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Wireless Reviews

{mospagebreak toctitle=Introduction, Storage/Routing/Wireless Performance}
Max-Stream AC2600 MU-MIMO Smart Wi-Fi Router
At a glance
ProductLinksys Max-Stream AC2600 MU-MIMO Smart Wi-Fi Router (EA8500)   [Website]
SummaryQCA based AC2600 MU-MIMO enabled router with Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 2.0/eSATA/USB 3.0 storage and printer sharing
Pros• Supports bridged router, wireless bridge & wireless repeating
• MU-MIMO support provides moderate total throughput improvement
Cons• No outbound port/service filtering
• You'll need to buy new devices to benefit from MU-MIMO

Typical Price: $273  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

This is the second half of the Linksys EA8500 review. Part 1 focused on evaluating the product's MU-MIMO wireless performance. This time I'll be covering Storage, Routing and our standard Wireless Performance tests.

Linksys EA8500

Storage Performance

The summary below shows the top ten routers tested with our standard procedure for USB 3.0 connections and both drive formats. For reference, the EA8500 topped all four USB 2.0 performance charts with the following results: FAT32 Write - 38.1 MB/s; FAT32 Read - 42.9 MB/s; NTFS Write - 37.9 MB/s; NTFS Read - 42.9 MB/s.

In contrast, the EA8500 was beaten in all four USB 3.0 benchmarks by Linksys' WRT1200AC, which has a 1.33 GHz dual-core Marvell Armada 385 SoC as its processor. The EA8500's weakest storage performance looks to be NTFS writes, where we measured 59 MB/s vs. the WRT1200AC's 100 MB/s. At least the EA8500 beat all of last year's 4x4 AC2350 class routers.

Storage Performance Comparison - USB 3.0

Storage Performance Comparison - USB 3.0

Routing Performance

Updated 12/16/15 Router performance retest due to measurement process error

Routing throughput was measured using our standard router test process with the router loaded with 1.1.3.166845 firmware. Table 1 summarizes the results and includes the three first-generation 4x4 routers for comparison. Remember, for ranking purposes, we consider anything over 30,000 connections as equal due to limitations of our test method.

Test Description Linksys EA8500 ASUS RT-AC87U NETGEAR R7500 Linksys E8350
WAN - LAN 702 787 750 703
LAN - WAN 805 816 814 816
Total Simultaneous 1493 1392 1502 1448
Maximum Simultaneous Connections 35,230 36,805 42,122 30,572
Firmware Version 1.1.3.166845 3.0.0.4.376_2044 v1.0.0.52 1.0.00
Table 1: Routing throughput

The IxChariot unidirectional composite plot for the EA8500 shows typical cyclical variation between mid-to-high 700 Mbps range and peak speeds near 950 Mbps for both directions. The higher uplink throughput is consistent from product to product and likely a test method artifact.

Routing throughput unidirectional summary

Routing throughput unidirectional summary

The simultaneous up/downlink benchmark plot shows a jump up in WAN > LAN throughput due to IxChariot's Nagle's algorithm implementation. After the jump, uplink throughput looks better behaved than downlink, with higher average throughput as a result.

Routing throughput bidirectional summary

Routing throughput bidirectional summary

Wireless Performance

The EA8500 is Wi-Fi Certified, but only for three spatial streams. The Wi-Fi Alliance won't be doing MU-MIMO Certification until 2016.

We tested using the V8 Wireless test process using 1.1.3.166845 firmware. The router comes with WPS enabled. I connected a Windows 8.1 notebook to the router's 5 GHz and was prompted for WPS PIN with a pushbutton alternative. A pushbutton session quickly resulted in a WPA2/AES connection. The tiny back panel LED under the WPS button flashes during the WPS session; the big front panel Linksys logo doesn't blink during WPS.

The EA8500's wireless defaults are shown below. The Network name/SSID will be unique for each router because the five digits are the last five of the router's MAC address.

