Home Reviews Networking Linksys AC5400, MU-MIMO router and friends (review)

Linksys AC5400, MU-MIMO router and friends (review)

When you have the fastest router on the planet, it nicely shows up the inadequacy of your Internet connection. The kicker is that your Internet speed can range from few Mbps to a few hundred Mbps depending on your ISP, but it is nice to know that this router can handle them all with lots more headroom.

I reviewed Linksys’s latest Max-Stream product range:

Max-Stream is a brand reserved for the “go fastest” stuff. In fact, it is more of a philosophy – how can Linksys get more of a holistic solution.  Its range includes a router, extender, and USB dongle – all MU-MIMO and blazingly fast.

Advance Summary: A comprehensive solution from a quality company providing easy set-up, great reliability and stability, and stunning speed all round.

Before we get into the review, let's address some of the technologies used in this router and its friends.

MU-MIMO - Multi-User, Multiple-Input and, Multiple Output

Importantly there is only a significant benefit if your end-points have MIMO or MU-MIMO. Otherwise, it defaults back to single-user MIMO. For example, MU-MIMO, 2 x 2 antennas are supported on (this list is not definitive):

  • Smartphones: Samsung S7 Edge, LG G5, Nexus 5x, Lumia 950/XL – using the Snapdragon 810 SOC or later.
  • Most Intel Sky Lake 6th generation tablets and notebooks released this year including Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, Acer Aspire R13/R14, Dell Latitude 12/14/15 …

Suitably equipped end-points get a dedicated, full-time, data stream to the router instead of time slicing and sharing the same data stream with other users. For example, my Microsoft Surface Book gets more than 900Mbps connections in MU-MIMO and about a quarter of that with a standard MIMO router.

Beamforming

Transmit Beamforming (TxBF) directs the strongest signal to endpoints to reduce interference from walls, furniture, etc.

Tri-Band AC5400

The router transmits a 2.4GHz band up to 1000 Mbps suitable for older non-AC Wi-Fi devices. What this means is that if you connect an older device, the maximum it can receive is 1000Mbps (shared) – the reality is older devices will get a few Mbps.

It has two 5GHz bands each transmitting up to 2166 Mbps. It will automatically load balance so that you don’t have bandwidth-hogging devices taking all the speed. Or you can use one band specifically for “Priority” devices.

In theory, this can mean up to a 400% increase in the speed of data transmissions between the router and the endpoint.

This router shines when you use its bandwidth to stream local content. Hook up a WD My Cloud network storage device via Gigabit Ethernet or a flash drive, and 4K and game streaming is brilliant.

LS triband

Eight antennas

The AC5400 has eight antennas, Wave 2, 4 x 4, MU-MIMO with Transmit Beamforming (TxBF) that directs the strongest signal to endpoints. Frankly, it looks like something out of Star Wars but what that means is that it has sufficient antennas to offer things four dedicated data streams for faster 4K video streaming and gaming and large numbers of Wi-Fi connections.

Eight gigabit ports and 2 USB Ports

These days most “home theatre” devices have an Ethernet port (and perhaps Wi-Fi) for updates and streaming. Think Smart TV, Foxtel or Set-top-box, AV amplifier, media PC, WD My Cloud (NAS), or Blu-ray player and there alone are six devices that could benefit with direct, gigabit (1000Mbps) connection with the router. It also allows two of the eight Ethernet ports to be joined in a VLAN.

The USB Ports — one USB3.0 and one USB 2.0  are handy to connect flash drives, printers, direct attached storage or even a USB wireless dongle to provide 4G fall bandwidth over. Or it can be a handy charging port (1A on USB 3.0).

Set-up – easy

Remember that the AC5400 does not have a modem – no ADSL or cable. It has an Ethernet port that will plug into your existing ADSL, NBN or Telstra Cable gateway. It comes with an Ethernet cable, and it is as simple as plugging it into both devices. Don’t worry about disabling Wi-Fi on your existing router – do nothing, leave it there as a back-up.

After power-up (a minute or so) and when all system status lights are stable, you connect to the LinksysXXX SSID (router name) and do a first-time, automatic set-up using Linksys Smart Wi-Fi. It allows you to change passwords from the default (do it), set up a guest network (do that later), configure parental controls (if you have kids, but do that later) and test the Internet connection and speed. Simple.

You will need to register using your email address and select a password to associate your router to your Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account.

After that is done, all you need is to select LinksysXXX (that is the 2.4GHz band) or LinksysXXX-5G (the 5GHz bands) for each connected device.

If you want to make changes later, you can log in via the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account, or directly to the router using its IP address, or download an app for iOS or Android. Again, very simple and very hard to mess up.

Media prioritisation

Either let the router allocate bandwidth (strongly recommended) or you can allocate specific devices to “Media Prioritisation”.

