Linksys AC2400 Dual Band Wi-Fi E8350 Router review: A very good router, but not Linksys' best
The Linksys AC2400 (model E8350) is Belkin's first quad-stream 802.11ac router. That makes it only the third such device on the market right now, after the Netgear R7500 and the Asus RT-AC87U. In comparison, it's neither the best nor the worst of this trio.
The E8350 has great performance on the 5Ghz frequency band, and like the Netgear and Asus, its powerful specs deliver fast storage performance when coupled with an external hard drive. On the 2.4Ghz band, though, it's slower, mostly because it reuses the old interface of the E series, which favors compatibility over performance.
The A2400 also stands apart from its competitors in two ways. First, the pricing, at the suggested price of around $250, it's some $40 cheaper. (Linksys hasn't announced the pricing and availability of the E8350 in the UK and Australia, but direct conversions would be about £150 or AU$280, respectively.) And second, it's the first home router I've seen that doesn't have any exterior indicator lights.
If you can live without the latter, and are looking to upgrade your home network, the Linksys E8350 is a very good buy. It's best suited for Wi-Fi clients that support 5Ghz band, which all newer devices do now. But if you're set on experiencing consistently high speeds, flexible customizations, and more features, invest the extra cash for the Asus RT-AC87U device.
For even more buying choices, check out this list of top 802.11ac routers on the market.
The Linksys E8350 loses the retro design of the recently released Linksys WRT1900AC, but it's retro in its own way. The router shares similar physical design with the newer Links EA series, such as the EA6900, but reuses the Web interface of the previous E series, such as the E3200, that came out a few years ago.
Like the WRT1900AC, the E8350 has four detachable antennas, two on the back and two on its side. These antennas are quite short compared to those of the WRT1900AC, however. Once attached to the router, they can be tilted in different angles. For the best Wi-Fi signals, Linksys recommends using the two on the back straight up, and the two on the side at 45 degrees.
The router comes with the usual four Gigabit LAN ports (for wired clients) and one Gigabit WAN (Internet) port to connect to an Internet source. Uniquely, it comes with one USB 3.0 port and another port that works as either a USB 2.0 port or an eSATA port. These ports can be used to host a printer or a storage device, which will turn the router into a network attached store (NAS) server.
As I mentioned, the E8350 doesn't have any indicator lights. While most of the time, you you won't miss them, the lack of status lights is annoying when you need to quickly troubleshoot your home network. In fact, there's no way to even tell if it's powered on by simply looking at it.
Setup and interface
As the model name suggests, the new router seems to belong to the E series. And this means two things.
First, the E8350 doesn't support Linksys Smart Wi-Fi remote access. Introduced by Cisco, who sold Linksys to Belkin last March, the Smart Wi-Fi feature (formerly Cisco Connect Cloud) allows users to conveniently and remotely manage their home network via web browser or mobile app by logging via an account with Linksys. (In return, this feature has raised privacy concerns). The E8350 is the first router from Linksys in a long time that doesn't include the remote access.
And secondly, the E8350 share the same Web interface, the setup process and, for the most part, the features as the rest of the E series, which have their own shares of pros and cons.
Out of the box, the E8450 comes with a CD that contains Linksys Connect setup software for both Windows machines and Macs. (The software can also be downloaded in case you have a computer that doesn't have an optical drive.) Once installed, the Linksys Connect application will walk you though the setup process step by step, from hooking up the router to the power, to setting Wi-Fi and Internet access. After that you can always use this software to manage a few settings of the routers.
For beginners, this software can be a convenient way to get the router up and running. For savvy users, it's totally unnecessary. That's because Linksys Connect allows for access to just a few settings of the router, for the rest, you'll need to use its Web Interface. Also, if you use this software, it will also make the password to access the router's interface (administration password) the same as the password of the Wi-Fi network. This is terrible in terms of security because allowing somebody to connect to your Wi-Fi network now also means letting that person access the router's interface and change your network's settings. For this reason alone, I'd recommend skipping the software entirely and use the router's Web interface, which is quite easy, instead.
By default, you access the router's Web interface by pointing a browser on a connected computer to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1 and login with the default credentials (admin for both username and password.)
The interface is organized and responsive. I liked the fact that it took very short time (a few seconds) to apply changes and most changes didn't require a restart to apply. However, it's designed with more of compatibility in mind than performance, especially when it comes to Wi-Fi network settings. For example, you can't set the Wi-Fi network to work on a specific channel width other than 20MHz, which produces the lowest data rate but is the most compatible. Note that to have to highest Wi-Fi speed, you need to use the higher channel width (40MHz for 802.11n and 80MHz for 802.11ac), but you can only use these channels in a mixed (auto) mode, where the router would go back to the lowest one if a legacy device is connected to the network. Also, on the 5Ghz band, you can't make the router to work only in the 802.11ac mode either.
