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{multithumb} {mospagebreak toctitle=Introduction, Inside}
Wireless AC Router SMART Wi-Fi Dual Band AC1900
At a glance
ProductLinksys Wireless AC Router SMART Wi-Fi Dual Band AC1900 (EA6900)   [Website]
SummaryBroadcom-based AC1900 class router with Gigabit ports, USB 2.0 & USB 3.0 drive and printer sharing and optional cloud features
Pros• USB 2.0 & 3.0 ports
• High routing throughput
Cons• Guest network for 2.4 GHz only
• Doesn't function as a wireless bridge or support WDS
• Poor 2.4 GHz performance
• USB sharing problems

Typical Price: $105  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

My AC1900 First Look: NETGEAR R7000 & ASUS RT-AC68U has been a popular read since it posted about two weeks ago. Since then, ASUS still hasn't delivered a driver for its PCE-AC68U card that enables TurboQAM and its firmware remains a work in progress. NETGEAR, on the other hand, seems content to stand pat with its first firmware.

I still haven't gotten around to testing the TurboQAM feature of any of these three routers and frankly, I'm in no big hurry to do so for the reasons I described in AC1900: Innovation or 3D Wi-Fi?. I'll probably do a separate article covering all three, once things have settled down and Broadcom and ASUS get their TurboQAM client-side acts together. So, please note this review of Linksys' EA6900 tests it as an AC1750 router.

Linksys has stuck with the basic look of its other EA series routers for the 6900. The main differences are the three external, upgradeable (RP-SMA) dual-band antennas. The Cisco logo has finally been banished, replaced by a bright white Linksys.

Linksys EA6900 front panel callouts

Linksys EA6900 front panel callouts

All link activity lights have been banished to the back panel and integrated into the Ethernet jacks. Unfortunately, this means there are no wireless indicators of any kind. Both USB jacks (2.0 and 3.0) are nestled next to the WAN port. (The one with the blue insert is 3.0; it's not labeled.)

Linksys EA6900 rear panel callouts

Linksys EA6900 rear panel callouts

The EA6900 is designed to sit flat on a table or desk. If you want to hang it in a wall, there are mounting slots on the bottom side. But they are at the left side of the router, so it will hang with all connections pointing right.

There is a user manual posted on the EA6900's support page. It describes the main router admin features using a How To approach. Less experienced users may find this more helpful than the usual describe-the-screenshot "What"-centric approach taken by most router manuals.

One thing you won't find in the user manual is any mention of the SimpleTap easy-connect feature. Since there was no SimpleTap card in the box either, it looks like this feature has been relegated to the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time pile.

Following the trend adopted by many new routers, the EA6900's installation doesn't require running a CD. (Oddly, there is one in the box, but it contains only a user guide that you can download anyway.) All you need to do is plug in your modem cable, power it up and try to hit the internet with a browser. You'll get redirected to a setup wizard that will get you up and running in no time.

Inside

Like NETGEAR and ASUS, Linksys has also temporarily suppressed the inside photos in its FCC filings. So I opened it up after testing to find a design an interesting mix of the NETGEAR's and ASUS designs.

The most notable finding is that the EA6900 uses the Broadcom BCM4708A. This leaves the NETGEAR Nighthawk as the only AC1900 router using the 1 GHz Broadcom BCM4709A. The key components for all three routers are summarized in Table 1 below.

Linksys EA6900 NETGEAR R7000 (Nighthawk) ASUS RT-AC68U
CPU Broadcom BCM4708A Broadcom BCM4709A Broadcom BCM4708A
Switch In BCM4708A in BCM4709A In BCM4708A
RAM 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB
Flash 128 MB 128 MB 128 MB
2.4 GHz Radio - Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Unidentified 2.4 GHz Power Amp marked 397 649e 230(x3)
5 GHz radio - Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE5003L1 5 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE5003L1 5 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- SiGE 5023L 5 GHz Power Amp (x3)
Table 1: Component summary

Here's a look at the top of the EA6900 board with its RF covers removed so you can see the two BCM4360 radios. Both radios have the same outboard Skyworks 2.4 and 5 GHz amplifiers used in the Nighthawk.

Linksys EA6900 board top

Linksys EA6900 board top

All three routers use dual-band external antennas that require combining the two radios' RF before they hit the antennas. But Linksys keeps the two radios completely separated instead of putting them all into a single compartmentalized RF enclosure as ASUS and NETGEAR did.

There are a few more internal photos in the gallery below. The EA6900 has the least amount of heatsinking of the three AC1900 designs.

