There’s an old adage in most industries that usually works around picking two of three items, in the world of I.T. these choices usually come down to fast, cheap and good. Linksys have firmly placed their flags in the fast and good stance where the EA9500 is concerned. With an ever increasing rise in bandwidth hungry services and a general preference for Wi-Fi over wired by end users the direction Linksys has taken on this device make perfect sense. The EA9500 is being marketed as a 5.4 Gb Wifi device – what this actually means is that you have three wifi channels, 2 5 Ghz which run at 2,166 Mbps and 1 at 2.4Ghz which runs at 1000 Mbps. (The astute among you will notice this actually adds up to 5,333 Mbps, not the 5,400 Linksys have rounded it up to.)
Linksys have been kind enough to provide us with the EA9500 router, a RE7000 Range Extender and 4 WUSB6100m MU-MIMO USB Dongles which should hopefully allow us to really push this thing as hard as we can on Wi-Fi. The RE7000 allows us to test the other headline feature they are pushing with this kit – seamless base station roaming, something which allows mobile devices to traverse from Wi-Fi network to Wi-Fi network without any form of end user interaction. Something that has long been a staple of corporate Wi-Fi networks but is something of a rarity in the home environment, I will test this further in a separate review of the RE7000 and WUSB6100m which will also focus more on how the ecosystem provided by these devices fits together.
The Overkill approach to home networking
The most obvious thing that will hit you with the EA9500 is the sheer size of the device, after unpacking the shipping box that contained the router, the RE7000 and 4 WUSB3100M units to allow for proper testing of the router’s features, I have to say I was intrigued by what was in the box, or how it was packaged considering the retail box for this thing measures 36cm x 29.5cm x 13.5cm. On opening you can imagine the surprise when I found that inside was only the PSU, usual documentation and CD for setup and the star of the show itself.
Included you have an external 60w 12v 5a PSU, a solitary Ethernet cable, the getting started guide and a CD.
I still chuckle quietly to myself every time I see it due to the sheer insanity of the whole thing. When I say its huge this isn’t an understatement; with dimensions of 26cm x 32cm x 6.7cm and 8 non removable antennae, which are 13cm long each, it pretty much dominates anywhere you would choose to locate it almost to the point of being obnoxious, discrete definitely doesn’t describe this device. Around the back we have 2 of the 8 wireless antenna 8 GigE LAN facing Ethernet ports, a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, a GigE Ethernet port for the WAN, the 12 Volt power port and a power switch. Around the sides you have the remaining 6 antennae (three per side) and there are also two buttons on the left facing side, one for WPS and another to enable/disable Wi-Fi. On the top of the device we have a large flat grilled surface to allow for airflow for the passively cooled internals and a large flat panel containing an LED indicator to show if Wi-Fi is enabled and if any MU-MIMO devices are connected.
From a design viewpoint, Linksys have done a decent job of keeping the device looking somewhat minimalistic and clean in appearance while also using sloping edges to try to conceal the sheer size of the unit. While I personally love the design of the thing I can understand that it certainly wouldn’t be to everyone’s tastes. Additionally, I have a tendency to prefer to keep my network and infrastructure kit out of sight – something that a device of this size could make difficult.
One potential complaint here is the lack of built in Modem, though this is common amongst the majority of Linksys’ routers other than their ‘X’ range it’s something that has often puzzled me. While this would have added an extra cost to the devices component list, the retail cost of this device is significant enough that I feel it could have been an easy add. The fact there are 8 GigE ports on the back also means one of them could have doubled up as a WAN port for Cable and FttP customers or those whose ISPs insist on customers using their provided hardware, since even with my fairly demanding setup at home directly around where the router is located I’m only using 6 of the ports currently and am unlikely to use the last two for the foreseeable future. This is doubly confusing when you realise that this kind of capability has been on a fair amount of the free devices that UK ISPs have been sending their customers for a good few years now. Of course this does add other issues in terms of localisation, certification and testing so I can understand why this has been omitted.