Cisco Linksys EA4500 review

Cisco Linksys EA4500 review

Summary: With its novel cloud-based configuration and app platform, Cisco's EA4500 is an interesting experiment, but the hardware itself fails to excite.

SHARE:
  • Editors' rating:
    7.0
  • User rating:
    6.3
  • RRP:
    £133.33

Pros

  • Simple setup
  • Compact and stylish design
  • Easy remote configuration from any browser
  • Third-party apps can add extra functionality
  • Good range
  • Guest network
  • Dual-radio, three-stream MIMO

Cons

  • Setup wizard assumes a wireless connection
  • Limited configuration options when no web connection
  • Single USB port
  • Lacklustre maximum throughput

The usability of routers has always left plenty to be desired. With interfaces seemingly designed by engineers on a tight deadline, they frequently assume a high level of technical expertise. There have been a few attempts to introduce more user-friendly graphical interfaces, but none have gone quite as far as Cisco's latest offering.

Cisco Connect Cloud makes its debut in the new EA4500 dual-band 802.11n router, and comprises a graphical user interface with a cloud-based component to give remote access features. The novelty is that Cisco has made an SDK available to third-party app developers via the Linksys Developer Community, allowing the creation of apps that integrate with what Cisco is calling its 'Smart Wi-Fi App Enabled Routers'. Apps to control devices like NAS appliances are nothing new, but these are usually in-house products.

At launch, six commercial apps were announced for iOS and/or Android devices — a full list is available on Cisco's website. These include the web filtering and blocking tools Netproofer and Block the Bad Stuff, streaming media players Hipplay and Twonky Video, Device Monitoring and the Gemini IP camera monitoring utility. Not all of these apps were available at the time of writing, but there is a free Cisco Connect Cloud app for iOS and Android that allows access to a few router settings such as guest access and parental controls.

Cisco EA4500
Cisco's dual-band 802.11n EA4500 has 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports and an RJ-45 WAN port, plus a USB 2.0 for storage or printer sharing.

The router itself is nothing out of the ordinary, sharing an identical chassis and very similar innards to the existing E4200 v2 model. It has three-stream MIMO (450Mbps) capability on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, courtesy of twin Marvell 88W8366/88W8063 transceivers. The six internal antennas are a folded metal design arranged around three sides, and the sleek grey and silver case dispenses with any status lights apart from those on the four Gigabit Ethernet LAN and single WAN ports (there is no ADSL version). There's also a white-illuminated Cisco logo showing power status.

Cisco EA4500
Inside the EA4500 you'll find two Marvell transceivers (2.4GHz and 5GHz), plus six internal antennas.

A USB 2.0 port completes the I/O features; this can be used for sharing either storage or printers, but 3G dongles are not supported. For printer and multifunction device sharing, a simple USB-over-IP utility is provided for client PCs.

Setup is via a CD-based wizard, and is a simple process apart from the fact that it's intended to be used over a wireless connection. We tried it over wired Ethernet and (after upgrading the firmware to the latest version) it worked, although the instructions in the wizard make no reference to wired connections. The wizard optionally allows the SSID and encryption keys to be changed, along with the router admin password and network name.

Cisco Connect Cloud
Once you've created and logged into a Cisco Connect Cloud account, your router and its settings are accessible from anyhwere with a browser and an internet connection.

 The admin interface is accessed by logging in at www.ciscoconnectcloud.com and creating a free account. The full service requires a web connection — if this is down, you can login locally using the router admin password, but only basic WAN and LAN settings can be modified. If the internet is OK, the router is associated with the Cisco Connect Cloud account, and all settings are then accessible via the local LAN or remotely from any browser. It's a somewhat clumsy system — reverting to a standard fully-featured text-based menu in the absence of a web connection might have made more sense. (Cisco has responded to early customer complaints on this issue, and does allow a firmware downgrade to a traditional interface, bypassing Cisco Cloud Connect altogether).

Cisco Connect Cloud
The Connect Cloud interface is more user-friendly than your average router's web-based management console.

