Cisco Linksys EA4500

We can see where Cisco was going with Connect Cloud, but there are simply too many problems with its execution to recommend. We'd advise installing the classic interface as soon as possible, or opting for another brand.


7.0
CNET Rating

About The Author

CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.


The hardware

Feature wise, the EA4500 is your standard four-port gigabit Ethernet router, with a single WAN port, supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. It is, for all intents and purposes, a rebadged 4200 with new software on-board.

The router itself continues Cisco's "lounge-room" look, and it doesn't come with wall-mounting holes. One particularly large shortcoming is the lip that overhangs the WAN port, along with the curve of the router itself, which blocks access to the ports with thicker Ethernet cables.

The top curve of the router, and the lip above the WAN port interferes with some gigabit Ethernet cables. You'll have to make sure the terminator sleeves aren't even remotely bulky for a clean fit.
(Credit: Cisco)

Specs at a glance

Firmware tested 1.2.0.37 build 131047
ADSL2+ modem No
Annex M N/A
3G modem No
IPv6 Yes
Wireless protocols 802.11b/g/n
Dual band Simultaneous
Highest wireless security WPA2
WDS Yes
Ethernet ports 4x gigabit, 1x gigabit WAN
USB print sharing/storage Storage (FAT32, NTFS, HFS)
Accessories Ethernet cable, installation CD

The software

Cisco has usually been pretty far ahead of the pack when it comes to easy-to-use client-side software for networking. It was really only a matter of time before it moved everything to the cloud.

Not that it's had an easy time of it, with its new Connect Cloud software. Those who left auto-update on their old routers had the new regime pushed on them, and a ridiculous terms of service telling people what they could or could not browse. It also came with the usual cloud caveat: it'll store information about you, and will track your habits.

The company eventually did some furious backpedalling, saying that it intended to let users continue to use the local router administration if they prefer it over Connect Cloud.

Given that we received this review sample before all of this furore occurred, we were curious to see whether we could access the router without having to sign up to Connect Cloud. Ensuring that the router wasn't online, we hooked up a router and hit the gateway IP. We were told that the router wasn't set up, and that we'd need to run Cisco Connect Cloud. After clicking continue, we were then taken to the router interface.

Yep, just as planned.
(Screenshot by Craig Simms/CNET)

Settings didn't go beyond the exceedingly basic — clearly, Cisco had piled all of its options in Connect Cloud. No option was present to disable Connect Cloud and only maintain local access, but we were pleased to see that Cisco now offers a custom firmware version, eradicating the online necessity and bringing back the "classic" interface.

Er. Well that's a disappointing lack of features.
(Screenshot by Craig Simms/CNET)

Uploading the firmware (which is seemingly a modified EA4200 firmware from the file name), we were told that the update had failed — only to be presented with the classic Cisco interface, bringing back-port forwarding, parental controls, QoS, MAC filtering, firewall control, UPnP, guest network and USB management; all things that should be standard.

Flicking back to the Connect Cloud firmware, we came across our first problem: as always, the router is quite stupid in terms of detecting an internet connection, and will only do so if the WAN port is connected. Daisy chain off another router using a LAN port, and Connect Cloud doesn't work at all, only giving you access to the basic web interface.

This presents another problem: if you don't want to live with NAT'd access to the rest of your network (which definitely got in the way of our wireless benchmarking), you're going to have to not use the WAN port — which means no access to all of the router options. The same rule applies if you want to run a DHCP server from elsewhere.

The router detection and set-up software is, sad to say, laughable. For a start, it will only connect over wireless, not via a wired connection. Crazier still, the router ships with an open Wi-Fi connection to enable this. Yes, the risk is minimal if the user sets it up straight away, but it's a mindless decision. Of course, this made setting up the EA4500 on our desktop without wireless utterly impossible. Force-resetting the router to turn DHCP back on, we tried once more.

Success! The program is smart enough to connect over wireless without the user needing to do a thing with the Windows settings. As a smart first move, it asks us to set the wireless SSID and password. But the password box doesn't accept greater or less-than symbols, even though they're valid in the classic interface, and they work perfectly fine in Connect Cloud's web interface. Hmm.

Entering another password, we were eventually sent to Cisco's web page to sign up ... where there was a check box on whether we wanted to receive advertisements to our email. No thank you.

At this point, we discovered that the software had put a text file on our desktop containing our SSID, along with the router administration and wireless password. Mind boggling.

