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The Linksys E4200 is a major upgrade to the Linksys E3000; it has a better design, faster performance, and a Web interface that encompasses the functionality of the easy-to-use Cisco Connect desktop application.
Except for a few minor blemishes–its bulky power adapter, a guest networking feature that’s limited to only 10 clients at a time, and the lack of support for 450Mbps throughput on the 2.4GHz band–we love everything about this router.
At around $180, it’s rather expensive, but it’s worth the investment. For a slightly cheaper router with similar features, we’d recommend the Linskys E3000 or the Linksys E2000.
Design and ease of use
The Linksys E4200 router brings the overall styling of Cisco’s Linksys E series up a notch, looking more like an expensive jewelry gift box than a router. With the flat shape and internal antenna design, the router is also compact compared with its peers. Its features allow you to leave it out in the open, rather than hide it, as you would most other routers. Unfortunately, you do want to tuck away its power adapter, which is disproportionately large for a router this size; it’s about the size of portable charger for a small laptop.
The router comes with four LAN ports and one WAN port on the back. All are Gigabit-capable, meaning they support throughput up to 1,000Mbps. Also on the back you’ll find the push button for the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature, a recessed reset button, and a USB 2.0 port that can host a USB external storage device for the router’s network attached storage (NAS) function. WPS allows you to conveniently add WPS-enabled clients to the wireless network via the push of a button. Unfortunately, like the E3000, the E4200 isn’t designed to host a printer, which is a little disappointing.
On the front, the new E4200 forgoes the usual array of status LEDs. Instead it has just one white light, in the shape of Cisco’s logo, that blinks when the router’s booting up (or something is not right) and stays solid when everything is in order.
Like all routers in the E series, the E4200 comes with Cisco Connect, which helps novice users set up and manage the router very easily. Anyone who can use a computer mouse can get the router up and running within about 5 minutes.
By default, the software set up the wireless networks by combining two of them–one for the 2.4GHz band and the other for the 5GHz band–into one that shares same name and the same password. This is similar to how Apple sets up its AirPort Extreme. Though this makes things easier, it also means you won’t be able to manually pick which band to use. The password is then also used for logging in to the router’s interface. This network name and the password are selected at random, but you can change them if you like.
The Cisco Connect software also allows you to turn the guest network (which is available only in the 2.4GHz band) on or off, manage the parental control features, and more. The software is very limited in functionality and requires a live Internet connection to work. In order to do more or to set up the router for an isolated network that’s disconnected from the Internet, you’ll need to use the router’s Web interface by pointing a connected computer’s browser to 192.168.1.1.
Note that if you haven’t used Cisco Connect, 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 is now “admin.”
The good news is, unlike with previous models, the E4200′s Web interface’s functionality encompasses that of Cisco Connect. For this reason savvy users can and should skip the Cisco Connect software entirely, so they can be in complete control of the router’s settings.
In the end, it’s best to use either the Cisco Connect software if you are a novice user, or the Web interface if you are a savvy user, but not both. We tried using both of them to change the router’s settings and sometimes ran into situations when both stopped working and we had to reset the router.
The Linksys E4200 is a true dual-band router, meaning it has two separate access points–one for the 2.4GHz band and the other for the 5GHz band–that can work simultaneously. It can also create an additional separate wireless guest network, on the 2.4GHz band only. The E4200 is also the first we’ve reviewed that offers the higher 450Mbps speed on the 5GHz band. This is because the router uses the newer three-stream standard. To take advantage of this new speed, for now, you’ll need to have a laptop equipped with an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 or 5300 Wi-Fi adapter. In the future there will also be USB adapters and add-in cards that support this speed.
Guest networking is a great solution when you want to share the Internet with others but want to keep them from accessing your local resources, such as files or printers. The E4200′s guest networking feature allows only 10 clients max, which isn’t very many. Though this is enough for home use, it’s not good for a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant.
The E4200 has simple support for network storage, including the ability to share the content of a 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 allows you to stream digital content to other UPnP-compliant devices, such as set-top boxes or game consoles. Unfortunately, though streaming music and photos worked well in our trials, the video streaming wasn’t smooth and sometimes didn’t seem to work at all. This is mostly because the router doesn’t have enough power to offer the fast storage throughput required to stream high-definition content.
For file sharing, the E4200 supports Windows SMB, so you can browse the share folders easily while using a network browser such as Windows Explorer. It also has the ability to turn a folder on an attached USB hard drive into an FTP site. We did find the layout of the Web interface for the storage feature rather cumbersome, though still easy enough for savvy users to figure out.
Like the E3000, the E4200 includes a simple, yet robust, parental control content-filtering system. This feature, which you can manage with the Cisco Connect software or the Web interface, allows you to change the way a particular computer on the network accesses the Internet.
Similar to other routers in the E series, the E4200′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, and FTP and HTTP servers. You can also assign static IP addresses to certain computers in the network, making the port forwarding much more relevant and easy to do. If you want to create a VPN connection, an FTP access, or a remote desktop connection to a certain computer in the network, you will find this handy and convenient.
Like most recent routers, the Linksys E42000 supports all available wireless encryption standards including WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA-Enterprise. The router allows VPN pass-through for all existing VPN protocols including IPsec, L2TP, and PPTP, meaning that if you have the router at home, you can use a VPN client to access your office system.
The Linksys E4200 did very well where it matters the most: wireless performance. Note that we didn’t have a client that supports the 450Mbps standard at the time of this review. (We’ll retest when we get a hold of one and update this part of the review then.) Nonetheless, with general 300Mbps clients, the E4200 excelled.
In the 5GHz frequency tests, the router registered 100.5Mbps on our close-range throughput test, which is about 20Mbps faster than the D-Link DIR-825. At this speed, the router can finish transmitting 500MB of data in just about 40 seconds. On our long-range test, the E4200 did even better with 79.1Mbps, about 40Mbps faster than the D-Link, which scored 48.8Mbps. By far, the E4200 was the fastest on the 5GHz band, which is not a surprise because as we mentioned before, it’s the first we’ve reviewed that supports the three-stream standard for this band.
On our 2.4GHz frequency tests, the router’s scores were also among the tops on our charts. It scored 61.4Mbps in the close-range throughput test and 46.9Mbps in the long-range test. In the mixed-mode test, where the router was set to work with both N and legacy G wireless clients, it scored 57.6Mbps.
The Linksys E4200 also did very well in our stress test. It didn’t disconnect once during the 48 hours of heavy data transferring between multiple clients. It offered great range, too, in our test, with about 290 feet for both 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. This is the first time we’ve seen a router that offers similar ranges for both bands. Normally, the 5GHz band has a shorter range than the 2.4GHz band.
So far the E4200 is the fastest true dual-band router we’ve seen when it comes to wireless performance.
On the other hand, the router’s NAS performance, as we’ve always seen in routers that have network storage features, was mediocre. We tested it with a USB portable hard drive, and the scores were nowhere close to those of dedicated NAS servers. The router’s write and read speeds were just slightly faster than 60Mbps. This means it’s only suitable for casual small-file sharing among network computers. If you want to do heavy file sharing or media streaming, we’d recommend a dedicated NAS server, such as the Synology DS410.
We didn’t run into any problems during the review, but we did notice that the router got rather warm. It’s recommended that it be set up in an open area.
CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
CNET Labs 5GHz Wireless-N performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
CNET Labs NAS performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
Cisco backs the Linksys E4200 with a one-year limited warranty. Cisco’s toll-free phone support is available 24-7, as is online chat with a support representative. The company’s Web site includes software, drivers, and firmware downloads as well as an FAQ section. Hide Review