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Customer Review

365 of 387 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great router with robust features, although the 5GHz band signal and speed is erratic, June 15, 2011
This review is from: Cisco-Linksys E4200 Dual-Band Wireless-N Router (Electronics)
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(Review updated 06/20/11 to add details concerning firmware version 1.0.02 and USB printer support with the E4200 router. Please see the end of the review for that update.)

I networked my home long before wireless routers were even available (or affordable) for home users, using Ethernet back then and moving to wireless as soon as it was available for home use. Throughout the years, I've almost always used Linksys routers, and the few times I've tried other brands, I was soon sorry and switched back to Linksys. I won't say I've always had perfect experiences with this manufacturer, but my overall experience with them has been very good enough to position Linksys as a name I trust.

When I saw the feature set for the new Cisco-Linksys E4200 router, I was more than intrigued, particularly by the dual-band feature and the potential speeds it boasts.

As it turns out, only one of the wireless adapters I already owned supported the 5 GHz band, and it was the internal NIC on one of my computers. In order to fully test the Linksys E4200, I bought one Cisco-Linksys AE1000 High-Performance Wireless-N Adapter and connected it to each of my computers to test it with the new router.

The dual-band feature by default uses the same SSID for both the 2.4 GHz band and the 5 GHz band. This allows a wireless adapter to seamlessly connect to whichever of those bands it can, but doesn't help if you want to force certain wireless devices to connect using the 5 GHz band, which is potentially faster. Fortunately, you can manually name the two wireless bands with different SSIDs, and simply connect your devices that support 5 GHz bands to the SSID for that band.

Before I progress, I should state that I live in a three story townhouse, and I placed the router as centrally as possible, in the den on the second floor. I use the den as my office, and I have a good spot for wireless routers that has no reflective surfaces near it, nor any other items that might interfere with the wireless signal.

The living room is just down the hall from the den, and there are no doors in between the two rooms. I get a fantastic signal using the 5 GHz band when I am anywhere on the second floor, whether using my laptop's internal wireless adapter or the AE1000 USB adapter that I bought. I connected the AE1000 on my desktop PC, my laptop, and my netbook and each enjoys speeds of 300 Mbps when using the 5 GHz band on the second floor. However, when I use the 5 GHz band with the same laptop and netbook and the same wireless adapters on the third floor, the signal is weak and the speeds jump wildly from 13.5 Mbps to 300 Mbps, with the 300 Mbps being a rarity upstairs.

Conversely, when I connect to the E4200 router using its 2.4 GHz band, the signal is strong on every floor and in every room and the speed is stable rather than erratic. I find that the 2.4 GHz band connects my devices with speeds on par with my older wireless routers - 65 Mbps to 130 Mbps, depending on which wireless adapter I use.

The configuration itself is very easy and users who run the setup disk to configure it will find themselves with a basic, mostly secure network. There are some things I don't like about the Cisco Connect software that runs the setup, but I'll get to that a bit later.

For more experienced users with more advanced needs, the advanced configuration is where you'll spend more of your time, if not all. This is where you can set additional levels of security, name the two wireless networks and the guest network with different SSIDs, manage connected storage devices, and more.

I prefer to not rely on only WPA encryption for my wireless security. In addition, I employ MAC address filtering, don't broadcast my SSID, and I limit the number of DHCP connections to the number of devices I need to use on my network. For those who don't know, a MAC address is the unique identifier for a network device. Every network device has one, and no two devices use the same MAC address. I set the filtering to only allow devices with a MAC address I've specifically allowed to connect. Even if someone were to break the code on my wireless connection, they would also have to have a MAC address that is permitted on my network. On top of that, since I don't broadcast my SSID, no one can see it, even if they are in range. You have to know the name of my SSID to manually configure it, or you must have access to the router to use the Wi-Fi Protected Setup button. You can also use the Easy Setup Key if you choose to create one, but we'll get to that a bit later.

I have a number of devices that I regularly connect to my network, some wired, some wireless. All were easy to configure and connect. Some I connected using the Wi-Fi Protected Setup button, others using the Easy Setup Key, and still others I connected by manually entering the wireless network information. These devices include: two TiVo Premieres with Wireless N adapters, TiVo Series 2 with a Wireless G adapter, desktop PC with an Ethernet port and a wireless NIC, a laptop computer also with both Ethernet and wireless, a netbook PC also with both Ethernet and wireless, a NAS device connected via Ethernet, a wireless printer, a Windows Mobile 6.5 Smartphone with wireless, and an Ooma phone router connected with Ethernet.