With verification email in hand, we attempted to manage things from our desktop again — no such luck; we had to log in from a machine directly attached to the router, and associate the router to our Cisco Connect Cloud account first, after which our poor desktop could finally get in on the action.

Ah, so it's hiding all the goods online now. Bad move.
(Screenshot by Craig Simms/CNET)

Once in, the interface is attractive and well laid out, and the features return. A series of customisable squares on the right offer immediate information when you log in, while the menus on the left give access to the rest of the features, with all functionality now exposed.

QoS takes a slightly different tack than normal here, allowing you to rank devices and applications, although only the top three. You also cannot add your own applications, or manage by port, although you can limit total downstream and upstream bandwidth.

A somewhat useless speed test is included, which as always fails to properly analyse speed, and may lead users to be misinformed. Opting for a mirror in San Francisco rather than one local, it reported our down speed to be about half of what it really was.

Compared to the classic UI, almost all features return except DDNS — an interesting omission that hints at Cisco possibly offering a similar solution in the future. Or perhaps it just forgot.

The biggest issue with exclusively storing settings in the cloud is the fact that it's in the cloud — slow internet can be just as frustrating as no internet. We hope that Cisco makes the full complement of settings available on the local router as soon as possible.

The app version

Cisco also provides apps for Android and iOS, which we were keen to see handled. Wi-Fi set-up through a smartphone is definitely high on our wish list. No such luck; the app requires you to sign in to an existing Connect Cloud account, with the router already set up.

Once this is done, you can see your connected devices, manage guest wireless access, work with parental controls and QoS, and change your SSID, wireless settings and passwords.

Cisco has also made available a few stand-alone apps, mostly by third-party developers. One lets you block URLs, and another is a DLNA app (doubled by another DLNA app, Twonky), while yet another handles IP cameras and you can monitor devices currently connected to your network. It's pretty basic stuff, but it pushes the router closer to NAS territory.

Cisco said that it's building an ecosystem for third-party developers, but we've heard that more times than we care to count — we suspect that not much more than the launch apps will appear.

Performance

After analysing the spectrum with InSSIDer, an empty channel of either 1, 6 or 11 is chosen for 2.4GHz wireless testing. Usually, the router is restricted to the 20MHz band, if the option is available.

We use iperf to determine throughput, running eight streams with a TCP window size of 1MB and an interval of one second. The test is run for five minutes in three different locations on two separate occasions. The locations are in the same room as the router: one floor down around spiral stairs and with concrete walls and floors, and two floors down under the same conditions.

The wireless throughput is tested using three chipsets (the Atheros AR5008X, Ralink RT2870 and Intel Ultimate-N 6300), and then all results are averaged.

2.4GHz throughput (in Mbps)

  • Cisco Linksys EA4500
  • AVM Fritz!Box 7390
  • Netgear WNDR4500
  • Netgear DGND3700
  • 139.00111.15107.5399.70
    Location one (same room, no obstructions)
  • 114.3390.8067.6364.63
    Location two (one floor down, some obstructions)
  • 53.8344.9044.3037.17
    Location three (two floors down, some obstructions)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)


In 2.4GHz, the EA4500 doesn't make itself known — average performance at close quarters quickly falls off as you get further away from the router.

5GHz throughput (in Mbps)

  • Cisco Linksys EA4500
  • AVM Fritz!Box 7390
  • Netgear WNDR4500
  • Netgear DGND3700
  • 189.67171151.33140.67
    Location one (same room, no obstructions)
  • 151.33135.50100.9792.6
    Location two (one floor down, some obstructions)
  • 8.538.530.410
    Location three (two floors down, some obstructions)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)


At 5GHz it gets a lot better, with the EA4500 getting reasonably close but never catching Netgear's WNDR4500. While it wouldn't connect on the RALink or Atheros adapters in the third location, the Intel adapter posted an impressive 22.9Mbps.

Warranty

Cisco covers the EA4500 with a two-year warranty; equal with Billion and Netgear.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

We can see where Cisco was going with Connect Cloud, but it's definitely a first-revision product. The forced removal of settings to the cloud, the privacy debacle with its launch, the potential to have a slow and unresponsive server, a downed internet connection, the potential security risks during initial set-up — it's poor execution. As such, we've scored for the classic interface, which we suggest you install at great speed. Either that, or just buy another brand.

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