For easy comparison, here is the NETGEAR Nighthawk gallery

And the ASUS RT-AC68U gallery.


Features

The EA6900's feature set is essentially unchanged from its "SMART" predecessors. Part 1 of the EA6500 review has all the details. Signing up for a SMART Wi-Fi account remains purely optional. You have access to all router admin features via a the "local access" link shown in the screenshot below.

EA6900 admin login

EA6900 admin login

Here's a summary of the EA6900's base feature set. This includes only the set of built-in "Smart Wi-Fi Tools":

Routing / Firewall

  • Static and Dynamic IP, PPPoE and PPTP WAN connections (IPv4)
  • Automatic, 6rd tunnel (IPv6)
  • MTU Adjust on all connection types
  • WAN MAC address clone
  • WAN IP release / renew both IPv4 and IPv6
  • DHCP Server, lease time setting, default domain and primary/secondary DNS
  • DHCP Client list
  • DHCP reservation
  • NAT enable / disable
  • Separate SPI firewall enable / disable for IPv4 and IPv6
  • Single port forwarding with separate source and destination ports
  • Port range forwarding and triggered port range forwarding.
  • IPv6 port range forwarding
  • DMZ Host with source IP restriction
  • UPnP enable/disable
  • DDNS support for Dyndns (www.dyndns.org) and TZO (www.tzodns.com)
  • VPN Passthrough enable/disable for IPSec, PPTP, L2TP
  • Application Layer Gateway enable/disable for SIP
  • Internet filters for multicast, NAT redirection, Ident, anonymous requests (pings)
  • Remote Management with HTTPS option
  • Cut Through Forwarding enable/disable (enabled by default)
  • Static routes

Administration

  • IPv4 ping, Traceroute tools
  • Router reboot
  • Configuration backup / restore
  • Previous firmware restore

QoS

  • Drag and drop prioritization for devices, services and games. High and normal priority levels.

Access / Parental Control

  • Per-device Schedulable internet access control
  • Web domain blocking (not schedulable)

USB features

  • SMB storage sharing
  • Network USB Print server
  • Media server
  • FTP server
  • Share access control by user

Take a quick run through the annotated admin screenshots in the gallery below if you'd like a closer look at the EA6900's configuration features.

Wireless features are somewhat limited compared to competing products. There is no physical wireless on/off switch and no timed wireless enable / disable, but you can shut off each radio in the GUI. There is no transmit power adjust and no support for WDS bridging / repeating or client-based bridge (no WDS required). By using the Internet connection Bridge option, you can easily convert the EA6900 to an access point.

EA6900 wireless settings

EA6900 wireless settings

Table 2 has a summary of the wireless settings for your reference. Note that there is no TurboQAM enable / disable for the 2.4 GHz radio. It is enabled by default.

Setting 2.4 GHz 5 GHz
Channel Auto [default]
1 - 11
Auto [default]
36, 40, 44, 48
149, 153, 157, 161, 165
Channel Width Auto [default]
20 MHz only
Auto
20 MHz only
40 MHz
80 MHz [default]
Network Mode Mixed [default]
Wireless-N only
Wireless-G only
Mixed [default]
Wireless-N only
Wireless-AC only
Security None
WEP (abg modes only)
WPA Personal
WPA Enterprise
WPA2 Personal
WPA2 Enterprise
WPA2/WPA Mixed Personal
WPA2/WPA Mixed Enterprise
Table 2: Wireless settings summary

Storage Performance

Like the NETGEAR and ASUS, the EA6900 has one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0. I had some tough going testing the EA6900. I started by connecting my standard USB drive (Startech USB 3.0 eSATA to SATA Hard Drive Docking Station [SATDOCKU3SEF] with a WD Velociraptor WD3000HLFS 300 GB drive) and was able to run tests fine with the drive formatted NTFS and connected to both the USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports.

But after I removed the drive and formatted it on a Win 7 system for FAT32, the EA6900 refused to mount the drive ever again. No matter how may router reboots, drive reformats, partition deletes and changes between FAT32 and NTFS I did, the drive would not mount. So I had to fall back to using a 500 GB WD My Passport (WDBKXH5000ABK-01). I ran tests with the drive formatted in FAT32 and NTFS and connected to both USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports.

Windows filecopy tests were run using the standard NAS testbed connected to a router Gigabit LAN port and the standard USB drive formatted in FAT32 and NTFS [NAS test details]. Tests were run connected with the USB drive connected to both the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports.

Table 1 summarizes USB 2.0 performance and includes the EA6900's AC1900 competitors. The NETGEAR clearly wins in this comparison.

