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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.

Linksys did send a second EA8500, and it performed very well at close range compared to the Netgear Nighthawk X4 (which Netgear classifies as an AC2350 router), the Asus RT-AC87U and the Linksys E8350 (AC2400 routers), and even the Netgear Nighthawk X6 (an AC3200 model). But the EA8500's performance was positively anemic at longer range.

The easiest way to update a notebook that doesn't have an onboard 802.11ac adapter is to add a USB adapter. I've found the Asus USB-AC56 to be one of the best contenders in that space, so that's what I used for my benchmarks with the AVADirect laptop. The EA8500's performance was decidedly average on this test. 

Performance as an 802.11n router
It's very likely that your home still has a number of devices that can operate only on the 2.4GHz frequency band, so it's important to know how any router can perform with those clients. This frequency can also sometimes deliver better range, although it has a tendency to get crowded.

The EA8500 supports QAM-256 encoding, so it can support a maximum physical link rate of 800Mbps on 2.4GHz channels--as long as the client also supports it. I only measured 2.4GHz performance with Intel adapters, which do not. The EA8500 performed on par at range (when the client was furthest from the router), but it was in the back of the pack at the two closer locations.

It's equally likely that you'll need to network legacy clients on a 5GHz 802.11n network. The EA8500's performance disappointed here, with the notable exception of when the client was in my difficult-to-penetrate home theater. The router finished in first place on this test, although the gaps between first, second, and third place were negligible.

USB storage device performance
Every high-end market on the router is equipped with a USB 3.0 port and at least a USB 2.0 port (the Linksys EA8500 has a USB 2.0/eSATA combo port). This enables you to share a storage device and a printer with all the computers on your network, and it can be a much cheaper alternative to a NAS box.

Most people will care more about storage capacity than speed, but in order to remove the bottleneck that a mechanical drive presents, I've started using an SSD with a USB 3.0 interface to evaluate this aspect of a router's performance.

The EA8500's performance on this score is unparalleled by any router I've tested. I perform four tests in all: I first move a single 10GB file from the SSD on my desktop computer that's hardwired to the router to the SSD connected to the router, and then I move a 10GB collection of small files (MP3s, JPEGs, documents, and the like) from the desktop to the portable hard drive. These are write tests, because the files are being written to the SSD attached to the router.


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