Cisco Linksys X3000
We're on the hunt for the best domestic router we can find. Why? Because routers play a huge part in your home these days, and too many of them are utter rubbish.
Cisco is one of the biggest names in networking hardware, and its name carries a gravitas that not many other consumer network brands have. That's almost certainly why it's slowly but surely phasing out the Linksys brand after buying the company some nine years ago.
But even so, these routers have little to do with Cisco hardware. They don't have the same complexity - that's a good thing - but they also don't offer the same quality and that's a price thing.
But is the X3000 the perfect router for your home?
The X3000 is certainly a sleek and pretty little thing. It's easily one of the smallest routers you can lay your hands on in the domestic market. On the front, there are lights that indicate what machines on your network are on, connected and using data. There's also a WPS security button, for adding devices in a hassle-free way.
At the back, you'll find the usual ports. There are four gigabit Ethernet sockets here, which is great news. Sadly, although most computers support Gigabit, it's all too easy to get routers which don't.
There is also a DSL socket, which is designed to connect straight to your phone line if you're an ADSL subscriber. But if you're a cable subscriber, then you'll be using the socket marked "Ethernet" next to it, to connect to your cable company's hardware. We're using a Virgin Media single port cable modem, so the Linksys takes that signal and distributes it to our other computers, either wirelessly, or via the aforementioned Ethernet ports.
There is also a USB port here, which can be connected to a hard drive or memory stick, to act as a sort of mini fileserver, or NAS.
It's quite interesting that, despite being a Wi-Fi router, there are no external antennas on the X3000. This helps it look amazing, but makes us wonder if there will be any negative effect on the wireless abilities.
Routers can be a pain to set up. You only need look at a proper bit of Cisco kit, the qualifications needed to operate it, and the salary you can earn from so doing to see that. Happily, the X3000 is aimed at normal people like us, so there are no great challenges.
Like all routers, there is a webpage configuration system that allows you to make various configuration changes. Depending on your network, you may need to get in here and make some changes, but many will be able to plug it in and go. ADSL subscribers may need to enter their username and password here, depending on what broadband provider they use.
The configuration options are simple, but like so many routers we've seen, it's a bit slow and ponderous to navigate, and we can rarely work out where the option we're looking for is located.
If you're mainly a wireless user, then use the WPS function, which allows you to get devices on the network without remembering a password. Just hit the WPS button on the front of the router, and sign on with whichever device you want online. It's all automatic, and very easy.
Our network is also a little more complex than most and we prefer to run it in the 192.168.0.X range. The X3000 comes set up for the 192.168.1.X instead, hardly a disaster, but if you're slotting it in to an existing network, it does mean you'll need to change that, and this is often where things can go wrong. If, for example, you turn off the DHCP server, there's a chance you won't be able to re-connect to the router. We did this, and although it's annoying, there's a reset switch that can get you back to the defaults.
Aside from that, setup is really no great trauma.
One extra we like is the ability to use the USB socket to host a hard drive or USB stick. Files on these devices can then be shared out on your network. This gives you a sort of simple NAS system for little or no extra cost. It won't set the file storage world on fire, but for simple things it can be helpful.
We don't have ADSL, so, unfortunately we can't tell you about how the router performs on lines that use that technology. The beauty of the X3000, however, is that it can be used in addition to the router your ISP provides. So you may buy it to add to, rather than replace the hardware you already have.
Copying files using the Gigagbit connection was very impressive. Normal transfers to our 100mbps network max-out at around 7-10MB/s. Moving data around the Gigabit network, we were seeing speeds that were four to five times faster. If you move a lot of large video files around, this is really very useful indeed.
In the time we used it, the Cisco never had any significant problems. We didn't have any lock-ups or freezes and it didn't need to be restarted at all. We'd expect this, but having been burnt by a D-Link that needed daily restarts, we're not keen to revisit that type of networking.
We have encountered one problem, and it's serious enough to give us concern. Since swapping out our DD-WRT router for this Cisco, we've had a lot of problems with Plex streaming video from our desktop to a laptop. Getting the computers to talk to each other seemed to take a long time - more than five minutes - and even when they were talking, we couldn't get our previously fine Android app to find the player (our laptop). This is hardly likely to affect most people, but a hunt around the internet does show some other reports of trouble with this router "seeing" various devices on your network. If you're an advanced user, it's an issue to be mindful of.
And, the built-in, invisible Wi-Fi antennas might be good for style, but they do have a massive impact on the quality of the wireless signal. Since testing the X3000, we've moved on to another router from TP-Link that has three large external antennas. It's an ugly beast in that regard, but we're seeing much better wireless performance than with the X3000.
None of this render the Cisco unusable, but it does make us question the value of paying for this, over one of the other types of routers on the market.
Oh, and the Cisco can't take DD-WRT either, and for us, having the ability to swap the OS for something with more options and great functionality is worth its weight in gold.
For undemanding users who want something fast at a sensible price, we think the Cisco Linksys X3000 will be a bit of a hit. It's a simple enough router to set up, seems to have very good reliability. It also looks very good, and has a small footprint, especially if you nail it to a wall.
The problems allowing traffic around, and the Wi-Fi signal mean we're not utterly in love with this. But undemanding users in small houses won't have problems.