in the EA series, it offers all the features (or embedded apps) available in the Cisco Connect Cloud Web interface. This includes Device List, Guest Access, Parental Control, Media Prioritization, Speed Test, USB Storage, and the ability to run third-party mobile apps.

I tried the Media Prioritization feature out and it generally worked well. The idea of this feature is that you can quickly move up to three devices and/or Web services to the high-priority list. These devices/services then will have priority access to the Internet against those that are not on the list. Note that how well this feature works depends a lot on how fast your Internet connection is, generally, the faster the better. This is because the router won't disconnect nonpriority devices from the Internet entirely to allocate more bandwidth to prioritized devices.

The router's storage feature also worked as intended. The router was able to provide enough power to run any bus-powered portable drives I tried with it. It supported sharing data on the drive both via easy way, where everybody in the network has the same level of access to the entire drive, or via a more advanced way in which you can create accounts with access restriction. This is similar to how this feature worked in the previous, more classic version of the firmware.

Despite the new, advanced firmware, the router's Guest Access feature, available only in the 2.4Ghz band, still doesn't allow you to name the guest network to your liking. Instead it'll take the name of the main network and add the "-guest" suffix to it. This means that guests will know that they are, well, guests, and will be able to deduce the name of your main network.

The Cisco Linksys EA4500's performance was very similar to that of the Linksys E4200 v2 in my testing.

The router excelled on the 5Ghz band, scoring some 23MBps (or 187Mbps) in close range (15 feet) test, basically the same as the E4200 v2. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, it still did very well at 22MBps (177Mbps). This is very impressive, since most routers show a much larger data-rate degradation over range. In this same test the E4200 scored much slower at 15MBps.

It was a different storage on the 2.4Ghz, the E4500 was consistently slower than E4200 v2, registering 62Mbps and 41Mbps for close and long range tests, respectively, compared to 149Mbps and 36Mbps of the E4200 v2.

In the EA4500's defense, while the two routers were tested at the same location -- my office at CNET headquarters -- the E4200 v2 was tested a while ago when there were fewer access points and Wi-Fi devices. Recently, there has been an increased number of Wi-Fi devices around the office that I have no control over, which might or might not be the reason why the test result on the 2.4Ghz band has been consistently lower than expected.

In that same environment, the EA4500 did very well in the range test, offering up to 280 feet in range. Ideally, howover, you want to use it within 170 feet or so for stable and fast Wi-Fi connections. The router also passed 48 hours on our Wi-Fi stress test, on both bands, during which it didn't disconnect once.

Similar to the E4200 v2, the EA4500 also did well as a NAS server. When coupled with an external hard drive, via a Gigabit Ethernet, it offered some 19MBps (or 153Mbps) for writing and about 20MBps for reading (163Mbps). These were very fast speeds for a router working as a NAS server, though they were still a little slower than the E4200 v2.

2.4Ghz Wireless-N performance (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Asus RT-N66U
Netgear R6300
Cisco Linksys EA4500
Netgear WNDR4500
D-Link DIR-857
Netgear WNDR4000

5Ghz Wireless-N performance (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Cisco Linksys EA4500
D-Link DIR-857
Asus RT-N66U
Netgear R6300
Belkin N900 DB
Trendnet TEW-692GR
Netgear WNDR4500

NAS performance (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Cisco Linksys EA4500
WD My Net N900
Apple Time Capsule
Netgear R6300
D-Link DIR-857
D-Link DIR-827
Netgear WNDR4500
Netgear WNDR4000

Service and support
Cisco backs the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA4500 with a one-year limited warranty, and you can also return it after 90 days of purchase. The company's toll-free phone support is available 24-7, as is online chat with a support representative. The company's Web site includes software, drivers, and firmware downloads as well as an FAQ section.

With Cisco Connect Cloud, the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA4500 offers your home network features you have never imagined possible before. And even without these, when running the old firmware, its till makes a great router with fast 5Ghz Wi-Fi speed, good range and stable signal.

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