  Linksys EA6900 NETGEAR R7000 ASUS RT-AC68U
Processor Broadcom BCM4708A Broadcom BCM4709A Broadcom BCM4708A
FAT32 Write (MBytes/s) 14.5 24.8 11.8
FAT32 Read (MBytes/s) 21.0 27.8 24.0
NTFS Write (MBytes/s) 17.2 27.9 23.7
NTFS Read (MBytes/s) 21.2 27.9 24.2
Table 1: File copy throughput - USB 2.0 (MBytes/sec)

Switching to USB 3.0 results, it's clear that the NETGEAR wins again. But comparing the EA6900's USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 results leads me to believe that the router didn't access the drive at USB 3.0 speeds.

  Linksys EA6900 NETGEAR R7000 ASUS RT-AC68U
Processor Broadcom BCM4708A Broadcom BCM4709A Broadcom BCM4708A
FAT32 Write (MBytes/s) 15.6 33.4 11.7*
FAT32 Read (MBytes/s) 22.1 57.4 21.6*
NTFS Write (MBytes/s) 17.4 36.8 23.6*
NTFS Read (MBytes/s) 22.4 57.7 24.3*
Table 2: File copy throughput - USB 3.0 (MBytes/sec)
* = "Reducing USB 3.0 interference" setting enabled

I'm not sure what the problem is, since the EA6900 certainly has sufficiently shielded the USB 3.0 connector. Could be that the USB driver needs some further work.


Routing Performance

Routing throughput was measured using our standard router test process loaded with the router using V1.1.42.155232 firmware. Table 3 summarizes the results and once again includes the NETGEAR R7000 and ASUS RT-AC68U for comparison.

All three routers have plenty of routing throughput for most any of us. So while there are differences in the numbers, routing throughput is a wash. The EA6900's one weakness is that it did not hit the limit of our Simultaneous Connection test. Still, almost 16,000 sessions should be plenty.

Test Description Linksys EA6900 NETGEAR R7000 ASUS RT-AC68U
WAN - LAN 923.6 Mbps 931.4 Mbps 754.5 Mbps
LAN - WAN 844.2 Mbps 941.7 Mbps 824.6 Mbps
Total Simultaneous 1135.1 Mbps 1378.3 Mbps 1226.8 Mbps
Maximum Simultaneous Connections 15,833 38,793 33, 263
Firmware Version V1.1.42.155232 V1.0.1.22_1.0.15 3.0.0.4.374_205
Table 3: Routing throughput

The IxChariot unidirectional composite plot for the EA6900 shows near Gigabit wire-speed throughput in both directions.

Linksys EA6900 routing throughput unidirectional summary

Linksys EA6900 routing throughput unidirectional summary

The EA6900 simultaneous up/downlink benchmark plot shows a slight preference for WAN > LAN before the two directions battle it out for most of the test. The one minute averages show that throughput is pretty evenly divided between up and downlink.

Linksys EA6900 routing throughput bidirectional summary

Linksys EA6900 routing throughput bidirectional summary

Wireless Performance

This product has been retested. See this article for the results.

As noted at the top of this review, I tested wireless performance using our standard wireless test process, which can test only up to AC1750 class routers.

The EA6900 is Wi-Fi Certified for 802.11a,b,g,n and ac. It defaulted to Auto channel mode on both 2.4 and 5 GHz radios upon power-up. The 2.4 GHz radio defaulted to Auto (20/40 MHz) Channel width, while the 5 GHz radio defaulted to 80 MHz. The router comes with the same 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs set, so you'll need to change at least one if you want your clients to be able to select the band they connect to.

WPS appeared to be enabled on the 2.4 GHz band only.That's where the Win 7 test client connected when both SSIDs were the same and a WPS pushbutton test completed with a WPA2/AES connection. After logging into the router and changing the SSIDs to different values, I found that I could get a WPS pushbutton session prompt only on the 2.4 GHz radio.

I then ran 40 MHz Coexistence and Fat channel intolerant tests, which both passed. Setting the Fat Channel intolerant bit caused the router to immediately fall back to 20 MHz rates. But it did not resume using 40 MHz bandwidth when I cleared the bit on the test client. Moving the router to Channel 8 with another network on Channel 11 for the 40 MHz coexistence test also caused the EA6900 to immediately stop using a 40 MHz channel width. When I moved the EA6900's channel back down to 6, it switched right back to using the wider channel.

