Linksys EA6900 Smart Wi-Fi Wireless AC Router AC1900 review

Routers are boring aren't they? However a speedy internet is a lot of fun. So changing your router to something faster than the default one that comes with your broadband package might just give you a welcome speed boost.

Which is exactly what we've done. The Linksys EA6900 Smart Wi-Fi Wireless AC Router AC1900 - a mouthful of a name, we know - has been plugged in to give us that step up in the wireless world. With 802.11ac on board for faster speeds, has it really is just been a case of plugging in to give your broadband a new least of life?

Design

Design-wise the EA6900 is just a box, really, and one that you'll probably do your best to hide. What it looks like is kind of by-the-by because of that. Although it's not overly ugly unit, complete with a black and silver design that is smart, if not business looking. This isn't an object de art, nor something to want to show off.

The business end of this box is the rear, with three large directional aerials that stick out the back - they're screwed in by hand after you take it out of the box - alongside four Gigabit Ethernet ports. We are sure where and how you point the aerials will make a difference, but we couldn't tell and we doubt that you will either. Unless you're some kind of whizz.

There are also two USB sockets that allow you to connect hard drives to the router to be shared on the network. Everything is clearly labelled and easy enough to understand.

Setup

The Linksys EA6900 Smart Wi-Fi Wireless AC Router AC1900 doesn't come with a modem so you'll still have to use the router that came with your broadband connection, and simply turn off its wireless connection. From a usability point of view that will mean you've got two boxes to contend with, but the promise in enhanced capabilities is more than worth the effort.

Once connected to your modem and powered on, it's a case of pointing a browser at the setup system and away you go. There is no software to install and it's all very straightforward in terms of walking you through the process.

There is the option to sign up get a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account, but you don't need to for the router to get up and running. However, it is recommended if you want to manage your router via an Android or iPhone app, or a different computer/network.

Network options

The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi system comes with a number of different options, again all without you having to see a DCHP protocol or a MAC address. It cuts the jargon out.

Via the browser and app interfaces you can monitor which devices are connected to the network, create and control guest access, manage parental controls, work our which devices or apps get media prioritisation, manage your USB storage, and even do a speed test.

The Device List is interesting to see what you've got connected to your network - you'll be surprised by how many devices are all vying for your internet connection.



Guest Access means you can give people that visit access to your internet connection, but not your devices/storage connected to it. If you are feeling really stingy, you can even limit the number of guests that can log on at one time from 50 to 5. Different password protection compared to your main network keeps everything secure.

Parental Controls do exactly what they say. They options are really simple to understand, but incredibly effective. We especially like that you can restrict internet access to a specific device and even go one step further by blocking internet access at specific times - handy for stopping the kids using their computer when they should be in bed. However, you can't go as far as blocking specific people at specific times.

Media Prioritization is exactly what it sounds like and lets you say you want certain apps, games, or certain devices to have priority over your networks wireless signal.

If that means you want to give your smartphone priority over your partner's laptop you can do, or Spotify precedence over Skype, then that's no problem either. Again it's hard to determine whether it makes a difference in our true-life testing, but we certainly approve of the idea.

A USB 2 and one USB 3 socket mean you can connect a large drive to your network to share music, photos, videos and other files, and then access the content from a remote computer that has access to the internet. Great for streaming media and the like.

Speed

Once setup and running we genuinely felt a noticeable speed improvement when browsing using devices on our network. Not only that there was an improvement to range too - useful when working at home and wanting to escape to a spare room.

We tested the router with a number of 802.11ac and 802.11n devices ranging from the new iPads to an Asus Transformer P1801 and everything felt quick irrelevant of operating system.

READ: What is 802.11ac Wi-Fi?

Rather than run specific benchmarks that rarely mean much to anyone, we tested to see how long it would take to download 500MB from the internet. For parity we downloaded a 503Mb update from Adobe via the standard Sky Broadband router (shipped with the Sky Broadband package) and then again with the Linksys. We used the same line in both cases and according to Linksys and its Speed Test feature we have a 6MB/s connection via out ADSL line. 

In our ad-hoc test the Sky router downloaded the file to a MacBook Air (2013) in 12 minutes 12 seconds, the Linksys EA9600 in 11 minutes 45 seconds. We sat in the same place equal distance away from the routers without obstruction. Might not sound huge, but you may experience a greater increase than that, while larger files again will start to save you valuable minutes of download time.

We also tested the network speed around the house starting with a direct line of site to the router, before moving to different rooms around our Victorian redbrick house. Again, the achieved speeds are very good.

Verdict

As we said at the beginning routers are boring, but they're also hugely important. And the faster things work, the quicker all those streamed files, large downloads, software updates, fitness data uploads, gadget orders and general browsing can happen. That's where the joy lies in it all.

Most people will be happy with the dedicated router that they've been given with their broadband package, but those looking for extra speed, range and features will enjoy what the Linksys EA6900 Smart Wi-Fi Wireless AC Router AC1900 delivers. We're particularly keen on the ability to control access by device and time.

All in all, a very good router that can make all the difference.