For its latest tri-band router, Linksys took an existing model, added mesh functionality and gave it a new name.
Mesh networking uses multiple wireless nodes to extend Wi-Fi coverage and eliminate blindspots with poor connection speeds. This feature appears to be the key differentiator between the recently launched MR8300 Max-Stream Tri-Band and the two-year-old EA8300.
Both routers are otherwise identical in specifications and even have the same weight.
There is a caveat to the MR8300's mesh feature though.
It must act as the primary router that connects directly to the Internet modem.
It cannot work as a secondary router, which is typically placed further from the Internet modem to extend the wireless network.
This also rules out connecting two MR8300 units in a mesh network.
•Decent performance for its price
•Easy to set up with an intuitive smartphone app
•USB port not working at the moment
•Parental controls are basic compared with other brands
•Mesh feature limited to Velop models
ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN
SECURITY: WPA2/WPA-Mixed, WPA2-Personal
ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT, DoS and SPI
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3.5/5
The only compatible wireless routers that can form a mesh network with the MR8300 are Linksys' Velop mesh routers. They are primarily sold as a pair or trio and cost between $250 and $600.
Adding the mesh feature also seems to have created a minor problem in the MR8300.
Its USB 3.0 port - which is fine in the EA8300 model - is currently not working, so you cannot connect an external storage drive or printer to the MR8300. Linksys says this issue will be solved with a firmware update later this year.
Unlike most mesh routers that have only one or two Gigabit LAN ports, the MR8300 has the usual complement of four. It also has four adjustable antennae sticking out from its relatively compact chassis, which has two wall-mounting holes at the bottom.
To test its mesh feature, Linksys loaned me a single Velop unit along with the MR8300 router.
Before creating a mesh network using the two, I first had to set up the MR8300 using the Linksys mobile app (available for iOS and Android).
This process requires your smartphone to be near the router and takes a couple of minutes. Subsequently, adding a Velop unit to form a mesh network is just as simple, though it takes slightly longer.
The app itself is as slick as I remember from testing past Linksys routers. It lets you monitor and control your home network from anywhere in the world with Internet access.
The options, though, are fairly basic ones such as changing the settings for the DNS and port forwarding. More advanced settings are accessible only using the browser.
You can pause the Internet or add a website filter for a device connected to the home network, though this is again rudimentary compared with the ones included with some other routers.
Linksys says it will roll out Linksys Shield, a premium paid subscription software service that will block malware and offer more comprehensive parental controls for the MR8300 early next year.
In my tests, the MR8300, paired with a single Velop router, performed decently for a mid-range model, clocking download speeds of around 450Mbps in my living room.
These speeds dipped slightly to an average of 336Mbps when tested in my bedroom, but are still good for a mesh router system.
In short, the MR8300 configured in a mesh network will improve the wireless connection in the farthest part of the home.
But you can use it only with Velop routers, making it more restrictive than Asus routers with the similar AiMesh feature, which works with more than 10 Asus router models.