EA8500 Wireless defaults

EA8500 Wireless defaults

For throughput testing, the router was first reset to factory defaults with channel 6 set for 2.4 GHz and bandwidth mode set to 20 MHz. The 5 GHz radio was set to channel 153 and Auto bandwidth mode to enable 802.11ac link rates. The NETGEAR R7000 bridge mode standard test client was connected using WPA2/AES encryption.

Our standard practice is to center the router under test's antennas on the turntable, both front-to-back and side-to-side in the chamber. The chamber antennas are also centered on the turntable (front-to-back of chamber). This method is intended to keep maximum distance between the router under test and chamber antennas. The front-to-back position of the EA8500 centered the space between the front and rear antenna pairs.


Wireless Performance - more

The Benchmark Summary below shows the average of all wireless throughput measurements made over the tested attenuation range.

EA8500 Benchmark Summary

EA8500 Benchmark Summary

To provide some perspective, I pulled all three AC2350 class routers plus the EA8500 into one chart of 2.4 GHz average throughput below. Average downlink comes in at the bottom, while average uplink sits at the top of the respective charts. But note the 96 Mbps average uplink is essentially the same as the ASUS and Linksys E8350 results.

2.4 GHz average throughput comparison

2.4 GHz average throughput comparison

The 5 GHz average throughput comparison shows the EA8500 beating all the first-generation 4x4 routers by a wide margin.

5 GHz average throughput comparison

5 GHz average throughput comparison

The profile plots will provide more insight into the average results. The plots include all four 4x4 routers tested so far, the EA8500, Linksys E8350, ASUS RT-AC87U and NETGEAR R7500.

The 2.4 GHz downlink profile shows the AC87U as the clear downlink winner with throughput above the other three routers for the entire test run, save the 63 dB attenuation test where it tied with the EA8500.

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

The 2.4 GHz uplink plot is harder to call by eye, except for the NETGEAR, which sits below the other three routers for most of the tested range.

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

2.4 GHz Uplink Throughput vs. Attenuation

The 5 GHz downlink profile shows the EA8500's advantage of having the highest starting throughput (593 Mbps) of the group. That, plus a similar slope results in its significantly higher 315 Mbps average downlink throughput.

5 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

5 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

For 5 GHz uplink, the EA8500 once again has significantly higher starting throughput (535 Mbps), which again keeps its curve above the other three for the entire test run.

5 GHz Uplink Throughput vs. Attenuation

5 GHz Uplink Throughput vs. Attenuation

Closing Thoughts

If you simply must have a 4x4 router—and I'm not recommending you do—I see no reason to mess with any of the first-generation, Quantenna based products. The main reason for 4x4 is MU-MIMO and the only way to get that is with a QCA-based router. Right now, the only game in town is the Linksys EA8500.

But, the game's afoot, folks. If you look at the table from the CES 2015 wrapup, you'll see only one upcoming QCA-based AC2600 class router likely to have decent performance—TP-LINK's Archer C2600. But that's not due until Q3. D-Link's clearly betting on Broadcom's 4x4 chipset, but didn't reveal a timeframe in its CES 2015 announcements. And NETGEAR hasn't said what their plans are. And don't forget 8 stream products are on the horizon.

Product Class # of Antennas 2.4 GHz Max. Link Rate (Mbps) 5 GHz Max. Link Rate (Mbps)
Amped Wireless RTA2600 Athena AC2600 4 800 1733
D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 8 1000 2165
D-Link DIR-885L AC3100 4 1000 2165
Linksys EA8500 AC2600 4 800 1733
TP-LINK Archer C2600 AC2600 4 800 1733
TRENDnet TEW-827DRU AC2600 4 800 1733

As good as the EA8500 is, I see no reason to rush out and buy it. It's unlikely you'll have MU-MIMO enabled device in your pocket anytime soon and you'll have one only if you trade up to another phone or tablet. And who knows, if you already own one of last year's MU-MIMO "ready" products, ASUS, NETGEAR or Linksys might even enable MU-MIMO on it.

But if you just have to have a MU-MIMO enabled router now, then by all means go for the Linksys EA8500. With or without MU-MIMO, it looks like a good all-around performer.

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