|At a glance|
|Product||Linksys Atlas Max 6E (MX8500) [Website]|
|Summary||Qualcomm-based tri-radio, four-stream 6E router with 5 GbE WAN port.|
|Pros||• 5 GbE WAN port|
• Four-stream front and backhaul radios
• Clients can connect to 6 GHz radio
• Poor mesh performance
• 5 GbE port can't be switched to LAN
Typical Price: $1200 Buy From Amazon
I wasn't exactly wowed by Linksys' Hydra Pro 6E that I reviewed last month. Its 6 GHz performance was equal to its ASUS GT-AXE11000 and NETGEAR RAXE500 competition on downlink and around 400 Mbps higher on uplink. But its two-stream 2.4 and 5 GHz radios produced throughput far below the ASUS and NETGEAR and even most other Wi-Fi 6 routers I've tested.
This time, I'm looking at Linksys' other 6E offering, the MX8500 Atlas Max 6E. At its heart is a tower-style, 6E, tri-band, fully four-stream design that Linksys just started selling as a single unit, for the same $500 that it's asking for the Hydra Pro 6E (at least that's how it's currently listed on Linksys' Store). But since Linksys shipped me a three-node mesh system, that's how I'm reviewing it. It's pity, however, since it's a better router than the Hydra Pro for the same money. But I get ahead of myself...
The Atlas Max has the off-white tower-style design of Linksys' Velop family, even though Linksys lists Atlas as a separate product family on its Whole Home Mesh WiFi System page. It's a big boy, measuring about 4.5 inches on each of its sides and a half inch shy of 10 inches tall (113 mm x 113 m x 243 mm or 4.45 x 4.45 x 9.57 if you want to be exact).
Linksys takes its monolith styling seriously, providing only one LED as the only visual indicator. This is too spartan for my taste; at minimum, each Ethernet port should have a link/activity indicator.
Linksys MX8500 Atlas Max 6E LED callouts
The four switched 1 GbE LAN ports and single 5/2.5/1 GbE multi-Gig WAN port are on one of the sides, along with a single USB 3.0 port for storage sharing and 12v power jack for a pretty good sized wall-wart power supply to plug into.
Linksys MX8500 Atlas Max 6E port and switch callouts
Linksys has the FCC innard photos locked up for awhile and since the sample must ship back to Linksys, I didn't open it up. But Linksys shared that the Atlas Max is based on Qualcomm's Networking Pro 1210 system, which is reflected in the table below. The table includes the two previously-reviewed 6E routers and the NETGEAR Orbi Wi-Fi 6 mesh system I'll be using for performance comparison later.
|Linksys MX8500 Atlas Max 6E||Linksys MR7500 Hydra Pro 6E||ASUS GT-AXE11000||NETGEAR Orbi 6 RBK752|
|CPU||Qualcomm Networking Pro 1210 64 bit quad-core @ 2.2 GHz||Qualcomm Networking Pro 810 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz||Broadcom BCM4908 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz||Qualcomm IPQ8174 ARM54 quad core @ 1.4 GHz|
|Switch||Qualcomm QCA8075 (?)||Qualcomm QCA8075||Broadcom BCM54991E||Qualcomm QCA8075|
|RAM||1024 MB||512 MB||1024 MB||1024|
|Flash||512 MB||512 MB||256 MB||512|
|2.4 GHz Radio||- Qualcomm 4-stream an/ac/ax radio||- Qualcomm 2-stream an/ac/ax radio||- Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85216-11 2.4 GHz LNA (x4) ?