The interface is fairly intuitive, if a little slow and unresponsive, with configurable widgets showing the status of various settings arranged to the right of a list of categories. The top six categories are labelled 'apps', with router settings below these. It seems an odd distinction, but any setting in the app section is only accessible when there's a working web connection. These built-in apps provide parental controls, USB storage settings, LAN client management, Wi-Fi guest access, media prioritisation (QoS) and an internet speed test applet. Third-party apps do not appear on this list, however.

There are plenty of advanced settings tucked away in the various LAN and WAN settings menus, such as port forwarding, DMZ, MAC filters and so on, so experienced users need not despair of too much dumbing down. The DLNA media server and file sharing (via SMB or FTP, but not HTTP) are configured in the USB Storage app, but confusingly printers are added via the Device List. All remote access features can be disabled if needed without affecting local configuration options, but third-party apps may be affected as these hook into the cloud-based service, not the local network.

Performance was a very mixed bag. Using our standard setup of a notebook with an Intel Ultimate Wi-Fi Link 5300 and Passmark Performance Test 7, at 1m range on the 2.4GHz band (auto 20/40MHz setting) it delivered a distinctly average 44Mbps. However, at 25m it showed impressive stamina, maintaining around 26Mbps with no trouble. At 5GHz (with 40MHz-only channels configured) it improved to 57Mbps at 1m but dropped marginally to 23Mbps at 25m. These are good long-range results, but they don't really compensate for the unexceptional close-range performance.

Although we applaud the attempt to simplify configuration, other router manufacturers are already heading down similar paths. The app platform may be unique, but its success depends very much on enticing good developers to produce appealing apps. As a showcase for this new platform, the EA4500 is fine, with good usability and a solid, if unexciting, feature set. But its wireless performance is disappointing, and some fine tuning of the setup and configuration procedures is still needed.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 22.5 x 2.5 x 16 cm
Manufacturer's specification http://homestore.cisco.co.uk/store/ciscoeu/en_GB/pd/productID.247844300
Form factor desktop/wall mounted
LAN
LAN standards 10Base-T, 100Base-T, 1000Base-T
DHCP server yes
LAN ports 4
WAN
WAN ports RJ-45 (Ethernet)
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Wireless security WEP, WPA, WPA2
WEP key length 64, 128 bits
Antenna type internal
Number of antennas 6
Management
Web-based management yes
Management software Cisco Cloud Connect + third-party apps
Security
Security features NAT
Power
Power source AC adapter
Power switch yes
Connections
USB 1 x USB 2.0
Miscellaneous
Package contents router, quick-start guide, CD (software & resources), Ethernet cable, AC adapter
Other features USB 2.0 storage sharing (1 port), printer/multifunction device sharing, DLNA media server, guest Wi-Fi access, WPS
Expand

Prices

There are currently no prices available for this product.

Topics: Networking, Cisco, Hardware, Reviews

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

9 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Cisco Linksys

    6.0

    Wow! I like the service too much.
    http://www.sky2c.com/
    alishaneuron
    • Fast performance with some advanced features sets this router apart

      9.0

      If there was an award for 'best looking router' then the Linksys EA4500 Dual-Band N900 router would definitely win it! With its awesome sleek design and glowing 'Cisco' logo, this piece of kit would look good in any living room.

      The router itself has 4 gigabit LAN ports at the back and a USB port for hosting external hard disks or a printer. Being dual band it offers Wi-Fi connections at both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, and I found wireless throughput to be excellent, particularly on the 5Ghz band. I couldn't measure the actual Mbps I was getting but tasks such as streaming movies over wireless were stutter-free and very smooth. Additionally I was getting vastly improved wireless coverage, with a strong wireless signal in every room in the house, a big improvement over my previous router.

      One of the most unique features of this router is administration via the Cisco Connect Cloud. Instead of setting up the router via a browser, as is the norm with home routers, the Linksys EA4500 connects to the Cisco Connect Cloud, allowing administration of the router remotely via the internet. This extends to even be able to administer the router on your iPhone using a range of 3rd party apps that are now available, pretty impressive!

