The Linksys E3200 is the next in line after the top-notch Linksys E4200 in Cisco Systems' new and refreshed E series of Wireless-N routers. Inferior to the E4200 only in its lack of support for the three-stream (3x3) 450Mbps standard, the E3200 is designated to replace the previous Linksys E3000, and it indeed makes a worthy upgrade.
Like all routers in the new E series, the E3200 is both pretty to look at and easy to use thanks to the included Cisco Connect software. While novice users will love the software's no-brainer approach to network setup and management, experienced users may want to skip it entirely and use the responsive Web interface to take advantage of the router's advanced features.
In real-world testing the E3200 proved itself to be among the fastest true dual-band Wireless-N routers. We found it also offered long-range and stable wireless signals. At its street price of around $140, the E3200 makes a formidable contender to the recent Editors' Choice-winning Asus RT-56U.
Design and ease of use
The Linksys E3200 shares the eye-catching styling of the rest of Cisco's new Linksys E series, such as the E1500 or the E4200. Although it's not wall-mountable, the router has a flat design with an internal antenna and is about the same size as the compact E1500.
Like all today's high-end routers, the E3200 comes with four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN port on the back. The former are for wired clients like desktop computers, and the latter is to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband router. Also on the back you'll find the push button for the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature and a USB 2.0 port to host an USB external storage device. We wish that the WPS button were on the side or front of the router for easier access. The USB port will not work with a printer, unfortunately.
On the front, the new E3200 doesn't have the usual array of status LEDs. Instead, like the rest of the E series, it has just one white light in the shape of Cisco's logo that blinks when the router's booting up (or when something is not right) and stays solid when everything is in order.
The router doesn't come with a manual, just a CD with the Cisco Connect software. As long as you know how to insert this CD in a computer's optical drive, you'll be able to set up the router. Cisco Connect will walk you through the setup processes, including how to hook the router up to a cable modem and the computer that you use for the setup process. After that, it will run by itself to configure the Internet connection and then prompt you to accept or change the default wireless network's name and encryption key.
By default, the software sets up two wireless networks (one for the 2.4GHz band and one for the 5GHz band) with the same name or SSID; it's always something easy to remember, such as BigHorse or BlueMonkey. Once this initial setup is done, you can add other computers to the wireless network via Cisco Connect with just a few mouse clicks. With devices that don't have an optical drive, like a smartphone or a printer, the software lets you print out the settings so you can add them manually, or you can use WPS if the clients support it.
While having two networks share one name, which is similar to how Apple sets up its AirPort Extreme, makes life simple for many people, it means that you have to rely on the adapter to select the network. If you'd prefer to manually pick which network to use, you can give the networks different names via the Web interface.
With Cisco Connect you can also turn on and off the Guest network (available only in the 2.4GHz band), manage the Parental Control features, and run the included Speed Test tool to see how fast your Internet connection is. As is typical for the E series, however, the software's functions are very limited, and it requires a live Internet connection to work. In order to set up the router for an isolated network that's not connected to the Internet, name the two wireless networks differently, or take advantage of other functions such as the router's network storage feature, you'll need to log in to the router's Web interface. You can get there by following the "advanced setup" link within Cisco Connect or by pointing a connected computer's browser to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1.
Note that if you haven't used Cisco Connect at all, the default password to log in to the router's Web interface is "admin," with the username being left blank. Once you have changed the default password, the username becomes "admin." If you did use Cisco Connect to set up the router, the username will be "admin" with the password being the same as the encryption key of the wireless networks.
The good news is, unlike for the original Linksys E series, everything you can do with Cisco Connect can also be done through the E3200's Web interface. For this reason, savvy users can and should skip Cisco Connect entirely to avoid accidentally changing the router's settings.
The good news is, the E3200's Web interface allows you to do everything you can with the Cisco Connect software, plus it enables access to the rest of the router's advanced features. (For routers in the original E series, such as the E3000, neither the software nor the Web interface has complete control over the router's features and settings, and they can't be used together.) For better control over the router, savvy owners of the E3200 can and should skip Cisco Connect entirely.
