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Linksys EA8500 Max-Stream Wi-Fi router review: MU-MIMO works (more or less)

Michael Brown | May 22, 2015
It's too early in the MU-MIMO life cycle to buy a MU-MIMO router, but the EA8500 makes a fabulous host for a NAS drive.

In most cases, I benchmarked performance at four locations: in the same room as the router, separated by 9 feet; in my kitchen, separated from the router by 20 feet and one insulated interior wall; in my home theater, a room-within-a-room design with double-thick insulated walls (and ceiling) that's 35 feet from the router; and in my home office, which is 65 feet from the router and separated by two insulated interior walls.

Multiple user performance
To determine which technology is best for serving multiple clients simultaneously, I compared the performance of the Linksys EA8500 paired with three MU-MIMO clients to the performance of the Asus RT-AC3200U paired with the same three MU-MIMO clients. For each test, I put one client in the bedroom with the router, the second in the kitchen, and the third in my home office. I paired each of the clients with a separate server and initiated TCP streaming on all three pairs at the same time.

By default, the RT-AC3200U broadcasts a single SSID for all three of its networks and automatically assigns each client to the frequency band and channels it thinks will deliver the best performance. You can override this and configure the router to broadcast three distinct SSIDs, so you can make the assignments yourself.

As you can see from the chart below, the Linksys router outperformed the Asus by a wide margin with the clients in the kitchen and home office, but it performed about the same with the client closest to the router. And that was only when I disabled the RT-AC3200's auto-select feature and configured each of the three Dell clients to use the strongest 5GHz channels (153 plus 149).

When I re-enabled that feature, the RT-AC3200 assigned the closest client to channels 153 plus 149 on the 5GHz band, the client in the kitchen to channels 36 plus 40 on the 5GHz band, and the client farthest from the router to channels 6 plus 10 on the 2.4GHz band. In this scenario the RT-AC3200 significantly outperformed the EA8500, probably because each client had a network all to itself.

MU-MIMO relies in part on beam forming to deliver high throughput to each client, and it breaks down if all the clients are in close proximity. This shouldn't be an issue in normal use, which is why I placed the three Dell laptops in distinctly separate locations for benchmarking. When all three clients were in the same room, one of the three grabbed the lion's share of bandwidth, leaving the other two to starve.

If you want to see the absolute best wireless performance that a router can deliver, configure a second identical router as a wireless bridge. When configured as a wireless bridge, you can use the router's gigabit switch to hardwire four clients to get very high-speed connections to your network. Not every router can be configured this way, and not every manufacturer sends a second router for us to test this way.

 

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