Linksys MAX-STREAM EA7500 Router Review
With high bandwidth 802.11AC enabled wireless mobile devices becoming almost commonplace these days, home users are starting to demand higher performance abilities from their wireless networks. With multiple devices from tablets to phones to notebooks demanding an increasing amount of bandwidth, those networks now need to satisfy some insatiable needs for speed. As a result, router manufactures have moved towards Multi-User Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (‘MU-MIMO’) configurations which combine multiple transmission streams into mega-sized connections that are aimed with a narrow focus at precise locations via advanced Beamforming.
This situation of rapidly expanding needs has had the side-effect of requiring the average router to have more and more processing power on tap. Sadly most first generation (Wave 1) 802.11AC routers are unable to keep up with these increased demands of transmission, reception, and packet collision avoidance. This is why ‘Wave 2’ 802.11AC controller chipsets were created, and why much more robust SoC’s are required for signal processing. On the positive side the new Wave 2 routers promise better speeds, better long range performance, and better overall return on investment, even when comparing more mainstream Wave 2 models to older Wave 1 enthusiast-grade models.
The all new Linksys EA7500 MAX-STREAM router is one such example of the Wave 2 trickle-down effect in action. We actually covered the various options of Linksys’ MAX STREAM lineup back when CES was in full swing. This $200 router not only boasts a cutting edge controller that is much more capable than earlier Linksys routers, but also promises better overall performance. So much so that instead of comparing this newer EA7500 to Linksys’ mid-tier offerings from the previous generation it is compared against the EA9200, a flagship product.
On the surface this 7-series model should be vastly inferior to that 9-series since the EA9200 due to product numbers alone but that hasn’t happened. Instead, the new EA7500 is actually commands a $10 premium over the previous generation’s halo offering yet offers about the same amount of performance. Meanwhile, the new EA9500 and EA8500 slot above both of those products while that 9500 is now considered the true flagship of Linksys’ lineup.
This may seem a tad confusing, but the easiest way to think of the new EA7500 model is that it is not meant to compete directly against the slightly “older” series but instead it will co-exist alongside some of that lineup for now, satisfying the needs for consumers much like the ASUS RT-87U and RT-AC3200 co-exist.
Basically this is because the 7500 uses a different underlying 802.11AC standard than the 9200 series. To be precise that 9-series router use the competing Broadcom XStream technology instead of the more standard MU-MIMO Wave 2 that the EA7500 uses. So while the EA9200 has two 802.11AC 5GHz networks to the EA7500’s one, the EA7500’s focus on serial instead of parallel performance should allow it to at the very least compete with the EA9200 at lower concurrent user depths and may even outperform it in these cases.
In order to create a mainstream router that is capable of competing at such a high level Linksys has opted for a dual core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Atheros IPQ8064 SoC, and a pair Qualcomm QCA9982/3 network controllers. This is actually a more potent combination than some other ‘Wave 2’ routers, as each network uses its own controller instead of having one sharing cycles across both networks. Of course, compared to some next generation routers Linksys has backed off on the RAM and NAND flash. Instead of 512/256 like the ASRock G10, the EA7500 has carried over the 256MB RAM and 128MB NAND that Linksys uses on their EA9200. This may limit performance somewhat but as it is only an AC1300 + G600 configuration this amount should prove to be more than enough.
Mix in USB 3.0 support, Linksys’ latest ‘Smart WiFi’ User Interface and the EA7500 certainly has a lot going for it. The only potential issue is not if this router offers great performance but if it has enough bandwidth on tap to overcome the slightly high asking price. At this price point the EA7500 will be competing not against the typical AC1900 router but against AC2400 class routers like the Asus AC87U. This is indeed a tall order for any AC1900 product, but with such performance potential on tap this new router may indeed do just that.
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