In the end, it's best to use the Cisco Connect software if you are a novice user, and the Web interface if you are more experienced. If you want to switch back to using Cisco Connect, just return the router to its default setting via the recessed reset button on its bottom.
Other than the lack of support for the 450Mbps standard, the Linksys E3200 has the same features as the Linksys E4200. The router is able to offer concurrent networks on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and can also simultaneously provide a third guest network on the 2.4GHz band.
Guest networking is a great solution when you want to share your Internet connection with others but want to keep them from accessing your local resources such as files or printers. The E3200's Guest networking feature allows a maximum of 10 clients. While this is enough for home use, it may be too limited to supply Internet for public use, as at a cafe or restaurant.
The E3200 has simple support for network storage; for example, you can share the content of an USB external hard drive (formatted using either NTFS or FAT32), with user account restriction. By default the admin account has full access, including the ability to create more user accounts. It also has a built-in UPnP Media Server that supports streaming digital content, such as photos, music, and video, to other UPnP-compliant devices, such as set-top boxes and game consoles.
For file sharing, the E3200 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 the attached USB hard drive into an FTP site.
The E3200 also has the E series' simple, yet robust, parental control content filtering system. This feature, which you can manage with Cisco Connect or the Web interface, allows you to restrict the Internet access of particular computers on your network.
Finally, the E3200's Web interface also gives access to the router's Applications & Gaming feature, which lets you set port forwarding and triggering for specific applications such as games, remote desktop, or FTP and HTTP servers. You can also assign static IP addresses to networked computers, making port forwarding much more relevant and easy to do. If you want to create a VPN connection, FTP access, or a remote desktop connection to a computer in the network, you will find the above handy and convenient.
Like most recent routers, the Linksys E32000 supports all available wireless encryption standards, including WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA-Enterprise. The router supports Cisco's VPN PassThrough for all existing VPN protocols, including IPsec, L2TP, and PPTP, meaning with the router at home, you can use a VPN client to access your office network.
The Linksys E3200 did very well in our tests in both wireless bands, but, as with similar routers, its network storage feature didn't impress us much.
In the 5GHz frequency tests, the router registered 95.3Mbps for close-range throughput, which puts it in the top three on our chart, below the E4200 and the Asus RT-56U. At this speed, it can finish transmitting 500MB of data in about 42 seconds. At a range of 100 feet, the E3200 scored 53.8Mbps, about average compared with the other routers on the chart.
In the 2.4GHz frequency tests, the E3200 took the second place on the close-range throughput test with 61.3Mbps, just a tad slower than its brother E4200, which scored 61.4Mbps. It scored 40.4Mbps and 55.04Mbps respectively for the 100-foot and mixed-mode tests, making it the second best on both charts. The mixed-mode test is designed to show how the router performs at close range when working with both Wireless-N and legacy wireless clients at the same time.
The Linksys E3200 also did well in our 48-hour stress test, not disconnecting once during that period. It offered great range, too, in our tests at about 290 to 300 feet for both 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands.
Like almost all routers with built-in network storage features we've reviewed, the E3200 won't impress anyone with its throughput when hosting an external hard drive. We tested this with a computer connected to the router via a network cable using Gigabit Ethernet and the scores were generally low, at around 60.4Mbps for writing and 64Mbps for reading. These speeds only allow for minor data sharing, such as documents and small photos, and maybe some music streaming. For a viable network storage solution, we'd recommend a dedicated NAS server.
Service and support
Cisco backs the Linksys E3200 with one-year limited warranty, which though short from a user's point of view is standard for routers. Cisco's toll-free phone support is available 24-7, as is online chat with a support representative. The company's Web site hosts software, driver, and firmware downloads as well as an FAQ section.
Fast, good-looking, easy to use, and with a good set of features, the Linksys E3200 makes a good router for both novice and experienced users who want a fast home network. With a less limited Guest networking feature and better storage performance, we would have given this router an Editors' Choice Award.