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Wireless Reviews

Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router
At a glance
ProductLinksys Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router (EA7500)   [Website]
SummaryFirst QCA based AC1900 MU-MIMO enabled router with Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 2.0/ 3.0 storage and printer sharing
Pros• High 2.4 GHz throughput
• Superior storage performance
Cons• No OpenVPN
• Expensive for an AC1900 router
• Costs about the same as AC2600 MU routers

Introduction

Updated 3/29/2016: MU-MIMO testing done

Linksys shook up the evolving market for MU-MIMO enabled routers at CES 2016 with the introduction of the EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router. Unlike most new routers these days, the EA7500 doesn't pitch higher performance. Instead, its main claim to fame is its unique (at least so far) 3x3 radio configuration using one less antenna than all other MU-MIMO routers on the market.

The MU-MIMO rule of thumb for the number of MU-MIMO clients that produce peak total throughput has been # of RF chains - 1. This should mean that the EA7500's peak throughput will be with two MU clients vs. the three you get with AC2600 class 4x4 MU-MIMO routers.

Linksys EA7500

Linksys EA7500

I wish I could confirm whether this is true, but I've run into a temporary hitch in MU-MIMO testing. Since MU-MIMO is still evolving, it seems the virtual MU-MIMO STAs produced by the IxVeriWave test system still need some tweaking to properly reflect the current performance of real-world MU-MIMO devices, which are themselves being tuned to improve performance.

So I've been asked to hold off further MU-MIMO testing for a few weeks until the VeriWave folks get me an updated Wi-Fi blade that more accurately reflects current real MU-MIMO devices. Once I receive the new blade, I'll retest all MU-MIMO products tested to date, post an article with the results and add MU-MIMO benchmarks to the Router Charts.

MU-MIMO performance was tested. See this article for the results.

The EA7500's callouts are shown below. Note it has both USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, but no physical Wi-Fi On / Off button. Each of the Ethernet ports has link and activity LEDs. The bottom cover has T-shaped mounting screw slots that will let you wall-mount the router so that cables exit up, left or right, but not down. The case is well ventilated on all sides and the product didn't seem to run particularly hot.

Linksys EA7500 callouts

Linksys EA7500 callouts

Inside

The FCC inside photos had nice clear close-ups of all components, so I didn't have to open the product. The FCC photo below shows the board with heatsink and RF can tops in place. The lack of a big honkin' heatsink covering all the RF cans confirms my impression that the EA7500 doesn't run particularly toasty.

Linksys EA7500 board

Linksys EA7500 board

The view with RF can tops removed is too fuzzy for component ID, but you can see the main sections. The left can holds the Qualcomm IPQ8064 processor and 256 MB of RAM. The middle can is the 5 GHz radio and amplifiers and the right-most can is the 2.4 GHz radio. The QCA8337 switch isn't enclosed in a can and is closest to the Ethernet ports.

Linksys EA7500 board - naked

Linksys EA7500 board - naked

Table 1 compares the key components of the EA7500 and two other Linksys AC1900 class routers. Linksys is not only the only major consumer router manufacturer to have AC1900 class routers based on Marvell chipsets, but now also QCA. This is our first sighting of both the QCA9982 and QCA9983 3x3 radios. The former is a/b/g/n/ac and supports 256 QAM and MU-MIMO.

The QCA9983 is 2.4 GHz only and supports 256 QAM, but I'm told also supports MU-MIMO! Neither device supports 160 MHz (80 + 80) bandwidth. I suppose QCA just used the MAC section from the 9982 to get other non MU-MIMO benefits (signaling, waveform generation). But if anyone actually tries to enable MU-MIMO in 2.4 GHz, that would be just frickin' nuts.

  Linksys EA7500 Linksys EA6900 Linksys WRT1900ACS
CPU Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8064 Internet Processor @ 1.4 GHz Broadcom BCM4708A Marvell Armada 38X dual-core @ 1.6 GHz (88F6820-A0 C160) (ARMv7)
Switch Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337 In BCM4708A Marvell 88E6172
RAM 256 MB 256 MB 512 MB
Flash 128 MB 128 MB 128 MB
2.4 GHz Radio - QCA9983 3x3 MU-MIMO 802.11bgn radio
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Marvell 88W8864
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amplifier (x4)
- Unidentified switch and LNA (x4)
5 GHz radio - QCA9982 3x3 MU-MIMO 802.11ac radio
- Skyworks SKY85405 5 GHz power amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE5003L1 5 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Marvell 88W8864
- RFMD RFPA5522 5 GHz power amplifier (x4)
- Skyworks SKY85601 5 GHz LNA + switch (x4)
Table 1: Component summary and comparison

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