The router allows you to connect a USB hard drive to it which can then be shared on your network using the management console for the router. You can share folders publicly, or lock down access by creating user accounts for the shares. These folders can be accessed either through standard networking (UNC paths or mapped network drives) or they can be accessed via FTP. The router does function well inside my network as an FTP server, but as Comcast has blocked FTP ports from my Comcast modem, I cannot access the FTP server from outside my own network.
However, I can access the administration console from outside my network if I enable the Remote Management feature, and using the DDNS feature, you can easily access this from anywhere. I choose to leave this disabled, but did turn it on long enough to test it.

I should probably explain the DDNS feature as well. This feature communicates with one of two services (DYNDNS.org or TZO.com) and regularly updates your external IP address given to you by your ISP. As most internet service providers use dynamic IP addresses for residential accounts, your IP address could potentially change each day. By registering with one of the two supported services and configuring your E4200 router to keep your IP address updated with those services, you have a static internet address you can use to access your router's Remote Management feature, or FTP server (should your ISP not block those ports) when away from your home. This feature works beautifully.

The router has four Ethernet ports on the back, each of which is a Gigabit port. All of the NICs with the Gigabit capability I connected to it easily used that speed. This is great when you are moving files between machines within your network, but won't increase your internet speed, as most residential providers don't have plans anywhere near that fast.

Although I am mostly very pleased with the E4200 router, the area I have considerable disappointment in is the Cisco Connect software. While it is a fantastic tool for easy configuration - especially for novice users - it has limitations that prove frustrating for more experienced users. For one, if you want to use the Cisco Connect software, the password for the admin login must be the same as the password for the wireless network. I personally do NOT want these two passwords to be the same. I may not have an issue giving a friend the password to connect to my network, but I definitely do not want anyone but me to have the admin password where they can change settings.

Another issue I have with it is that you cannot install the Cisco Connect software on other PCs and connect it to your router unless you make an Easy Setup Key. The Easy Setup Key is a USB flash drive which you provide and the Cisco Connect setup installs it with the software for additional computers. Sounds innocent enough, but this USB flash drive can also be used to connect new wireless devices to your wireless network. Not only that, but it stores the admin password for the router in the key so that anyone who gets their hands on this flash drive can easily get into your network and even the administrator settings for your router. For me, this is a huge security liability and I just don't like it.

One feature I do really like in the Cisco Connect software is the ability to test your internet speed directly on the router. This is extremely handy when you are experiencing slowness with internet speeds and you want to quickly test the speed of the internet modem before the signal is spread out to the other devices on your network. This is a feature that has been a long time coming, and is very much appreciated. Where I am disappointed here is that the speed test feature is only available in the Cisco Connect software and not in the advanced configuration control panel. One other important thing to note, this speed test does not suffice if you are trying to determine if an internet speed problem is being caused by your router. For that, you still need to disconnect the router from your modem and connect your computer directly to your internet modem to test speed.

At the time I wrote this review, Amazon's page for the E4200 router states that it will have the ability to connect a USB printer and share it on your network sometime in the summer of 2011. I called Cisco-Linksys support to find out if there was an ETA on this feature. According to Cisco-Linksys support, this feature is not planned for this router. So, this is a huge discrepancy and it is anybody's guess which information is correct. It is possible that Amazon made a mistake, but it is equally possible that I spoke with an uninformed support agent. Also, the fact that he then tried to sell me on one of their print server devices makes one wonder if he would have admitted it even if he'd known about the feature. If you are looking for a device that will function as a print server for your USB printer, this is not yet the device, although it is one to watch. I wouldn't base your purchase on the possibility of that feature, though.

This is a really good router with a lot of great features. Having long used Linksys networking equipment, I know it to be a trustworthy name with long-lived hardware. If you are looking for the speeds the 5 GHz band can offer, be aware that this router is fairly erratic with signal and speed when using the 5 GHz band, even with a dual-band adapter made by Cisco-Linksys. The 2.4 GHz band has proved very reliable, though.

EDITED: After I posted this review, I launched Cisco Connect software again and it notified me there was a firmware update. I let it install the new firmware on the router and found that it enabled several new features, which I have not yet tested. From the Release notes for firmware version 1.0.02 (build 13):

- Added support of USB printer connected to the router's USB port, so that a user may send a print job to the printer via the local area network.
** This feature requires Cisco connect software v1.4 or later **
- Added support of Native IPv6 and 6rd tunnel Internet connections
- Added support of bridge mode
- Prevented devices on the guest network to access any private IP address (RFC 1918)
- Updated wireless driver to improve interoperability

So, it looks like the Cisco-Linksys support agent was mistaken and Amazon was correct concerning the E4200 router's ability to act as a print server for a USB printer. I will test this soon and report back.