My second complaint about the interface is the lack of support for a Guest network on the 5Ghz band. You can only have one guest network on the 2.4Ghz band and in this case you can't pick a name for this network. Instead, it will have the name of the main network plus the "-guest" suffix. Also, the E8350 supports up to only 10 guest users, which are enough for most home but not if you run a small restaurant or cafe and want to provide Internet access to the patrons. Devices connected to a Guest network can only access the Internet and not the local resources, such as files or printers.
The E8350 comes with powerful hardware, in fact the most powerful on the market. For the 5Ghz band, similar to the case of the Asus and the Netgear, the router sports the four-spatial-stream setup (4x4 or quad-stream) of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, using the dual-core 500MHz Quantenna QT3840BC chip. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) This means it can deliver up to 1733Mbps when working with a 802.11ac clients.
On the 2.4GHz band, the router sports a dual-core 1.4GHz, fastest on the market, to deliver up to 600Mbps of Wi-Fi speed. This chip is also used for the router's other functions, including the USB, NAT, system operation, and so on.
Keep in mind the E8350 works with all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market (regardless of their Wi-Fi standards), but in order to achieve its fastest Wi-Fi speed, the clients also need to support the same quad-stream Wi-Fi standard. Currently there aren't any 4x4 clients on the market, though some are expected to be available by early next year.
Other than the powerful hardware, the E8350 has about the same features as the good old E3200. Basically, it has all the common features as other routers, including the support for IPv6, VPN pass-though (not server), Dynamic DNS, MAC filtering, port forwarding, WPS and so on. It also has simple firewall and parental control features.
As for network storage, the E8350 works with external drive formatted in either FAT32 or NTFS. You can share the content stored on the drive as free access to everyone, or restrict the shares via user accounts. The server also support FPT as well as media streaming to network media streamers, such as set-top boxes or game consoles. Note that the router supports only SMB protocol, meaning it's very easy to access the shared folders from a Windows computer via Windows Explorer. On a Mac, the router won't appear in Finder and you'll need to create a network shortcut before you can access a shared folder. Needless to say, the router's storage feature doesn't support Time Machine backup.
The E8350 overall performed well in my testing but I couldn't really gauge its full Wi-Fi potential due to the lack of support for in-depth customization mentioned above. For example, in my testing, the clients always connected to the 2.4Ghz band with 20GHz channel width, which tops at only 300Mbps. There was nothing I could do to make them connect using 40MHz channel width for the top speed.
As a result, the router registered the average speed of 2.4Ghz band about the same as that an N600 router at some 140Mbps for close range (15 feet) and some 68Mbps at 100 feet. These were much lower than the 600Mbps promised by the router's specs.
It's a different story on the 5Ghz band. When working with 3x3 clients, the E8350 did very well, registering more than 510Mbps at short distance (15 feet). When I increased the distance to 100 feet, it now averaged 305Mbps, still very impressive. Interestingly, the router didn't show much different when working with the 4x4 client, which is a second E8350 unit used in the bridge mode. However, this is likely because even in bridge mode, the E8350 is also prone to compatibility and didn't connect to the main router in a way that offered the best performance.
The E8350's Wi-Fi range was very similar to that of the Netgear R8000, likely because the two share the same antennas size, and it was shorter than the Asus RT-AC87U or the Netgear R7500, or even the Linksys WRT1900AC. The rotuer's 2.4Ghz band has clearly longer range, effectively at about 200 feet. On the 5Ghz, the effective range was about 175 feet in my testing. The E8350 did pass my 24-hour stress test, however. During this time it was set to transfer large amount of data back and forth between multiple clients and it didn't disconnect once.
Note that I tested the router at CNET's offices, where there are plenty of walls and many Wi-Fi devices, including those from adjacent buildings, that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live. Also note that the E8350 was tested with the initial firmware (version 1.0). As with other router, later firmware revisions tends to offer better improvement both in features and performance.
Thanks to the powerful processor, the E8350 proved itself to be a viable NAS server when coupled with an external hard drive. In my testing with a portable drive connected to its USB 3.0 port, via a Gigabit connection, the router registered the sustained copy speed of 38MBps for writing and 85MBps for reading, among the fastest routers which have the same feature, and it rivaled that of even some dedicated NAS servers. Oddly though, the only router to top these numbers is the Linksys WRT1900AC that came out a few months ago.
Though the AC2400 wins points for being Linksys's first quad-stream 802.11ac router, it's far less innovative than should it be. The new router looks mundane on the outside and reuses an old interface on the inside. The omission of the status lights it is particularly odd and the use of the most powerful processor didn't translate into the fastest test speed.
That said, the E8350 is not a bad router, in fact it's a very good one, especially considering it costs around $40 less than its competitors. Personally, though, after the WRT1900AC, I expected more from Linksys. Hopefully the E8350 will get even better with new firmware updates. For now, since there are no quad-stream clients on the market just yet, the WRT1900AC, which costs significantly less, is still the best Linksys has to offer.