The Linksys E4200 is a high-end wireless router that's aimed at home users who not only want a well-featured router, but also one with reasonably good looks. It has a Gigabit Ethernet switch, simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi, a USB port, and is quite easy to set up. Some of its features are a hassle to use though, such as the parental and Internet filter features, but overall it's a very good product.
The E4200 is similar in functionality to the Linksys E3000 wireless router, but it has a differently-styled body. In particular, it doesn't have the rear 'wing' of the E3000, and it lacks status lights and a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button. The only thing that lights up is the Cisco logo at the top of the unit and it's a nice white light instead of a very bright blue. The bottom of the E4200 is flat and there aren't any points on it for wall-mounting. It has been designed with the living room in mind — Linksys wants you to install this router near your home theatre equipment.
On the inside, the E4200 has similar guts to the E3000: 3x3 antennas and MIMO technology, support for simultaneous dual-band wireless networking, a Gigabit Ethernet switch and a USB storage port. It is a router, so like all such devices you'll have to use your ISP-supplied ADSL2+ or cable modem in conjunction, to hook it up to the Internet. One difference from most current routers is that the E4200 is claimed to support a faster 802.11n speed - up to 450 megabits per second (typical 802.11n speed using dual-channel is 300Mbps).
Ports at the rear of the E4200 router.
Our tests were conducted using a high-end USB 2.0 dongle from the same brand, the Linksys WUSB600N. The chart below shows data transfer rates seen while running wireless file transfer tests from 2 metres and 10 metres away.
From these results we can see that the overall speed of the Linksys E4200 wasn't excellent in our test environment, it didn't actually perform faster than the Linksys E3000. Perhaps further optimization may be needed on the wireless-client side, to obtain faster speeds than is seen on 300Mbps routers.
That said, it still worked fine when streaming HD video up to 10m away, and most importantly, we didn't have any issues with the router's reliability during our tests - it stayed up for the duration of our test period. Our distance test produced a slightly better result than the E3000, as we received a usable wireless signal almost 40m away from the router. However, the distance and speed will vary in your environment depending on the obstacles that are present.
Set-up and ease of use
Performance aside, setting up the E4200 is quite easy and even networking novices should be able to do it. The accompanying setup CD features Cisco Connect software that runs you through the installation procedure. It allows you to follow instructions on all the hardware connections that need to be made, and then it proceeds to ask you for your ISP log-in details and wireless network settings.
The entire setup process takes around five minutes, so if you know what you're doing then you are better off just logging into the router's Web administration page to set it up instead of using Cisco Connect. The setup software that ships with the Linksys E4200 is more user friendly than the software that ships with the entry-level Linksys E1000 router - it doesn't lock you out of the Web administration page if you use it. This means you can perform advanced router configuration tasks even you opt to use the CD to set it up.
By default, the Cisco Connect software gives the wireless network a randomized creative name - ours was BronzeBear - and an alphanumeric password. You'll want to change these so that you can remember them when configuring the wireless devices on your network, and also for logging in to the router's Web interface. It has a very quick interface - changes to the wireless network settings, for example, are made almost instantly.
The Web interface has the same layout as previous Linksys routers, and while it's easy to set up most features, such as the ISP details, wireless networking and port-forwarding, its Parental Controls and Internet Access Policy features are a little confusing. We think a simpler approach to blocking URLs should be implemented, and that keyword filtering should also be supported (it's not).
USB storage support
The USB port at the rear of the router allows the E4200 to turn a typical external USB-based hard drive into a network drive. It's a feature that appears on most high-end consumer routers and the Linksys implementation isn't too bad. Drives that are plugged in to this port can be browsed through the network (we used a Windows 7 environment) and files can be copied to and from the disk. Anonymous access is enabled by default, which facilitates reading and writing, but this can be disabled from the 'Administration' tab in the 'Storage' section of the Web interface. This tab also allows you to create new users and groups so that you can control who has access to the drive and specific folders.
The router supports UPnP, so it can be used to supply content to media streamers and it will also show up as a media server in Windows Media Player.
However, the transfer rate from attached hard drives is sluggish (we used a WD MyBook 3.0 for our tests). It's especially slow over the wireless network - we measured it at 3.2 MBps. This means streaming HD content to wireless devices (using either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands) wasn't smooth in our tests as files started stuttering after a few seconds. Standard definition files played smoothly.
Using a wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, we were able to transfer files from the attached hard drive at 7.1MBps, which is better, but still slower than we expected. Even so, it allowed us to stream HD files without any stuttering. If you want to use an attached USB drive to stream videos, then we recommend you use Ethernet where possible, or restrict yourself to only streaming standard definition videos. Multiple users can access the drive simultaneously, which is convenient, but if multiple users are accessing large files at the same time, things will slow down dramatically.
Despite displaying slower wireless and USB performance than we expected in our tests, the E4200 is still a good router that's easy to set up. We like its simultaneous dual-band functionality and its USB storage port works well in a wired network environment.
The Linksys E4200 has good looks and good functions. We like its ability to run 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks simultaneously, and also how it can turn a regular USB drive into a network-attached storage device. However, it was a little slower than expected in our wireless transfer tests.