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Linksys AC3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi EA9200 router review: A solid but overpriced home router

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The Good The Linksys AC3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi EA9200 router has two built-in 5Ghz bands to support both low- and high-end clients without compromising data rates. The router has an easy-to-use interface and helpful remote management features.

The Bad The router's Wi-Fi range and network storage performance are not as good as you'd expect based on its high price.

The Bottom Line Though it's easy to use and having an extra band can result in higher speeds, the Linksys EA9200 doesn't have enough to justify its over-the-top price tag.

7.7 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 8

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.

The new EA9200 router from Linksys utilizes a vertical stand design. Josh Miller/CNET

Explaining the AC3200 Wi-Fi standard

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 cars 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).

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The Linksys EA9200 shares the same and easy to use Smart Wi-Fi Web interface as other in the EA series. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

New look, similar feature set

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.

The router has six antennas, but only three of them are placed externally. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

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