The Linksys EA8500 Max-Stream AC2600 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router hosts multiple clients with ease, and provides stellar coverage and reliable signals. It’s the first router to feature Qualcomm MU/EFX Wi-Fi technology, allowing a crowded network to perform remarkably. If you add an external hard drive into the mix, it provides the fastest network storage data rate of all routers on the market today.
But it isn’t perfect. The router’s Wi-Fi performance on the 2.4GHz band is less than average, and if you plan on doing a Time Machine backup, the EA8500’s network storage feature just doesn’t support this. It’s also one of the most expensive routers you can buy. But if your home is bursting with devices of mixed Wi-Fi grades or you want to more easily share data among clients or host media for streaming, it’s worth the money.
The Lowdown on the Chip
As previously mentioned, this router comes with Qualcomm’s MU/EFX 802.11AC Wi-Fi chip. It offers Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) technology, which delivers better data rates to more clients at the same time thanks to the way it handles Wi-Fi bandwidth.
The router essentially thinks of each and every Wi-Fi client the same, no matter the Wi-Fi power. Typically, the router wastes energy that could be directed at other clients, but MU-MIMO works differently. Multiple transmissions of different Wi-Fi tiers are simultaneously transmitted to multiple devices, giving them the ability to connect at whatever speed that specific device needs. In order to see it work to its full potential, you’ll need a device that supports MU-MIMO.
Design and Features
The EA8500 brings 1733Mbps on the 5Ghz band and up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core processor, 5112MB DDR3 RAM memory, and 128MB Flash storage. It also features one Gigabit WAN port, four Gigabit LAN ports, a USB 3.0 port, and one USB 2.0/eSATA combo port.
It resembles the EA8350 with its four detachable antennas, but these antennas are longer and bigger. That means better range. There are no indicator lights on the EA8500 except for a power light in the shape of the Linksys logo. It can be wall mounted, but the fact it doesn’t include any mounting screws in the box says it is better used flat on a surface.
Just as with the remainder of Linksys’ Smart Wi-Fi products, the EA8500 uses the same Smart Wi-Fi firmware. These products are a breeze, in terms of both setup and use. It features default settings printed directly on the underside of the router, so you can just plug it in and get using it right away. Just connect the WAN to an internet source and plug in the power cord. For those who just can’t do default, head to the router’s Web Interface to make further customizations.
You’ll notice just how similar to the other Smart Wi-Fi products this router is if you are familiar with them. The interface is exactly the same, as are the features. The Network map is handy and easy to use, and the Media Prioritization feature allows you to set priorities for each client. If you set limits with children in your home in terms of screen time, you are able to set Parental controls for each associated device, as well as schedule times to block the device’s access to the network.
It performs wonderfully -- with one 3x3 client, at 15 feet, it registered speeds exceeding 430Mbps. At 100 feet, it averaged 270Mbps. For multiple clients of different tiers (single, dual, and three-stream) all at once, all clients were connected at their specific max speed. And the speed of each client was just about the same as when only one client was connected, and all took no time at all to connect.
While you might not need the power of this network for your home (many other routers on the market perform well for multiple clients without the high price tag), it’s still a great router. Its efficiency and speed add up to excellent performance. Pick one up for about $280.