- Skyworks SKY85006-11 2.4 GHz PA (x4)
|- Qualcomm QCN5024 4 stream AX
-Skyworks FEM (x2)
|5 GHz radio||- Qualcomm 4-stream an/ac/ax radio||- Qualcomm 2-stream an/ac/ax radio||- Broadcom BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85743-21 5 GHz front end (x4)
|- Qualcomm QCN5054 4 stream AX
-Qorvo FEM (x2)
(same for 5 GHz high-band radio)
|6 GHz||- Qualcomm 4-stream 6E radio||- Qualcomm 4-stream 6E radio||- Broadcom BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85780 6 GHz front end (x4)
|Bluetooth||- Qualcomm||- Qualcomm||- Broadcom BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85780 6 GHz front end (x4)
|Price||$1200 (three node system)||$500||$550||$299|
Table 1: Component summary
The Networking Pro 1210 system has three four-stream radios vs. the Networking Pro 810's four-stream 6 GHz and two-stream 2.4 / 5 GHz radios. The Atlas Max also gets twice the Hydra Pro's 512 MB of RAM. So the $500 price point makes no sense to me for both the Hydra Pro 6E and single Atlas Max 6E.
I had my say about Linksys' feature set in the Hydra Pro review. The TLDR is that it's not one of the more feature-rich router OSes available. I quickly abandoned the Linksys app after I used it to add nodes to the system. But using the browser UI wasn't that helpful either. If there is detailed information on how the mesh nodes are connected (band, channel, link rate, signal quality, configuration) it's not obvious in either the app or UI.
I found you can get some insight into what the router is doing under the hood by emailing yourself a router diagnostic report. Just click the Share router info with Linksys button on the Troubleshooting page, wait for the "generating details" spinner to populate the pop-up window and enter your email address. Within a few minutes you'll receive an email with links to two reports. The first link downloads a basic metadata file detailing the log request. The second link downloads the log file. Both files are in plaintext, so open with your favorite text editor and enjoy! Although there is a lot of information in the log, it wasn't obvious which of it described mesh operation.
Linksys MX8500 Atlas Max 6E diagnostic
The Hydra Pro review has screenshots of the few screens of interest, so I won't repeat those here. Even the advanced-wireless.html pages are the same. There are a few things of note, however, on the Wi-Fi side of things. First, the same 6 GHz band channels are supported as the Hydra Pro, starting at channel 33 and incrementing by 4 up to channel 229. Preferred Scanning Channels (PSC) mode is not supported, nor are the channels indicated, as they are in the NETGEAR RAXE500.
The main thing to note about the 6 GHz band is that it is not dedicated to backhaul. Linksys says the Atlas Max uses "dynamic backhaul". Here's the explanation I received:
"The Atlas Max 6E system uses dynamic backhaul technology. This allows the system to intelligently choose the band that will provide the best connection between nodes for a stronger mesh network. In most cases, the system will prefer the 6GHz band because it has the least congestion and the highest bandwidth, but the system is not dedicated to a specific band, and can use either the 5GHz band or the 6GHz band for backhaul."
The good news is that 6 GHz is available for device connect. The bad is that your devices could be competing for backhaul bandwidth. Theoretically, with 160 MHz of 6 GHz bandwidth, there should be plenty to go around. And the 6 GHz radio does support 160 MHz channel bandwidth if you leave its Channel Width setting on Auto; there is no 160 MHz option on the dropdown. In fact, neither the 2.4 or 5 GHz Channel width dropdowns show the highest-available bandwidth. You're supposed to know that 2.4 GHz Auto means 20/40 MHz and 5 GHz Auto means 20/40/80 MHz.
The last important thing to know about the Wi-Fi capability is that the 5 GHz radio supports neither 160 MHz bandwidth nor DFS channels.
Other Wi-Fi features are summarized in the table below.
|# of 2.4 GHz streams||4|
|# of 5 GHz streams||4|
|# of 6 GHz streams||4|
|# of Wi-Fi radios||3|
|Wi-Fi Radio 1||Qualcomm QCN9074 4 stream 6E (?)|
|Wi-Fi Radio 2||Qualcomm QCN90744 stream 6E (?)|
|Wi-Fi Radio 3||Qualcomm QCN9074 4 stream 6E (?)|
And other router features are summarized here:
|# of Ethernet ports||5|
|5 GbE port|
|10 GbE port|
|CPU||Qualcomm Networking Pro 1210 Quad Core @ 2.2 GHz|
|Notes||Four 1 GbE switched LAN ports, one 5/2.5/1 GbE WAN port|
|Rogue Device Block|
|Notes||Content filtering limited to URL blocking|