For throughput testing, the router was first reset to factory defaults and Channel 6 was set for 2.4 GHz and Channel 153 for 5 GHz. 20 MHz bandwidth mode was set for 2.4 GHz and 80 MHz mode was set for 5 GHz. The test client was connected using WPA2/AES encryption.

The router's antennas were positioned 8" from the chamber antennas in the 0° and 180° test positions. Because of the EA6900's width and the tight quarters in the test chamber, the closest antenna in the 90° and 270° positions was more like 6 to 7 inches from the chamber antennas. The 0° position for the router had the front facing the chamber antennas.

The EA6900's Benchmark Summary below shows the average of throughput measurements made in all test locations. Filtering the Router Charts to show only AC1900 and AC1750 class routers has the EA6900 ranking in the bottom third of the chart with its 78 Mbps 2.4 GHz average downlink throughput. Compare this to 96 Mbps for the best router for this benchmark, the NETGEAR R7000.

The EA6900 moves up a few spots in the ranking for 2.4 GHz average uplink even though the 78 Mbps average is the same as downlink and the best router's throughput—this time the ASUS RT-AC66U—is 95 Mbps.

NETGEAR R7000 Benchmark Summary

NETGEAR R7000 Benchmark Summary

The EA6900 fares better when comparing Average 5 GHz results. Its 261 Mbps downlink average earns it top-rank among all AC1900 and AC1750 routers tested so far. But its 219 Mbps average uplink puts it below the other two AC1900 routers, but above all AC1750's.


Wireless Performance - more

I always use the profile plots for more meaningful wireless performance comparison and pulled in the NETGEAR R7000 and ASUS RT-AC68U for an AC1900 router party.

The 2.4 GHz downlink profile shows why the EA6900 earned its lower ranking for this benchmark. It starts with a pronounced dip in the 6 to 12 dB attenuation range. But its more significant problem is its earlier throughput falloff.

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

The 2.4 GHz uplink plot once again shows the ASUS' seriously low throughput. But it also shows the EA6900's throughput falling off much earlier than it should. The takeaway from this is that the EA6900's 2.4 GHz range performance isn't as good its competitors'.

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

2.4 GHz Uplink Throughput vs. Attenuation

I'll cut to the chase for the 5 GHz profiles instead of providing the usual blow-by-blow analysis.

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

5 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

While there are differences among the three products, it's more likely that you wouldn't notice a significant 5 GHz performance different in either throughput or range among the three. Especially as signal levels fall, they are as alike as three routers could be.

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

5 GHz Uplink Throughput vs. Attenuation

AC1750 Comparison

The AC1900 First Look found that the R7000 and RT-AC68U both provided a slight 5 GHz performance improvement over the top AC1750 router (ASUS' RT-AC66U) and NETGEAR's AC1750 R6300. So I ran a quick comparison against the two again to see how the EA6900 fared.

The downlink comparison shows the EA6900 besting both products by a healthy margin, especially the R6300.

EA6900 5 GHz Performance Comparison vs. NETGEAR R6300 & ASUS RT-AC66U

EA6900 5 GHz Performance Comparison vs. NETGEAR R6300 & ASUS RT-AC66U

For 5 GHz uplink, the EA6900 again spanks the R6300, but has only a relatively narrow performance margin over the ASUS. Remember, to achieve any of these high throughputs, you need an another AC1750 router in bridge mode or ASUS' PCE-AC66U or PCE-AC68U PCIe adapter.

Closing Thoughts

The EA6900 ties for a #2 rank with the ASUS RT-AC68U among the three AC1900 routers ranked. The ranker detail shows the EA6900's main weaknesses are vis-a-vis the other two products are routing throughput and 2.4 GHz range. Of these, I'd say 2.4 GHz range is the most significant, since 800+ Mbps of routing throughput shouldn't hold many of us back.

EA6900 Ranker Performance Summary

EA6900 Ranker Performance Summary

Although not included in the ranking score, USB sharing throughput isn't exactly a product high point either and needs work. And Linksys engineers may need to check compatibility against different USB 3.0 chipsets (specifically the JMicron JMS551 USB 3.0 to dual SATA 3G bridge used in the Startech dock I use) while they are at it.

But it's still waaay too early to buy any AC1900 router anyway. Especially if the main reason you're opening your wallet is to try to get a 600 Mbps link rate in 2.4 GHz. Drivers are not yet stable, there is only one (desktop) client capable of producing this link rate and it doesn't yet have a driver that enables it to do so. If you need more convincing, read this commentary.

But early-adopter lust is seldom logical (what lust is?). So if you simply must have an AC1900 router for whatever your reason, I have to say that NETGEAR's R7000 is the way to go right now.