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The Linksys E4200 v2 Maximum Performance Dual-Band N900 router is a major upgrade to the original Cisco Linksys E4200 that was released in January. Though it looks exactly the same on the outside, on the inside the E4200 v2 boasts 450Mbps on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands (as opposed to just the 5GHz band of the original) and a faster processor for network storage when coupled with an USB external hard drive, and can host up to 50 guest clients (up from the original 10). Other than that, the two routers are essentially the same in terms of features.
That said, the new E4200 v2 offers all that the original has to give and more, enough to justify its price tag of $199, compared with the original's street price of around $150. If you're looking for a top-notch router with no compromises, especially one that also offers an easy and viable network storage option when coupled with an external hard drive, the Cisco Linksys 4200 v2 will make an excellent investment.
Design and ease of use
Like the rest of the Linksys E-Series routers, the Linksys E4200 v2 looks more like an expensive jewelry gift box than a router. With its flat shape and internal-antenna design, the router is more compact than its peers. This means you can leave it out in the open, rather than hide it, as you would most routers. The v2 also comes with a much more compact power adapter than the previous version, which is a nice touch.
The router has four LAN ports and one WAN port on the back. All are Gigabit Ethernet-capable, meaning they support throughput up to 1,000Mbps. Also on the back you'll find the push button for the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature, a recessed reset button, and a USB 2.0 port that can host a USB external storage device for the router's network-attached storage (NAS) function. With WPS you can add WPS-enabled clients to the wireless network with the press of a button. The USB port on the E4200 v2 supports either a USB printer or an USB external hard drive for a quick network storage solution. The router now comes with a much faster processor that runs at 1.2GHz (as opposed to the original's 480MHz), promising significantly higher storage performance.
On the front, the new E4200 forgoes the usual array of status LEDs. Instead it has just one white light, in the shape of Cisco's logo, which blinks when the router's booting up (or something is not right) and stays solid when everything is in order.
Like all routers in the E-Series, the E4200 v2 comes with Cisco Connect, software that helps novice users set up and manage the router very easily. Anyone who can use a computer mouse can get the router up and running within about 5 minutes. The software works essentially the same for all E-Series routers.
By default, the software sets up a single wireless network combining the two networks for the 2.4GHz band and 5GHz band, so that they share the same name and the same password. This is similar to how Apple sets up its AirPort Extreme. Though this makes things easier, it also means you won't be able to manually pick which band to use with dual-band clients.
With Cisco Connect you can also turn the guest network (which is available only in the 2.4GHz band) on or off, manage the parental control features, and carry out a few other tasks. The software is very limited in functionality and requires a live Internet connection to work. In order to do more with the router, such as name two separate networks for 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands, or set up the router for an isolated network that's disconnected from the Internet, you'll need to use the router's Web interface by pointing a connected computer's browser to 192.168.1.1.
Note that if you haven't used Cisco Connect, the default credential to log in to the router's Web interface is "admin" for both username and password. Once you have changed the default password, the username remains the same. If you use the Cisco software to set up the router, the password (or encryption key) for the wireless network is also the one required to log in the router's interface.
It's rather confusing to list what you can and can't do with the Cisco Connect software. The good news is, the Web interface's functionality encompasses that of Cisco Connect. For this reason, savvy users can and should skip the Cisco Connect software entirely, so they can be in complete control of the router's settings.
In the end, it's best to use the Cisco Connect software if you are a novice user, or the Web interface if you are a savvy user, but not to use both, to avoid instances where one would cancel out the other.
Starting with the E4200 v2, Cisco has also released a mobile application for Android- and OS-based devices that enables users to monitor the router, or any other router in the E-Series, right from a mobile device. For now you can only do that if the device is connected to the router's wireless local network, and not from anywhere via the Internet.
The Linksys E4200 v2 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. It's also the first from Cisco to offer the 450Mbps (or 3-by-3) configuration on both bands. The previous version only supports this on the 5GHz band. Others routers I've reviewed that offer dual-band concurrent 450Mbps include the Trendnet TEW-692GR and the Netgear WNDR4500. To take advantage of this new speed, the clients have to also support the same 3-by-3 Wi-Fi standard, which more and more of them do.
