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Four Stream Performance

I set two EA8500's up in open air, six feet apart, one as a normal router and the other in wireless bridge mode (found in the Basic Setup > Internet Connection Type selector. The in-house 5 GHz network was not shut off for the test, but was idle and only beaconing (no traffic). Channel was set to 153, bandwidth mode was in its default 80 MHz mode and everything else was set to defaults, including MU-MIMO enabled. However, given the 4x4 to 4x4 nature of the link, MU-MIMO doesn't come into play.

I connected only one computer via Gigabit Ethernet at each end of the bridge. Baseline tests using Ethernet between the two computers and TP-LINK NICs show the Ethernet link capable of a bit over 900 Mbps in both directions with each direction run separately. So the hardwired part of the link shouldn't be a limiting factor.

I couldn't monitor link rates for these tests, since the router's admin GUI doesn't show wireless signal levels or link rates.

The simultaneous up and downlink test yielded 830 Mbps total throughput, with an almost 2-to-1 difference between down and uplink throughput.

Linksys EA8500 four stream throughput - simultaneous up/downlink

Linksys EA8500 four stream throughput - simultaneous up/downlink

I also ran separate up and downlink tests that yielded 727 Mbps downlink and 667 Mbps uplink, as shown in the composite IxChariot plot below.

Linksys EA8500 four stream throughput - up and downlink

Linksys EA8500 four stream throughput - up and downlink

I also added a second pair of clients plugged into the router and bridge to see if a second stream would yield higher throughput and to ensure that the single Gigabit Ethernet connection was not limiting results. The plot shows a total 924 Mbps throughput, with one of the downlink connections getting the lion's share.

Linksys E8350 four stream throughput - simultaneous up/downlink, angled antennas, four computers

Linksys E8350 four stream throughput - simultaneous up/downlink, angled antennas, four computers

To put these results in perspective, I created the table below, adding single pair 4-stream results for the first generation 4x4 routers tested.

Linksys EA8500 Linksys E8350 ASUS RT-AC87U NETGEAR R7500
Downlink 727 708 766 547
Uplink 667 660 444 624
Table 2: 4 stream throughput comparison(Mbps)

The results show QCA hasn't made any breakthroughs in full 4x4 wireless throughput, but it hasn't made any big mistakes, either.

Closing Thoughts

So the long wait is over and MU-MIMO is finally here. And it even appears capable of providing a moderate gain in total throughput, around 30% in our best-case scenario testing. This isn't even close to the 2 to 3x improvement Qualcomm claims in its MU-MIMO whitepaper, but at least it's something.

As much as Linksys and Qualcomm would like, you don't need to rush to buy your EA8500 today. Clients that support MU-MIMO are in short supply right now. Linksys was able to only point to Acer E series notebooks, due out in July. Qualcomm was a bit more helpful, referencing the same Acer notebooks and a few other devices:

  • Xiaomi MI Pro and MI 4 smartphones (China only). Also updating all Qualcomm Snapdragon-based SKUs to MU
  • ZTE Nubia Z9 Max (international SKU)

While Qualcomm says more MU devices are coming shortly, the pickin's are pretty slim right now. Even when MU-enabled devices are more plentiful, did you notice you'll have to buy a new device to get MU-MIMO? Perhaps you'll be able to buy a MU-MIMO USB adapter at some point, but I know of nothing in the works. And a USB dongle isn't going to help your smartphone or tablet—the products that can benefit most from MU-MIMO—get upgraded.

Finally, if you're an E8350 owner wondering when your router will get its MU-MIMO wings, Linksys said "of course" they'll enable MU-MIMO "as soon as the driver is ready". However they added "No word from Quantenna yet on when that will be."

Read Part 2 for storage, routing and wireless performance results.

More Wireless

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