With every new wireless gadget you own, a wireless router becomes increasingly important in the office and at home. The Linksys E4200 by Cisco is the best router we've tested, providing lightning-fast access, extremely intuitive setup, and smart security options. The router can support connections on the 2.4-GHz and 5.0-GHz bands at the same time, and it has an excellent range for both. Our only slight complaint is its $159 price; if you do not need high-end features, less expensive models will suffice, but speed freaks should look no further.
Cisco has strayed far from the light-blue technical design of Linksys' earlier routers. The all-black E4200 is sleek and has a low profile--at 8.9 x 6.3 x 1 inches, it's only about two finger widths tall at the back, where it's the thickest. The top sports a soft-touch black plastic, with a metallic stripe running down the middle. Around the back are four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a USB port to network a hard drive or printer.
Click to enlarge
The included Cisco Connect software could not be easier to install and use. We plugged in the Linksys E4200 router, installed the software, clicked through a few setup screens, and had the router powering our home network in just five minutes.
Security is partly an issue of encryption and passwords, and partly an issue of smart configuration. The Cisco Connect software walks you through complex tasks: enabling WPA/WPA2 encryption to protect your network from intrusion, blocking websites you don't want the kids seeing (you just type in the URL), and viewing connected devices. The software even lets you set up a second, separate network on the 2.4-GHz band to give guests Internet access only. Not long ago, these steps required using a technical setup process by typing the router's IP address. Of course, you can still access the E4200's more advanced features via this method.
Performance and Features
Ease of setup is one thing, but the E4200 is also extremely fast. Using Ixia Chariot to test, we connected with an HP EliteBook 8460p, which uses 3x3 antenna technology from Intel. (Three antennas send and transmit data to the router.) In the same room about 5 feet from the router, the EliteBook connected at 108 Mbps over the 5-GHz band, which is less susceptible to interference. At 50 feet, speeds were nearly as fast. Connection speeds in another room (about 150 feet away) were 88 Mbps, still faster than many other routers. In the more common 2.4-GHz band, the one used by many tablets and smartphones, the connection speed to the HP EliteBook was 80 Mbps in the same room.
These speeds are just numbers until you realize what they mean. We streamed an episode of The Office to the EliteBook at 1080p using Windows Media Player and the quality was outstanding. The more bandwidth you have, the more devices you can use; at one point, we had an Apple iPad 2, a BlackBerry PlayBook, the HP EliteBook, an Xbox 360, and an Apple MacBook all connected, downloading files and streaming audio clips, and the Linksys E4200 kept pumping out fast wireless.
The E4200 also provides a USB port, which we used to connect an Iomega GoFlex 1TB drive. The drive appeared automatically on the HP EliteBook and we copied 500MB of video files in about 2 minutes. Unfortunately, the port does not work for adding a printer or any other USB devices. However, the port does support UPnP AV Media Server, which let us stream video files from the hard drive to our Xbox 360.
The E4200 comes with a one-year hardware limited warranty and 90 days of free customer support.
The Linksys E4200 router is our new Editors' Choice pick for wireless routers. Cisco's device offers the best speeds, easy setup, and a sleek design. Our only issues are the price and total cost of ownership. The router itself costs $159, and in order to take advantage of all the throughput its 3x3 wireless antenna offers, users will need a laptop with the Intel Ultimate-N WiFi Link 5300 or 6300 card, which tend to only be offered in higher-end business notebooks. The TP-Link 450Mbps Dual-Band Router ($130) is more affordable and provides similar speeds, and the Linksys E2500, while not as fast, is a dual-band 2x2 router that costs just $79. But for those who want the fastest throughput with the most user-friendly software and a plethora of features, the E4200 is the reigning champ.