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Wireless Reviews

Max-Stream AC4000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router
At a glance
ProductLinksys EA9300 Max-Stream AC4000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router   [Website]
SummaryAC4000 class Broadcom-based 3x3 tri-band router with two MU-MIMO enabled 5 GHz radios.
Pros• Smart Connect band steering
• Same CPU as ASUS GT-AC5300 at much less $
Cons• interoperatiliby problem with 5 GHz downlink
• Undistinguished routing feature set
• Smart Connect works only between 5 GHz radios
• Artificially inflated link rate very few will see
• No OpenVPN support

Typical Price: $213  Shop Amazon

Introduction

It's been just about three years since our first review of a "tri-band" "Smart Connect" router in the form of NETGEAR's R8000 Nighthawk X6. These routers were Broadcom's attempt to combat the higher-total-throughput claims of MU-MIMO based routers when the company didn't have a MU-MIMO chipset of its own.

The market has evolved since then, with Qualcomm-based MU-MIMO moving from 4x4 to less expensive 3x3 and even 2x2 based designs. Broadcom eventually shipped its BCM4366 4x4 MU-MIMO radio SoC that appeared first in AC5300/5400 products, although not with working firmware. It took another year or so and a few device spins for Broadcom to eventually come up with working MU-MIMO. Not that all this sturm und drang around MU-MIMO matters much to the typical Wi-Fi user, since few have the multiple MU-MIMO devices required to reap any of the technology's benefit.

Which brings us to Linksys' EA9300 Max-Stream AC4000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router. It incorporates a new Broadcom BCM4365 3x3 MU-MIMO radio SoC--actually three of them--into a "tri-band" design intended to entice buyers with a combination of AC4000 bigger-number-on-the-box at a price below tri-band 4x4 AC5300/AC5400 products that also have MU-MIMO.

The inflated AC4000 rating breaks down into 750 Mbps in 2.4 GHz plus two times the 1625 Mbps in 5 GHz maximum link rates. These rates require a 3x3 device that also supports the non-standard 1024-QAM modulation rate to achieve them, which means only ASUS' 4x4 PCE-AC88 PCIe adapter. Most of us with newer 2x2 smartphones that support only 256-QAM in both bands will see a maximum of 400 Mbps in 2.4 GHz (if you can get 40 MHz bandwidth, 173 Mbps otherwise) and 867 Mbps in 5 GHz.

Where this leaves the EA9200 AC3200, its first tri-band router that doesn't have MU-MIMO, is apparently on the fast lane to obsolescence, since Linksys has left its MSRP at $329.99, the same as the EA9300's. (The EA9200's street price of $135 sure looks like inventory is being cleared.) So let's see if it brings anything to the party.

  Linksys EA9500 Linksys EA9300 Linksys EA9200 Linksys EA8300
# Streams 4 3 3 2
2.4 GHz max. link rate (Mbps) 1000 750 600 400
5 GHz max. link rate (Mbps) 2166 1625 1300 867
MU-MIMO Y Y N N
Amazon Price (at time of review) $330 $300 $135 $160
Table 1: Linksys "Tri-band" routers

The EA9300 looks pretty much like the EA9500, but with six vs. eight external antennas. There are mounting screw slots on the bottom panel will allow facing the rear panel up or down. The front panel callout diagram below describes the front panel lighting.

EA9300 front panel callouts

EA9300 front panel callouts

The rear panel has two USB 3.0 ports, four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and one WAN port. Port aggregation is not supported, but every port has its own link and activity LEDs that should be called out in the diagram. The right side of the router sports a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) switch. There is no wireless on/off switch.

EA9300 side and rear panel callouts

EA9300 side and rear panel callouts

Inside

Linksys has not released the FCC internal pictures, so I opened the router after testing was done for a look. The first photo shows the top cover removed, revealing a fairly substantial heatsink that's thermally coupled to the RF can tops under it.

Linksys EA9300 inside

Linksys EA9300 inside

Stripping off all the RF can tops shows the CPU / switch section at top, 5 GHz high-band and 2.4 GHz radios at bottom left and 5 GHz low band radio at lower right. The 5 GHz high-band and 2.4 GHz radios share the left side antennas while the 5 GHz low band has the right three antennas all to itself. Note the left side radios are combined at the antenna and not in mixing circuitry on the board.

Linksys EA9300 inside

Linksys EA9300 board

The table summarizes the key components for the EA9300, EA9200 and EA9300 routers. The EA9300 has the same Broadcom BCM4908 1.8 GHz quad-core 64 bit ARM processor as the ASUS GT-AC5300, but for much less money. BCM4908 eliminates the need for the external PCIe switch the EA9200 and EA9300 need. The CPU also contains a 2.5 Gb Ethernet port, although it's not used in the EA9300. This article has other processor details.

  Linksys EA9300 (tri-band 3x3) Linksys EA9200 (tri-band 3x3 Linksys EA9500 (tri-band 4x4)
CPU Broadcom BCM4908KFEBG quad-core @ 1.8 GHz Broadcom BCM4709A Broadcom BCM4709C0KFEBG dual-core @ 1.4 GHz
Switch In CPU in BCM4709A in BCM4709C0KFEBG & BCM53125
RAM 512 MB 256 MB 256 MB
Flash 256 MB 128 MB 128 MB
2.4 GHz Radio - BCM4365EKMMLG 3x3 11abgnac SoC
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM43602
- 2.4 GHz Power Amps (x3)
- BCM4366 4x4 2.4/5G single chip 802.11ac SoC
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amp (x4)
5 GHz radio - BCM4365EKMMLG 3x3 11abgnac SoC
- Skyworks SKY85408-11 802.11ax 5 GHz power amp (x3)
NOTE: There are two 5 GHz radios.
- Broadcom BCM43602
- 5 GHz Power Amps (x3)
NOTE: There are two 5 GHz radios.
- BCM4366 4x4 2.4/5G single chip 802.11ac SoC
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz PA module (x4)
NOTE: There are two 5 GHz radios.
PCIe None PLX Technology PEX8603 3-lane, 3-port PCIe switch PLX Technology PEX8603 3-lane, 3-port PCIe switch
Table 1: Component summary and comparison

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