Cisco Linksys EA4500 review: Cisco Linksys EA4500

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The Good New Cisco Connect Cloud interface looks nice and controls well. Excellent 5GHz speeds. You can downgrade to the old, "classic" firmware.

The Bad Router design prevents access by some Ethernet cables. Cisco Connect Cloud means that most features are only accessible if you're online. Wi-Fi-only set-up with Cisco Connect Cloud. Security risks introduced with Cisco Connect Cloud, such as storing Wi-Fi and router password on the desktop and shipping with no password. 2.4GHz performance could be better. Can't wall mount.

The Bottom Line We can see where Cisco was going with Connect Cloud, but there are simply too many problems with its execution to recommend. We'd advise installing the classic interface as soon as possible, or opting for another brand.

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7.0 Overall

Review Sections

The hardware

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.
(Credit: Cisco)

Specs at a glance

Firmware tested build 131047
ADSL2+ modem No
Annex M N/A
3G modem No
IPv6 Yes
Wireless protocols 802.11b/g/n
Dual band Simultaneous
Highest wireless security WPA2
Ethernet ports 4x gigabit, 1x gigabit WAN
USB print sharing/storage Storage (FAT32, NTFS, HFS)
Accessories Ethernet cable, installation CD

The software

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.

With verification email in hand, we attempted to manage things from our desktop again — no such luck; we had to log in from a machine directly attached to the router, and associate the router to our Cisco Connect Cloud account first, after which our poor desktop could finally get in on the action.

Ah, so it's hiding all the goods online now. Bad move.
(Screenshot by Craig Simms/CNET)

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