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The Linksys AC3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi EA9200 router is very similar to the Linksys WRT1900AC that I have already reviewed, but it has an additional access point. And that extra capacity is both good and bad.
It's good because the new router will not throttle fast 5Ghz clients to slower speeds for compatibility. It's bad, though, because it makes the EA9200 much more expensive ($300) than competing devices without delivering noticeably better Wi-Fi performance than the WRT1900AC. What's more, the router's range and network storage performance (NAS) when hosting an external hard drive is far from the best I've seen.
Even with those drawbacks, I'd recommend the EA9200 over the other AC3200 router on the market, the Netgear R8000, thanks to Linksys' easy-to-use Web-interface and the option to remotely manage your home network via a mobile device or a Web browser. But in the end, you'll only get your money's worth if you use a lot of mixed 5Ghz Wi-Fi clients at the same time. For anyone else, you're much better off saving a few bucks and sticking with a good AC1900 router, such as the aforementioned WRT1900AC, the Asus RT-AC68U or the Netgear R7000.
For more affordable choices of 802.11ac routers, check out CNET's list of the best home routers.
As mentioned, the Linksys EA9200 is the second tri-band router on the market, after Netgear's R8000. Both routers are equipped with a Broadcom 5G XStream Wi-Fi chip that allows for the extra built-in 5Ghz band. That means that, unlike a dual-band AC1900 router that has one 2.4Ghz band and one 5Ghz band, a tri-band router such as the Linksys EA9200 has one 2.4Ghz band and two 5Ghz bands, all of which operate at the same time.
The EA9200 supports the three-stream (3x3) tier 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. (For a deeper dive on Wi-Fi standards, check out this this handy feature.) That standard enables each 5Ghz band to deliver a top speed of 1,300Mbps and the 2.4Ghz band to support up to 600Mbps. Just note that despite the router's AC3200 designation -- meaning that it has a total wireless bandwidth of 3,200Mbps -- because a client can connect to only one band at a time, the fastest Wi-Fi speed you'll get (in theory) is 1,300Mbps.
Why would you want two 5Ghz bands? Speed is the simplest answer. Here's how it works. Generally, for compatibility, a wireless band works at the slowest speed that any of the the connected clients supports. With two separate 5Ghz bands, both high- and low-end clients can operate in their own band, hence at their top speeds without affecting each other. On top of that, two 5Ghz bands also help reduce the stress each on the band when there are many connected clients fighting for router's bandwidth. Think of it like a road versus a freeway. More lanes on a freeway means more can get through faster.
You'll benefit the most from this design if you have either multiple 5Ghz clients of mixed Wi-Fi standards or just a lot of 802.11ac clients (say, a dozen or more). And then, you'll only benefit from the faster speeds when doing data-intensive local tasks, such as file transfers, media streams and so on. For Internet-based applications, such as Netflix streaming or file downloading, chances are that you'll see no difference between this tri-band design and a dual-band AC1900 setup, simply because your router's speed is always much faster than the speed of your Internet service provider (and it can't boost it).
The Linksys EA9200 is one of the first routers from Linksys I've seen that rests in a vertical position on top of a fixed stand. The router has six antennas but only three are external and attached to the top of the router. The rest are hidden inside the router itself.
On the front, there's a Linksys logo that lights up when the router is on. On the back, it has the usual four LAN ports and one WAN (Internet) port, all of which are Gigabit. There's also one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port that you can use to host a storage device and a printer.
The router is very easy to setup, just like the other routers in the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi series. In the box there's also included software that will walk you through the process, step by step.
On the inside, the EA9200 shares almost the same features as the other Smart Wi-Fi routers. My favorite feature is the Network Map that displays all connected clients, which you can view by connection type (wireless or wired) or device type (computers, mobile devices, printers, and unknown). By clicking on its icon, you can quickly interact with a client, such as reserve its IP address, add it to the blocked list, change its name, and so on.
The second big feature is the Media Prioritization, which allows you to drag and drop connected clients or Web services or applications between the High priority and Normal priority lists. (The former will have priority access to the Internet.) This feature is rather limited because you can put only up to three items on the High priority list. However it worked well in my trial.
Other features that worked well are the handy Internet Speed test and a simple yet effective Parental Control feature that allows you to block certain connected clients' access to the Internet or just to certain Web sites. There are also many other settings and features commonly found in other routers, such as Dynamic DNS, port forwarding, IPv6 and so on.
Yet, the EA9200 also improves of previous Linksys routers in a few ways.
