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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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