Linksys EA9200 Tri-Band Router Review
Since we first started reviewing wireless AC routers, the marketplace has seen slow but steady evolution towards less expensive solutions and continual evolution on the technology front. Linksys’ new EA9200 tri-band router certainly hasn’t been designed to give entry-level consumers access to affordable AC networks. Rather, it can be considered a bleeding-edge device that offers three distinct and individual channels for today’s wide array of devices.
Linksys EA9200 is not your typical wireless router and in fact it is not even remotely close to anything else they’ve released to date. Up until now Linksys has been trying to recapture lost market share and convince consumers that the 'old' Linksys was back and ready to shake-up the marketplace, channeling the memories of their legendary WRT54G. We saw glimpses of this strategy last year with the WRT1900AC but this new model takes things to a whole new level in an attempt to change the status quo in a big way.
So what does the EA9200 do so differently? For starters, instead of offering a simple dual-band N/AC, dual channel layout, it ups the ante by including three separate access points for multiple devices alongside load balancing to insure access priority for high-bandwidth devices. It also tosses aside the usual MIMO technology used to boost signal performance across AC1300 networks.
Rather than utilizing MU-MIMO, this is one of the first of a new breed of 802.11AC routers that make use of Broadcom's XStream technology. While the differences between the two applications are subtle, for the most part XStream enabled routers can handle multiple, simultaneous 5GHZ 802.11AC spatial streams compared to one 802.11AC stream. This is exactly what the Linksys EA9200 brings to the table: one 3:3 802.11N 2.4GHZ spatial stream for backwards compatibility, and a pair of 802.11AC 5GHz 3:3 spatial streams. To do this the EA9200 requires six, all of which can be used at the same time - though only 3 per band and via separate radio controllers. It’s a complicated affair but one that’s supposed to optimize performance for enthusiasts.
Netlink has put this robust backbone in place so the EA9200 can handle the realities of today’s increasingly connected home environments. Its first band is in place to handle the Wireless-N and Wireless-G needs of older devices alongside tablets and smartphones while the secondary band is dedicated towards higher bandwidth 5GHz AC applications. Finally, the last segment is specially made for dual-bad 5GHz AC streaming devices like NVIDIA’s SHIELD ecosystem and other products that require an extremely fast wireless pipeline to reduce lag.
Since this new router is a 3x3 design, it also makes use of all the features of MIMO including beamforming. This allows for transmission of up to 1300Mbps and reception of an additional 1300Mbps simultaneously via its second 5GHz stream. Technically that would make this an 'AC2600' device, but since it can also do 600Mbps on a 2.4Ghz 802.11N band, it is considered an 'AC3200' unit in a market that is filled with mostly AC1900 competitors.
To handle three separate bands along with the extreme amount of bandwidth on tap the EA9200 uses the latest Broadcom controller suite. This suite of chips consists of a dual core Broadcom BCM4709A0 controller and three off-chip Broadcom BCM43602 processors that have a combined speed of 960Mhz.
With all that said the Linksys EA9200 is one of the few AC3200 routers available right now, but the real world benefits of the new 802.11AC XStream 'standard' is still up for debate. To further help the Linksys EA9200 be as enticing as possible given its relatively untested technology, Linksys has also given their latest router a new improved user interface that promises to be more intuitive than its predecessors. This unique combination of ease of use and bleeding edge performance is what Linksys is counting on to convince consumers of the EA9200's merits. The only thing potential buyers may have to overcome is sticker price shock since $300 for a wireless router will sound extreme to almost everyone.
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