Linksys' latest EA9500 Wi-Fi router is extremely bulky and extremely fast. Find out if it's worth the equally extreme price tag of $400.
I often receive questions from CNET readers asking, "What's the best router on the market if money is not an issue?" This is a hard question to answer. For most, money is an issue and how good a router is depends on what your needs are.
If you have $400 to burn, however, the Linksys EA9500 Max-Stream AC5400 Tri-Band MU-MIMO is one of the fastest consumer routers on the planet, rivaling the speed champions Asus RT-AC5300 and Netgear R8500. If, that is, you have a large enough space to host it. Yes, this new router takes up that much room.
The EA9500 is a tri-band, quad-stream router with a combined Wi-Fi bandwidth of up to 5,333 megabits per second. Specifically, it has two 5GHz bands, each with a top on-paper Wi-Fi speed of 2,166.67Mbps and its 2.4GHz band tops out at 1,000Mbps. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) The reality, however, is that you won't experience speeds of this magnitude with the EA9500, at least not today. That's because the fastest Wi-Fi clients (such as tablets, smartphones or laptops) top out at just 1,300Mbps. But the powerful specs don't hurt and they also put you in a good position for when clients can reach those ungodly levels of performance.
The router supports Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO), which is a technology designed to efficiently handle Wi-Fi bandwidth in homes with clients of different speed grades. Each client can connect to the router at its highest speed without adversely affecting the speeds of others.
If all that background info bores you, here's an important take-away: the EA9500 blew away the competition in real-word testing, topping the charts with a sustained Wi-Fi speed of nearly 700Mbps at a close range of 15 feet. Even more impressive, from 100 feet away, with one wall in between the router and the testing client, the router delivered a sustained speed of some 500Mbps. The router's maximum range was around 150 feet in a residential setting (with walls and other obstacles). And it passed our stress test of operating for 48 hours with no disconnections.
Eight Gigabit LAN ports is a lot -- most routers top out at four; the Asus RT-AC88U is currently the only other router with as many. While four LAN ports are sufficient for most households, it's always nice to have extra ports in case you want to plug more wired devices into your network and the truth is wired network connections are always faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi.
The Seamless Roaming feature allows Wi-Fi clients to move from one access point to another without disconnecting. Basically, Seamless Roaming makes the original Wi-Fi network and the extended one appear as a single network to the clients. Linksys says Seamless Roaming is now supported in all Linksys Max-Stream products, including the previous EA8500 with the latest firmware. That said, if you have such a large home that the EA9500's Wi-Fi can't cover every corner, getting an additional Max-Stream extender will extend your Wi-Fi network in a way that allow you to move from one end of the house to the other without getting disconnected.
As mentioned above the EA9500 is ridiculously huge, measuring about 9.5 by 11 by 2.2 inches and weighing more than 3 pounds, about more than double that of a typical router. With the eight nondetachable antennas, the whole package looks like something out of David Lynch's "Dune" and I personally had a hard time finding space for it.
Despite that, it largely shares the same features as previous Linksys Smart Wi-Fi routers, such as the EA8500. The Web interface is organized with a list of items on the left and widgets on the main page. Clicking on any menu item or widget will take you to the appropriate feature or setting of the router.
The most exciting feature is Media Prioritization, which allows you to drag and drop connected clients between High and Normal priority lists, with high-priority devices getting faster access to the Internet. There's also a handy Internet speed test and an effective Parental Control feature that allows you to block certain connected clients' access to the Internet or specific websites. It's important to note that the router is able to block https sites, which most routers can't. In other words, it's one of the few home routers on the market that can block Facebook and Twitter.
As with most routers, you can manage the EA9500 when locally connected its network. Optionally, you can opt to associate the router with a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account and then can access the router's interface even when you're out and about, using a Web browser or the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi mobile app (available for iOS and Android devices). Keep in mind that in these cases, the router will be connected to Linksys' servers at all times.
If you're one of the lucky few who won't blink twice at a $400 price for a router, there's little that will disappoint you here. The EA9500 is amazingly fast with a ton of useful features. But for most homes it's overkill.
If you're on a budget, check out any of the routers on this list for better deals that, in most cases, won't make your network any slower.