Following Cisco’s premium Linksys E3000 wireless router comes the brand’s new statement model, the Cisco Linksys E4200, promising improved wireless performance and a stylish design.

Like the E3000, the Cisco Linksys E4200 is a wireless router that requires a separate ADSL or cable modem. It connects to the modem through one gigabit WAN network port, and offers four more gigabit ethernet ports for wired devices such as PCs, NAS drives or games consoles.

But it’s the Cisco Linksys E4200’s wireless capabilities that stand out from the crowd.

Dual-band wireless allows simultaneous connection on both regular 2.4GHz and more specialised 5GHz frequency bands. The latter 5GHz wireless is the one with the fastest potential speeds, although in our experiences with such routers the effective range is also severely curtailed.

That’s in part due to the physics of the shorter wavelength radiation, which suffers from more attenuation by household walls and floors.

To help the Cisco Linksys E4200 blend cosmetically better into a modern home, this matt black box has been designed to lie flat (no wall-mount provided), and with no visible antennae – or even the usual roster of landing lights.

A metallic band striping across the centre is the only simple decoration. If Bang & Olufsen designed routers, we’d expect them to look something like this.

Below the top plate the sides, front and bottom are perforated for ventilation, and in use the router remained cool to the touch.

Blinking routers

A full 3x3 MIMO aerial array for each waveband is hidden inside; and instead of blinking tech bling, the only lightshow visible from the front is the Cisco logo, which glows soft white at the front.

And even this can be extinguished from the unit’s web configuration page, along with green and orange activity LEDs alongside each ethernet port at the back.

There's an option for guest users to get online, where visitors can connect to the internet through a special router login webpage, without being granted access to the rest of your local network.

A USB 2.0 port at rear is to connect thumb- or hard drives for shared network storage. There’s no printer connection offered here yet, although a firmware update ‘Summer 2011’ promises to add this feature.

The Cisco Linksys E4200 was launched in the UK in February, but we encountered various bugs that frustrated our testing, ranging from poor wireless performance to an inability to store DNS settings.

But a firmware upgrade to v1.0.02 in June 2011 – which also adds IPv6 – seems to have resolved our issues at least. And from the performance we saw, it was worth the wait.

Lies, damned lies, and router speeds

While wireless router manufacturers will insist on glibly promising 300Mbps performance with wireless-n technology, the Cisco Linksys E4200 is the first router we’ve tried that comes anywhere near close to actually delivering it.

It may be worth pointing out, though, that Cisco has upped the ante by now boasting 450Mbps for the Cisco Linksys E4200. That's a whole new target that is far from getting hit.

In our near-field performance test at 1m distance, and using 2.4GHz wireless, real-world transfer speeds reached 78Mbps.

At 10m distance this fell to around 50Mbps, a typical result and not uncommon for ‘300Mbps’ 11n.

Switching to 5GHz, the close-range performance soared to 226Mbps in the same large-file transfer test.

And even at 10m distance, where the indicated Transmit Rate on our laptop dropped from ‘450’ to ‘243’, we measured a good speed of 92Mbps.

Featuresville

Other features onboard the Cisco Linksys E4200 include UPnP media serving, using a lightweight Twonky Media software server to share audio and video from a connected USB drive.

Don’t expect true NAS speeds from this network storage though; we measured just a few megabyte per second, but it was sufficient to stream SD video without hiccups.

The UPnP port forwarding worked well here, where other routers have failed to open requested ports correctly.

Meanwhile, a security scan showed that with the Cisco Linksys E4200's default stateful packet inspection (SPI) firewall engaged, the first 1056 ports were suitably stealthed to discourage outside intrusions.

Also available are the now-familiar software features such as quality of service (QoS) prioritisation settings, parental control restrictions and VPN passthrough.

Wireless router reviews

We were less enamoured with Cisco’s Connect software, the company’s preferred way for you to setup and access the Cisco Linksys E4200 and its other routers. The software’s EULA is a generic piece of corporate legalese that nevertheless states that Cisco may collect information about you and your use of your router and the Connect software.

To paraphrase Cisco’s privacy policy – to be fair, a not uncommon policy among modern businesses – we won’t harvest your data without telling you we're doing so first, although we might change this policy anytime and it’s up to you to find out if we have.

Thankfully for customers who value privacy, Cisco’s setup software can be readily avoided. The Linksys range has an approachable browser interface that allows any technically competent user to jump straight to manual setup, and thereafter enjoy the manifold tweaks possible for this advanced and powerful product.

NEXT PAGE: The original Macworld US first-look >>

The Cisco Linksys E4200 dual-band wireless gigabit router is a good-looking device that promises speeds of up to 450Mbps.

The Linksys E4200 is like a box of chocolates, but not in the Forrest Gump sense. You actually know exactly what you're going to get: great performance and features. The E4200 looks, literally, like a box of expensive chocolates.

With its smooth, charcoal-grey matt finish, this is possibly the best-looking router in the business. All of the status lights are hidden on the back of the unit next to the WAN and ethernet ports, which heightens the effect.

The Linksys E4200 is easy to set up. Cisco Linksys provides a setup CD that will walk you through the process, or you can get the unit started manually via the normal Linksys HTML configuration page at 192.168.1.1. The interface is easy to use, but some features such as the parental controls and internet access policy could be more intuitive.

As nice as the Linksys E4200 looks, it would all be for nought if the unit didn't perform. Fortunately, this router performs exceedingly well. It's the first 450Mbps wireless router (most high-end, consumer routers offer 300Mbps) to pass through our hands, and the extra wide pipe seemed to work well.

Streaming a 1080p movie to a digital media adaptor while downloading a large 1.85GB file at the same time worked fine. Quite often, something gives in this scenario. Range in our challenging office was about 60 feet, but you'll do much better in a wide open space.

Other than the new look and 450Mbps wireless, the Linksys E4200 is a feature clone of the E3000, another unique-looking Linksys gigabit, Wi-Fi router. You get simultaneous dual-band 2.4- and 5GHz wireless, advanced quality of service (QoS) features, a guest login network, an SPI firewall and Wi-Fi protected setup.

Other features include UPnP media serving of files from USB drives attached to the unit, DMZ, port forwarding, triggered port forwarding and parental controls. The only thing missing from the Linksys E4200 is support for IPv6, which the company says will roll out later this year in a firmware upgrade.

Jon L Jacobi, Macworld US

Next page: Our expert verdict >>

See also:

Wireless router reviews

Netgear WNDR3700 review

Linksys WAG320N review

Linksys E2000 Advanced Wireless N Router review

Cisco Linksys E4200: Specs

  • Dual-band wireless router
  • 4-port gigabit switch
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • six internal antennae, 3 x 3 configuration
  • WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption
  • USB 2.0 port
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneous dual-band radio
  • USB 2.0 port for storage
  • UPnP media server
  • SPI firewall
  • Wi-Fi Protected Setup
  • Dual-band wireless router
  • 4-port gigabit switch
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • six internal antennae, 3 x 3 configuration
  • WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption
  • USB 2.0 port
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneous dual-band radio
  • USB 2.0 port for storage
  • UPnP media server
  • SPI firewall
  • Wi-Fi Protected Setup

OUR VERDICT

The Cisco E4200 is a superbly featured dual-band wireless router with great wired performance from gigabit ethernet, and now fast and extended wireless connectivity too. Right now, it’s the fastest wireless-n router we’ve come across.

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