I will say I was very pleased to see that the Cisco Connect software not only automatically checks for firmware updates, but downloads and installs them for you. It also gave me the option to delay that install if I had wished.

UPDATED 06/20/11: I have two printers at home, an Epson R200 and an Lexmark X4850. Using the instructions on page 15 of the new user guide for the E4200 router, I have not been able to connect either of these printers to the router via USB. The instructions say to launch the Cisco Connect software and then use the Add Printer command, selecting the option for USB printer. Cisco Connect reports that each of these printers is unsupported. I then went to the Cisco-Linksys website to find exactly what printers are supported and could find no such information in the support section or the forum. This prompted me to engage in a support session with Cisco-Linksys using their Live Chat - big mistake. Deepak insisted over and over again that this functionality does not exist on the E4200 router and refused to even look at the user guide on the Cisco-Linksys website, although I provided him the exact page number he could find these instructions on. He told me to call the support line by phone. Raine was a little better, but not by much. While she didn't come out and say that feature doesn't exist, she did start running me through a list of questions that have nothing to do with what USB printers are supported on the router (what ISP do I use, what wireless devices are in my network, etc.) I finally asked to be escalated to someone who could provide the information I'm asking for (a list of supported printers), and she escalated me to a supervisor, Marie, who then connected me with Al (Senior Technician) who finally stated that the firmware version 1.0.02 only introduces USB printer support for the E3200 router, but NOT for the E4200 router, and that the release notes for this firmware version that state otherwise are wrong. He also confirmed there is not a list of supported printers even for the E3200 router. If you are looking for a router that has the ability to add a USB printer, the E4200 is not yet an option for you.
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Comments

Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 21, 2011 3:53:45 PM PDT
M. Erb says:
Very thorough and helpful review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2011 2:28:17 PM PDT
Thanks, M. Erb! I always hope something I've written might help another customer. :)

Posted on Jul 5, 2011 10:23:43 PM PDT
Glenn says:
Thank you for the thoughtful and complete review, I went ahead and bought the E3200 based on the fact that the only real difference between the 2 is the 450 3 stream mode that the 4200 has but I don't see any thing that uses it right now. I got a great deal on the 3200 $99 plus 10 for shipping way cheaper than a 4200 which I just could not justify the price of. Thanks again for the great review.

Posted on Aug 25, 2011 7:04:22 PM PDT
Jennifer -- fantastic review. I actually laughed out loud at your description of your chat starting with "Deepak." Chat Agents used to be the cream of Tech Dept.'s crop. Not so much anymore! I laughed because you're clearly a detailed oriented person having a chat argument with someone denying even knowing what the user guide says. Remember, the chat agent can't hear you scream!

Posted on Sep 4, 2011 8:53:17 AM PDT
Voltaire says:
Bloody good review!

Posted on Sep 19, 2011 7:34:16 PM PDT
Mish says:
Amazing and thorough review that will help immensely in choosing a new router. Thank you for investing your time in writing what is the most complete review filled with comprehensible "technobabble" for those who aren't idiots but also aren't specialists. If I could rate reviews, this would be a 5-star review. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2011 8:39:34 PM PDT
Thank you to all of you. I know how much I appreciate a thorough review when I am shopping for something and it makes me happy to know I've helped some of you with this review.

Posted on Sep 24, 2011 1:39:48 PM PDT
DL says:
Jennifer, thank you for the thorough review.

Posted on Sep 27, 2011 11:17:35 PM PDT
Robert Baker says:
Mac address filtering does nothing for security. It's easy to spoof mac addresses, I also hope you are using WPA2 not WPA. Hidden SSID also not for security purposes, but it does help people flooding the router with connection requests. Just to be clear hiding SSID and Mac filtering do nothing for security. The DHCP also nothing for security, I can just set a manual IP and the router will accept it. Just wanted to let you know that.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2011 7:56:48 AM PDT
Robert, I agree that on their own, neither MAC address filtering nor hiding the SSID are adequate security. However, combined with using WPA2, which I do, they add extra layers of deterrent to help protect your network.

For me, it's the same concept as having locks on my door at home. While a lock won't keep a determined intruder out, it will deter many would-be intruders or at least slow them down a bit.
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