The Linksys E3000 is similar to the recently reviewed and ultra-easy-to-use Cisco Valet Plus; though it lacks the Easy Setup Key, it adds support for true dual-band and network storage capability. The router comes with Cisco Connect software (on a CD) that does the setup and connecting work for nonsavvy users. Advanced users also can use its responsive Web interface to take advantage of other features, which includes some NAS functionality.
On the whole, the E3000 performed well in our tests, though its network storage feature was quite slow when compared with dedicated NAS servers. But if you are looking for a high-performance router with long range and plan on buying a separate NAS server, the Linksys E3000 is an excellent replacement for the similarly configured Linksys WRT610N. It should have a street price of around $150.
Design and ease of use
With its aesthetically pleasing, sleek, plate-shaped chassis, the Linksys E3000 shares the same profile as the previous model Linksys WRT610N. All of its antennas are hidden within the chassis, making it more compact than other routers of the same footprint. The flat E3000 stays grounded on any surface and it's also wall-mountable.
The router comes with 4 LAN ports and one WAN port on the back. All are Gigabit-capable, meaning they support throughput up to 1,000Mbps. Also on the back you'll find a power switch and a USB 2.0 port that can host a USB external storage device for the router's NAS function.
Unfortunately, E3000's USB port can't be used to host a printer, which is a little disappointing.
On the front, the router has an array of sleek-looking blue LEDs to show the status of the ports, the NAS function, the Internet connection, and the wireless connection. In the middle of these lights is the Wi-Fi Protected Setup button, which initiates the 2-minute window for hooking up the WPS-enabled wireless device to a wireless network.
The E3000 comes with the same setup procedure as the Valet Plus, which is as easy as it gets. The only difference is the E3000's software comes on a CD while the Valet Plus includes it on a USB thumbdrive. The rest is completely the same.
To get the router to work, insert the Cisco Connect software CD into your CD drive and follow the instructions. During the installation you'll be guided through the necessary steps, including plugging in the hardware and powering it on, configuring the router to connect to the Internet, creating a wireless network name (aka SSID), encrypting the wireless connection, and picking a password (or the encryption key).
The network's name is picked at random but it's always something short and catchy such as "LoudMonkey" or "RubySpruce." You can change this name if you want; you won't even need to memorize it. When you want to add another computer to the network, just insert the CD, and the Cisco Connect software, again, will take care of the rest. At most, you just have to interact with the application via two or three mouse clicks.
The whole setup process took less than 5 minutes in our trial. The Cisco Connect software works with both Macs and PCs.
If you have computers that don't have an optical drive, such as Netbooks, you can make a copy of the Cisco Connect software on a thumbdrive and use it via a USB port. For other devices, such as a wireless printer, the Cisco Connect software shows the wireless network information together with the encryption key for you to enter them manually. You can also use the Wi-Fi Protected Setup function to connect those that are WPS-enabled.
The nice thing about the Cisco Connect software is that it runs directly from the CD (or the thumbdrive). This means you don't have to clutter your computer with extra software installation.
While this new setup method is great for novices on a home network, experienced users may want to skip it entirely and stick with the router's Web interface by pointing a browser to its default IP address, 192.168.1.1. The Web interface allows for much further customization and access to the router's other advanced functions, such as its network storage capability.
The Web interface is also the only way you can use the E3000 in situations where no Internet connection is needed; for example, when you want to set up an isolated network. The Cisco Connect software will not finish the initial setup process when it can't detect a connection to the Internet.
Note that if you use the software, the default log-in password, which is "admin," changes to something random. If you alter the password later, or change other major settings of the router using the Web interface, the Cisco Connect software will stop working with the router. This means, in most cases, you'll need to use either the Cisco Connect software or the Web interface to manage the router, and not both.