      The downside to using the Cisco Connect Cloud is that you must create an account with Cisco, and the router must be permanently connected to Cisco, so some people may not be over keen on this from a privacy point of view.

      The Cisco Connect Cloud web interface is very easy to use and makes the router's advanced features very straightforward to setup, including Media Prioritization, Guest Access and Parental Controls. Media Prioritization in particular is a great feature, allowing certain devices or services to be given priority so that they get the best bandwidth possible.

      The Linksys EA4500 Dual-Band N900 router is a feature-packed router that includes many advanced features thanks to the unique Cisco Connect Cloud web interface. With superb performance and Wi-Fi coverage thanks to dual band, plus excellent aesthetics, this router is highly recommended.

      P.S., for best deal of the Linksys EA4500, you can check at my blog: Wirelessn-routers.blogspot.com/p/linksys-ea4500.html

      Hope I helpful
      NJHancock
  • This use of www.ciscoconnectcloud.com is a privacy flag.

    2.0

    Would never use this sort of device that records the internal router settings. Shame on Cisco.
    droidfromsd
    • Sad to See The Slow Destruction of Linksys

      Having owned many, many Linksys Routers over the years. Cisco has managed to make me look at other options for the first time with the introduction of Cloud Connect. Hello Cisco!,this is NOT an innovation, something new or something you should be forcing on users! We already access many cloud services using your router and do not need another "Johnny-come-lately" lame cloud service. Will delay upgrading until Cisco drops this stupid forced "feature" or make a change.
      LarryBrad
  • I own it

    7.0

    I was pissed when they pushed out their sneaky little firmware update so I rolled back to the original firmware and haven't had any issues. The Cisco Connect Cloud isn't necessary for the vast majority of the people that come to ZDNET. Like me they probably just setup their own and configure it like they want it to be. I made the mistake of having the auto firmware update checked and was quite shocked what they did to MY router. I was trying to make a quick change only to find out I had to go through all the BS to setup a new account just to make one change to my list of hardware allowed to connect.
    hopp64
  • Cloud Connect is apparently optional, now, for EA4500 users.

    6.0

    At least, according to Cisco's website, it is.

    http://www6.nohold.net/Cisco2/ukp.aspx?pid=80&login=1&app=search&vw=1&articleid=25856&donelr=1
    Moeity
    • Ah, shoulda read the fine print...

      6.0

      It's a rollback. Nvrmnd.
      Moeity
  • Think it's great!

    9.0

    I own one and Kudos to Linksys. A router with original interface and some really interesting apps. It's not only fast but it will be interesting to see what other apps come along in the future!
    tdawgburgh
  • Need to fix two problems after upgrade to Cisco Connect Cloud firmware

    5.0

    1. Unable to connect with 802.11n (need to enable WMM youself)
    Many wireless products (e.g. intel adapters and apple devices) require WMM to be enabled in order for them to be able to use the 802.11n standard. However, the Ciso Connect Cloud firmware update disabled WMM by default and thus make all my 11n devices unable to connect using 11n, but dropped to 11g. Before the firmware update, I was able to connect all my wireless device with 11n standard.

    2. Bandwidth Limitation Applied Unexpectedly
    The Cisco connect cloud upgrade also applied bandwidth limit to all my devices even though I have not enabled Media Priorization function. My 100Mbps internet connect became 60Mbps download and 0.9Mbps upload only. YES, it was only 0.9Mbps upload. After I enabled the media priorization function and set both download and upload speed for my PC to 100Mbps, I can get back all my internet bandwidth -- download around 95Mbps and upload around 85Mbps. Then, I disable media priorization function, the speed is no longer limited any more.

    The initial setting of the Cisco Connect Cloud firmwire upgrade caused serious problems to me. I don't think many general customers will not be able to fix those problems themselves and just return the linksys EA4500 to the shop.
    Stephen S L Ho