While this sounds good, it can present challenges as it then throttles the remaining un-prioritised devices to a downstream bandwidth default of about 10Mbps. Fortunately, you can change this in the software settings to any figure you wish, but significantly increasing it means less prioritisation for your bandwidth-hungry devices. You can also prioritise categories of applications (mainly media and messages apps) and many popular online games as well.

This is best left to experts. Linksys is aware of this and working on simplifying it in future updates.

External storage

The AC5400 will allow you to set up a USB-based FTP and media server. It does not recognise NAS (network devices like My Cloud) devices.

Of course, I stuck a 1TB, Samsung T3 SSD in, but it did not recognise that. It had no issues with a 2TB, WD My Passport Ultra or any USB Flash Drive as it supports FAT, FAT32, NTFS and HFS drives.

This feature could be enormously useful for streaming music or video content rather than streaming directly from the Internet.

Security

It is a given that any router has an IPv4 and v6 firewall, VPN pass-through, Mac address blocking, port forwarding, and more. It has all the standard security features.

WPA, WPA2, WEP, and Radius 128-bit encryption in personal and enterprise strength is standard, as well as a Wi-Fi protected button to enable supported devices to join without typing in passwords.

Size

The router is big – 264.52 x 318.15 x 66.66mm and weighs 1.728kg.

It is not wall mountable insofar as it does not have wall mount screw cutouts. Plus, the three antennas on each side and two at the back need to be oriented upwards, and vertical mounting would interfere with that.

LS Router header

Conclusion – a ripper of a router

I tested the $549 EA9500 router using a Telstra Ultimate Cable Gateway (about 100Mbps to the Internet), and I have to say that it was absolute overkill in my apartment — not that I am complaining as Wi-Fi reception was amazing everywhere. Ideally, it is a router for a big house, with lots of devices that you can spread over its three bands.

As the ever affable Greg Morrison, Linksys business manager for Australia and New Zealand, said, It is like that V8 supercar — you almost always never use all its power — but when you do...!!!

What this does is give you the power to expand the number of Wi-Fi devices in your home so that is good for security cameras; Internet of Things (IoT) devices like smart locks; appliances like robotic vacuum cleaners, fridges, kettles, ovens; games consoles; smart TVs and video streaming – especially HD and 4K; music streaming; smartphones and tablets; and desktop computers.

Following are brief overviews on the AC1900 Max Stream Range Extender to supply Wi-Fi to dead spots and the AC600 Max Stream USB adapter to retrofit MU-MIMO to non-equipped devices like PCs and laptops.

Linksys RE7000 Max-Stream AC1900+ Wi-Fi Range Extender RE7000-EU

Upfront let me say that a two-bedroom townhouse is not the best place to test a range extender. What this does over other range extenders is add Beamforming, MU-MIMO and one 2.4GHz band at up to 300Mbps and one 5GHz band at up to 1733Mbps. It can either have its SSID, or if you use it with the Linksys Max-Stream router, it simply provides seamless roaming.

LS range extender

Set-up is foolproof.

  • Find a convenient 240V socket about midway between your router and the area you need to be covered by the extender.
  • Plug it and wait a minute or so until it has booted (green light).
  • Go to back to your router and push the WPS button.
  • Go back to the extender and do the same.
  • When the light turns solid green it is connected.
  • You can use the Spotfinder app to maximise the distance of the range extender from the router.
  • You can customise settings via the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi set-up.

You will see the SSID LinksysXXX_Ext, and you can join to that. If using a Max-Stream router, it will seamlessly roam from router to extender and back.

Compared to the direct router connection it will provide about 50% of its speed in rooms say 20-30 metres away from the router. There is an extended “cross band” SSID that combines the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channel and it’s a screamer. It took a 200Mbps signal to nearly 900Mbps in a room 30 metres away from the router.

But here is the nice thing – it also has an Ethernet port so it can work as an access point too if you can run Ethernet cable (up to 100 metres) or you can use the Ethernet port to connect a local switch or network device (like a printer). I got 700-900Mbps – nearly a gigabit out of that port - impressive.

Summary: If you have a weak signal (even in the back shed) this $199 extender will improve it. It is best for large, multi-level houses where the router may not reach the extremities. Remember, it adds MU-MIMO so it is going to be better than any other extender.

Linksys WUSB6100M Max-Stream AC600 Wi-Fi Micro USB Adapter  

LS USBThis is specifically a Windows device, and using it is as simple as plugging into a spare USB 2.0 or 3.0 port. The drivers will install automatically (if you have an Internet connection) or there is a CD provided.

If you have an old Wi-Fi adaptor, you will need to disable that through settings/control panel to use this device.

Despite it only being AC600, it managed to get 433Mbps (compared to 50-100Mbps with a non-MIMO device) – pretty impressive, but remember it too is MU-MIMO with Beamforming.

Summary: If you have an older Windows PC or notebook this A459 device is a great upgrade to get at least 4x Wi-Fi speed improvements.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!