Mid-range router with an unexpected twist

The EA7500 appears to have all the key features expected of a modern router.
The EA7500 appears to have all the key features expected of a modern router.PHOTO: LINKSYS

Ever since the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard was finalised a few years ago, manufacturers have been launching ever-faster routers.

However, client devices such as smartphones and laptops have not kept up. Indeed, none has come close to using the maximum theoretical throughput of new routers.

This is because adding more Wi-Fi antennas in mobile devices to boost wireless performance is not feasible due to space and power constraints.

But the good news is that an increasing number of client devices, especially the latest smartphones, now support a new 802.11ac feature called Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO).

Routers that support MU-MIMO transmit data to multiple client devices at the same time, unlike earlier models that send data only to a single client at a time.

Enabling MU-MIMO would reduce lag and improve wireless performance. Unfortunately, it is usually found in high-end routers.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $330

    ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN

    STANDARDS: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

    SECURITY: WPA2, WEP

    ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT and SPI

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

This is where the Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router comes in. It is a mid-range router with Wi-Fi speeds that you would find on a top router from 2014. But it comes with MU-MIMO, making it the most affordable MU-MIMO router available now.

In terms of speed, the AC1900 supports up to 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.

To be fair, these speeds are more than adequate for most client devices today.

The router itself has the standard four Gigabit LAN ports. It has three adjustable antennas, but does not look as fanciful as high-end models.

But, more importantly, under the EA7500's hood is a dual-core 1.4GHz processor that is as capable as the ones in the latest routers. Unsurprisingly, the EA7500 has a very responsive user interface. It takes mere seconds to change the router settings, compared with some that can take up to a minute.

This user interface is also modern and easy to use. Like most routers, you access this interface via a Web browser on a connected computer.

Most of the interface is taken up by widgets. You pick the widgets to display from a list of settings and tools on the left. These widgets let you quickly change these settings with a single click, such as turning on parental controls - without going through the full set of options.

The EA7500 appears to have all the key features expected of a modern router, from media prioritisation to preset network profiles for local service providers.

With the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app for iOS and Android, you can monitor and manage your router from outside the home network, though note that the app lets you access only certain settings, such as parental controls.

In our home Wi-Fi speed test, the EA7500 managed an average download speed of 373Mbps. It is slower than a mid-tier router like the $235 Synology Router (490Mbps) which, on the other hand, does not support MU-MIMO.

I did not test the MU-MIMO feature as it would require multiple compatible devices.

But I did previously try it on a different Linksys MU-MIMO router and it certainly increased transfer speeds when all the devices were in use at the same time.

Vincent Chang

•Verdict: There are cheaper and better-performing AC1900 routers in the market, but the EA7500 is the most affordable MU-MIMO router.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Mid-range router with an unexpected twist'. Print Edition | Subscribe