The biggest is the guest networking feature, which allows you to create separate Wi-Fi networks for guests that can access the Internet but not local resources, such as files or printers. The EA9200 now supports two guest networks, one on each band, and you can now name the guest networks whatever you like. (Previously Linksys Smart Wi-Fi routers only provide one guest network on the 2.4Ghz band that automatically would take the name of the main network with the suffix "-guest".) You can set the guest networks to support to up to 50 guest clients.
The second improvement is the performance of the Web interface itself, which is now very responsive and takes just a few seconds to apply most change.
In my trial, the EA9200 USB ports can host external storage devices of any capacity, formatted in HFS+, FAT32, or NTFS. For the best performance, you should use the USB 3.0 port. In my testing, the router recognized a connected portable drive almost instantly. Then by default, the drive's content was made available to all connected clients with full (read and write) access. You can, however, turn on the Secure Folder Access feature to share data by user accounts. The router supports UPnP and DNLA streaming standards, meaning content stored on the connected drive can be played back by network media streamers.
Unlike other high-end routers I've reviewed recently, such as the Asus RT-AC87U, the Linksys EA9200 doesn't allow for using a connected external hard drive as the backup destination for Time Machine. This is not a big surprise, however, since the support for Time Machine is still a novelty among routers.
The EA9200 is quite easy to use. Locally, you can always access the router by pointing the browser from a connecter computer to the router's IP address, the default is 192.168.1.1, and the default password to log in is admin. You can always manage the router this way, or can opt for the option to easily manage it from in the world via an account with linksyssmartwifi.com. The latter is a very convenient way to manage your home network and can also be accessed via the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi mobile app (Android and iOS). However, there might be privacy risks since your router would need to be connected to Linksys at all times.
In my trial, the remote management feature worked very well. When used via a browser, the interface is exactly the same as when I log in locally with the exception of the Speed Test, which is available only when you log into the router's interface from within the local network. Unless you're extremely concerned about your privacy, the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account adds a lot of value to the EA9200.
The Linksys EA9200 is unique only on the 5Ghz frequency where it has two separate bands. On the 2.4Ghz frequency, it's the same as other AC1900 routers.
By default the router uses the two 5Ghz band as a single Wi-Fi in a mode called "Smart Connect," where it automatically manages which clients will connect to which band depending on the client's Wi-Fi standard. I tested the router with this setting, and it worked very well. Note that there's also the option of using the two band as two separate Wi-Fi networks.
When using both 802.11ac and 5Ghz 802.11n clients at the same time I did notice that both clients were able to get the speed of their standard. And when I use six 802.11ac clients, all of them were able to connect at high speed simultaneously.
As for speed, on the 5GHz band the router registered the sustained speed of close to 600Mbps at close range (15 feet), which is the best I've seen among 3x3 routers. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, that speed then registered 243Mbps, still very fast.
The router also did quite well on the 2.4GHz band. At close range it averaged 226Mbps, being the second fastest of the group. At long range, however, it didn't do very well, just 41Mbps.
Though the router's range wasn't as impressive as that of the WRT1900ac, at 175 feet (very similar to the R8000), it was still quite good. The router also passed my 48-hour stress test without a hiccup. During this period spent transferring large amounts of data between multiple Wi-Fi clients, it didn't disconnect once.
Note that I tested the Linksys EA9200 at CNET's offices, where there are walls and many Wi-Fi devices 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.
The Linksys EA9200's NAS performance also trailed behind its older brother, the WRT1900AC. When coupled with a portable drive connected to its USB 3.0 port via a gigabit connection, it registered a sustained speed of 26MBps for writing and 49MBps for reading. These are about the average among routers of the same feature and just about half of what the WRT1900AC has to offer. Note that these are still quite fast speeds, however, and are enough to provide good media streaming experience locally.
The Linksys EA9200 would be an excellent router if it cost the same as the Linksys WRT1900AC. Unfortunately, though, the additional 5Ghz band comes with the trade-offs of shorter range and much slower network storage performance than its predecessor.
Compared with the only other AC3200 router on the market, the Netgear R8000, the Linksys is a better choice, thanks to its easy-to-use interface and helpful remote-management feature. But it's also more expensive, costing an extra $50 over the R8000.
That said, if you don't have a lot of mixed 5Ghz Wi-Fi clients at home, it's a much better deal to go with the Linksys WRT1900AC or any other good AC1900 router. And if you do need to support a lot of mixed Wi-Fi clients, it's a still a good idea to wait for the price for the EA9200 to come down before buying. Maybe by then there will be even better choices, as more networking vendors will introduce their own versions of AC3200 routers.