In addition to the networks for the two bands, the E4200 v2 offers another wireless network on the 2.4GHz band for guests. Guest networking is great for when you want to share the Internet with others without giving them access to your local resources, such as files or printers. The E4200 v2's guest networking feature allows up to 50 clients, which is a big improvement compared with the original E4200's maximum of 10. However, you'll need to use the Web interface to set this higher number, as Cisco Connect allows a maximum of 10 clients. This is likely because 10 clients are enough for a home and only home users would use the software rather than the Web interface to set up the router.
Regardless of which option you use to manage the router, you can't name the router's guest network arbitrarily. The guest network's name will always be your main network's name plus a "-guest" suffix. This means guests will always know what your main network's name is and that, well, they are guests.
The E4200 has simple and straightforward support for network storage, including features such as sharing the content of a USB external hard drive (formatted using either NTFS or FAT32), with user account restriction. By default the admin account has full access and can create more user accounts. It also has a built-in UPnP media server with which you can stream digital content to other UPnP-compliant devices, such as set-top boxes, network media players, and game consoles.
For file sharing, the E4200 supports Windows SMB, so you can browse the share folders easily while using a network browser such as Windows Explorer. You can also turn a folder on an attached USB hard drive into an FTP site.
Like the original, the E4200 v2 includes a simple, yet robust, parental control content-filtering system. This feature, which you can manage with the Cisco Connect software or the Web interface, enables you to limit the way a particular computer on the network accesses the Internet.
As for other routers in the E-Series, the E4200 v2's Web interface gives access to the router's Applications & Gaming feature, with which you can set port forwarding and triggering for specific applications such as games, remote desktop, and FTP and HTTP servers. You can also assign static IP addresses to certain computers in the network, making the port forwarding much more relevant and easy to do. If you want to create a VPN connection, an FTP access, or a remote-desktop connection to a certain computer in the network, you will find this handy and convenient.
Like most recent routers, the Linksys E42000 supports all available wireless encryption standards, including WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA-Enterprise. The router allows VPN pass-through for all existing VPN protocols, including IPsec, L2TP, and PPTP, meaning that if you have the router at home, you can use a VPN client to access your office system. It also supports IPv6, the latest Internet protocol, replacing the old IPv4, which has been running out of addressing space.
The Cisco Linksys E4200 v2 is completely different from the original E4200 in terms of storage performance, thanks to its much faster, 1.2GHz processor. When coupled with an external hard drive via a Gigabit Ethernet connection, the router was about three times faster than the previous model in my testing, averaging 21.38MBps for writing and 25.35MBps for reading. These numbers are very impressive for a router, and comparable to, and even faster than, some dedicated NAS servers.
In fact, the E4200 v2 is so fast that for the first time I am now able to recommend a router as a viable storage option. With the E4200 v2, all you need is a high-capacity USB external hard drive and you have yourself a fast, easy-to-manage network storage and media-streaming system. In my trials, the router's storage speed was sufficient for streaming HD content to multiple players at a time.
The E4200 v2 is, however, first and foremost a wireless router and it also delivers as one, for the most part. As it supports dual-band and the 450Mbps standard, I tested it with both 300Mbps and 450Mbps clients. The router excelled on the 5GHz band.
When used with a 450Mbps client, the v2 registered close-range throughput of 185.6Mbps, the fastest I've seen. At this speed, it can finish transmitting 500MB of data in just about 20 seconds. When I increased the range to 100 feet, the router still managed to offer 122.2Mbps; again, the fastest among its peers.
On the 2.4GHz band the router again did very well with 450Mbps clients in close-range testing, registering a speed of 100.3Mbps. However, when the distance was increased to 100 feet, it scored only 35.8Mbps, slower than most. This is likely because the interference level gets progressively higher in my office on this band.
When used with a regular 300Mbps client, the E4200 v2 performed about the same as the previous model, higher than average among its peers. The E4200 v2 also offers about the same range as the original, about 290 feet in my trials. Note that as distance increases the throughput speed drops, and effectively the router should be used within 180 feet or less. This also depends a lot on the environment in which the router is used.
The Linksys E4200 v2 did very well in stress tests, finishing 48 hours of heavy continuous data transfer, on both bands simultaneously, without disconnecting once.
Service and support
Cisco backs the Linksys E4200 v2 Maximum Performance Dual-Band N900 with a one-year limited warranty. 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 great performance, the Editors' Choice Award-winning Linksys E4200 v2 Maximum Performance Dual-Band N900 makes a worthy upgrade to the previous model and an excellent wireless router for anyone who needs a robust, advanced, yet easy-to-use router for the home or office.