Ethan Banks Not writing about IT.

Disappointment: Linksys Maximum Performance Dual-Band N900 Router (E4200 v2)

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I’ve owned the Linksys E4200 v2 wireless access point & firewall/router for over a year now. I bought it because primarily because it tested reasonably well for performance when first released, and it had radios for both 2.4 and 5GHz. I have a number of devices that can take advantage of the higher throughput and less crowded 5GHz spectrum, so that was important to me. The rest of the features (like attaching USB storage to turn the E4200 into a NAS) was nice to have, but not driving the buying decision. Also, I’ve owned a bunch of Linksys gear over the years with consistently good luck. I used to believe brand reputation meant something.

For the most part, the AP has been okay. The throughput for things like file transfers between a wireless laptop and my Synology NAS would clip along consistently well. But a couple of other aspects have become so annoying as to make me want to fling the thing into the backyard.

  1. Devices connected to one radio can’t talk to devices on the other. This came up when trying to print. I have a wireless printer that only talks on the 2.4GHz band. I was unable to print from a system that was on the 5GHz band – couldn’t find the printer. As soon as I switched the system to either wired or 2.4GHz, the problem went away. I haven’t researched to find out if this issue is common with dual-band radios, but I can’t think it should be – makes no sense that a dual-band AP wouldn’t be able to bridge between the two radios as a normal function.
  2. Video streaming is painful. I’ve started watching a fair amount of YouTube content in recent weeks, as I’ve discovered quite a lot of useful technical content there. Some of the content I watch really needs to be at 720p or 1080p, because it’s a screen capture of a computer application where you need the HD resolution to read the characters on the screen and follow what’s going on. This device just can’t handle Internet video streaming, especially higher bandwidth streams, when using it as a firewall. My consistent experience through several software versions is that the stream will start, freeze several seconds in, and then buffer/play/freeze/buffer/play/freeze in painful fits and starts. Streaming was almost unwatchable as a result, unless I was very patient.

I’m using the E4200 as a simple AP now. I’ve replaced the firewall function with a standalone firewall, and my video streaming issues have gone away, even on wireless devices still running through the E4200 v2. That’s a real shame, because at the time I bought the E4200 v2, it was one of the priciest consumer grade APs. But not even the “reassuringly expensive” (to quote a friend of mine) price tag of a device is any guarantee of quality. A further disappointment has been that keeping up with firmware (the device is current as of this writing) has made no useful difference whatsoever. Linksys has been focused on dumbing down the interface to make it more consumer friendly, as opposed to adding functionality. Indeed, the interface is shiny now, but it’s nothing I’d inflict on anyone with technical chops.

5 comments

  • The Linksys BU never did sponsor a show, did they?
    :)

    What’s going on with issue #1? Same IP subnet, but no bridging? Crazy! Maybe there’s some multicast/broadcast suppression going on between these radios and it’s killing the mDNS hellos required to “discover” your printer?

    Did you find the firewall-related streaming problems when using wired ports?

    • Assuming mDNS is in use, that’s a plausible theory, but I’m not sure. It’s a Canon printer with unique drivers, and I’ve never sniffed a session to know how close to Bonjour their discovery process might be.

      And yes, wired or wireless, streaming through the E4200 as a firewall was equally painful. I was watching a ScreenFlow tutorial the other day from my wired Mac mini…brutal streaming experience. Today, the same video (and several others I’ve checked) are downloading at 720p and 1080p from YT with no more “fits and starts”.

  • I’m to the point where I’m seriously considering an ASA5505 or similar Juniper device for my firewall “router” and then adding autonomous APs from e-bay. I haven’t been happy with any of the consumer line products for a long time.

  • Interesting about the video playback – it never occurred to me that my Netgear WNR2000v3 doing SPI may be the cause of my 720 and 1080p Youtube issues. I see similar issues pretty frequently. I’m going to try putting a dedicated firewall in place and see if that resolves it for me also.

  • I switched my E3000 from the stock firmware because even with WPS disabled in the settings, it would still do WPS. You’ll probably want to check that with the E4200, too.

    I picked Tomato USB Toastman to get support for both radios.

    Current Linksys models seem poorly supported by alternative firmware. I think if I were to buy an access point right now, it’d be an Asus RT-N66U (and I’d put Toastman on it).

    It’s also a nice bonus that both the E3000 and my older WRT54GL APs now all have the same management interface.

By Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks Not writing about IT.

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