More is more
Internally Linksys have taken a similar more is more approach to the internals too, with a 1.4 Dual Core Broadcom manufactured ARM based CPU (Model number BCM4709C0KFEBG), 128MB Flash and 512MB DDR3 RAM, all needed to support the concurrent tri band Wi-Fi and 8 MU-MIMO streams that are the big headline features on this device. Further exploration of the internals reveals a trio of Broadcom BCM4366 4×4 2.4/5Ghz single chip 802.11ac SoC providing paired with either a set of 4 Skyworks SE2623L 2.4Ghz power amps to provide the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, or a set of 4 RFMD RFPA5542 5Ghz power Amp modules to provide the 5Ghz Wi-Fi. Since there are two 5Ghz signals provided that’s a total of 8 RFMD chips. The network switching is powered by a Broadcom BCM4709C0KFEBG and a Broadcom BCM53125. Finally, for PCI-E support we have a PLX Technology PEX8603 3-Lane, 3-port PCIe switch.
The above potentially bodes well for adding aftermarket firmware to the device, such as that from OpenWRT, since support is available for the BCM47xx range of Broadcom chipsets. Of course, running OpenWRT or any of its derivatives such as Tomato and DD-WRT does mean risk of bugs and issues when using newer routers (and even those that have been running for a while) and certainly means some of the features touted by Linksys may no longer be supported and could end up with your device being bricked if something goes wrong with the installation process, so as ever when running your own firmware, this is to be done at your own risk.
My first experience with Linksys was the venerable and much loved WAG54G, one of the first things that struck me about the device at the time was just how insanely complex its interface was, with more options than most users would ever know what to do with… The interface for the EA9500 much like other routers in the Smart Wi-Fi family, such as the EA8500, is the polar opposite of this, overly simplified and slick, with a focus purely on options that would be potentially useful to the average home user, such as traffic prioritisation to ensure you important devices never get hit by congestion issues and will always take precedence over other traffic on your network. Parental Controls to prevent access to specific websites – this also includes functionality for time of day restrictions and other similar features, however more importantly is the fact that you can also block https sites using this tool, something most other routers are unable to do – effectively this is one of the few home routers on the market that will allow social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and others to be blocked! As a network engineer by trade, I mourn the loss of features in favour of simplicity and mostly ‘fuss free’ configuration, but as someone who has years of front line ISP support under my belt; I see this as a welcome change to how things used to be, since the easier things are to work with the fewer headaches for the average user.
Initial setup was trivial and I was connected to my ISP within minutes of hooking up to my modem thanks to Linksys simple step by step guided setup something that is common amongst all Linksys routers. Of course, if you would rather you can also bypass the guided set up completely and dive straight into setting it up manually, something made much less daunting due to the simplicity and good design of of the router’s interface. Having effectively three Wi-Fi networks also adds some additional options – do you have them all sharing the same SSIDs/Passwords etc or do you segregate them out ensuring that the 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz networks are kept separate? There are options for both here, so depending on your preference you should be covered. The Wi-Fi also allows for guest access, which can be fairly useful if you want to allow visitors onto the network, but ensure they don’t have access to your LAN based devices. The device can also be managed and configured using Linksys’ “Smart Wi-Fi” app for Android and iOS devices. The ability to use the Smart Wi-Fi app also means that router management is directly available via the web via www.linksyssmartwifi.com – bear in mind that these features mean your router will be connected to Linksys’ servers at all times.
The Smart Wi-Fi App is actually a nice touch, since it features a zero thought way of accessing your device from either on net or off net, giving instant access to the most used features via a slide out menu system. The app is surprisingly responsive even when connecting over 3G or 4G networks and provides a nice, clean configuration interface for the device. It also supports notifications to inform you when your router has lost network access to the internet, though this feels like a wasted opportunity on Linksys’ part, since the notification system could have been used to provide higher tier levels of functionality than would normally be seen on home routers, such as providing notifications of network events, such as users joining/leaving the network, intrusion attempts and so on. I personally hope this is something that is considered for the long term where this app is concerned, since it would add yet another great selling point for Linksys to include this.
The one thing that does need to be considered with the raw performance provided by this device is that as far as networks are concerned, your throughput is only as fast as the slowest device in the chain. Linksys have taken steps to ensure the slowest device is not this router, to the point where internet connections for residential customers that can take full advantage are still very much in the minority, at least in the UK and US. While I am relatively lucky insofar that I get a solid and stable 80Mb sync on my FttC connection and theoretically have access to Synchronous Gig FttP, if and when the ISP who provide this finish hooking up access to my estate, I realise I am very much in the minority when it comes to this, so while the EA9500 will do everything in its power to ensure you have the fastest possible connection on your LAN and Wi-Fi connected devices, this isn’t a silver bullet that will magically make your connection to your ISP go faster, less so when you consider that it lacks the capability to be directly connected without a modem, ONT or other device between it and the connection from your ISP… The one thing it will do is ensure communication up to this point and between devices on your LAN is as fast as it can be.