Editor's note: The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 HD Video Pro EA6500 was originally reviewed on October 15 with the firmware version 126.96.36.199816 that proved to be buggy. This is an updated review with a much improved firmware version 188.8.131.52730.
The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 HD Video Pro EA6500, or Linksys EA6500 for short, is the latest in Cisco's Linksys Smart Wi-Fi router family. It's an upgrade from the Linksys EA4500, and the first router from Cisco that supports the 802.11ac standard on its 5GHz frequency band.
And that's about the only difference between the two routers; the EA6500 is about the same as the EA4500, in terms of design and features.
In terms of performance, however, the Linksys EA6500 was terrible when it was first released, due buggy firmware. Once updated to the latest version it's now much better, though still far from perfect. In my second round of testing, the router offered fast Wi-Fi speeds with 802.11ac clients, but not the fastest. With existing Wireless N (802.11n) clients, it did well but still didn't impress.
Like others in Cisco's Linksys EA family, the EA6500 offers a slew of features via the Cisco Cloud Connect platform. Unfortunately, at around $200, it's now one of the most expensive routers -- if not the most expensive -- on the market.
That said, with the latest firmware, the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 HD Video Pro EA6500 makes quite a decent buy for those who like the ease of use and level of control over their home network offered by the Cisco Cloud Connect platform. Fan of the new 802.11ac standard, however, will likely find the Netgear R6300 or the Asus RT-AC66u better deals, all things considered.
Design and ease of use
The Linksys EA6500 resembles a luxurious gift box more than it does a networking device. It's flat and has a glossy, smooth-finish top, with a vertical bar that has a fancy white LED light showing Cisco's logo. Unlike previous models, however, the new EA6500 is now also wall-mountable.
On the back the new router has 4GB LAN ports, a 1GB WAN port, and two USB ports. This means you can use it with two USB devices at a time, such as a printer and an external hard drive. When used with an external hard drive, the router offers network storage features, similar to those of a NAS server. Also on the back are a button for the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature and a recessed reset button.
The Linksys EA6500 is the first from the Smart Wi-Fi Router family to be released after Cisco Cloud Connect (CCC); out of the box, it comes with the Internet-connected CCC firmware and requires users to get an account (it's free) or use an existing one to manage it. Unlike other routers in the EA series, the EA6500 doesn't offer the option to use the traditional Web interface.
Cisco Cloud Connect, which I've reviewed separately, is a new and, in my opinion, a much better approach to managing your home network. Nonetheless, it's quite a change for those who are comfortable with the traditional interface and might be a concern for those who want to be completely private about their online life. With CCC, technically, Cisco can be aware of the nature of your Internet traffic and your home network.
Cisco Cloud Connect makes setting up the router a very easy job, however. Basically, the only step is to go to the router's IP address, which by default is 192.168.1.1, sign in via a Cisco Connect Cloud account, and associate the router with that account by typing in the router's admin password (by default it's "admin"). From then on, each time you want to change the router's settings or manage its features, you can sign in via the Cisco Connect Cloud portal or via the Cisco Connect Cloud mobile app, which is currently available for iOS and Android devices.
While for the most part I find the Cisco Connect Cloud a welcome change, it has a couple of drawbacks compared with the traditional Web interface. First, you need a live Internet connection to use it; second, it's slow. Regardless of how fast the connections to the Internet are on the router's and the remote user's ends, there's a clear delay when moving from one item to another. The interface's fading effect only makes this worse. At times, I also experienced a problem in which the router appeared offline when I logged in using a separate Internet connection, rather than the same Internet connection as the router.
In addition to the Cisco Connect Cloud app, you can also use some third-party apps to quickly control certain of the router's features and settings.
Similar to the EA4500, the new EA6500 is first and foremost an N900 router, offering Wireless-N speeds of up to 450Mbps on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands at the same time. The EA6500, however, also simultaneously supports the three-stream setup of the 802.11ac standard to offer up to 1.3Gbps when connected to 802.11ac Wi-Fi clients. There are not many 802.11ac clients on the market yet, but it's expected to become more popular next year. That said, the EA6500 supports virtually all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of their standards, be it 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, or 802.11ac. (You can find out more about different Wi-Fi standards in this post).