Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router N900 Media Stream (EA4500)

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Linksys-EA4500

A while back I purchased an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station to serve as our primary router and wireless access point. Though initially impressed, I learned that this expensive device wasn’t capable of fully permitting incoming PPTP VPN connections. In addition, it didn’t provide many configuration options. To work around this problem I purchased an ASUS wireless router and instead used the Airport as a wireless access point.

The final work-around resulted in two network devices where one could have worked just fine (I continued to use the Apple Extreme instead of only the ASUS wireless router because the Apple device offered better wireless range). I wasn’t thrilled with this setup and wireless covered was still lacking so I added a new device to my wishlist for Christmas, which I received.

We’re now using a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router N900 Media Stream (EA4500). I was impressed with this model beforehand when my in-laws changed their router to one of these and I had a chance to work with it a bit. Since setting up our router I’ve removed the ASUS wireless router and the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station.

There are several features I haven’t used yet such as the ability to connect an external hard drive. The following are a few things I’ve learned about this router since installing it.

Wireless Coverage

The wireless signal covers more of the house than either the ASUS or Apple router did. With the Apple device running I had dead spots on the opposite end of the house from the router. Our home is of old construction so the walls are mostly wood and brick, which degrade the signal. Our home is a single-story house that covers around 2,200 square feet.

2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz

The EA4500 is a simultaneous dual-band router so I can offer 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. I tried different configurations but ended up using a different SSID for each. Initially I used the same SSID and encryption settings but found that devices with weaker antennas, such as my iPhone, tended to switch networks frequently when on the edge of the 5 GHz network. A handful of devices within range, and which happen to use the most wireless bandwidth, are on the 5 GHz network.

The 2.4 GHz is set to mixed mode (for b/g/n). I attempted to set the 5 GHz to only offer 802.11n but when I did that I wasn’t able to connect to it. Setting it to mixed mode as well (a/n) worked.

The 2.4 GHz network fully covers the house but the 5GHz does not. I can see the 5 GHz with a laptop on the other end of the house but I wasn’t able to connect to it. However, 2.4 GHz for the laptop usually works well anyway.

Incoming PPTP VPN

Just as with previous routers, I have port 1723 (TCP) set to forward to a machine on my private network. At first it wasn’t working but I quickly discovered that I had to disable PPTP Passthrough in order to allow an incoming PPTP connection.

iOS Configuration App (Cisco Connect Express)

There’s an app that can be used to configure some basic settings, such as enabling or disabling guest access. It’s rather limited and has a very odd quirk. It doesn’t seem to work unless wifi is enabled on the iOS device. I’ve tried to VPN into my network and then connect to the access point with the app but it doesn’t work. However, that’s not really a major problem since the Web interface can still be accessed over VPN. (One time I tried to connect to it while on my home VPN over a wifi network, instead of cellular, but it wasn’t able to find the router.)

Updated 02/20/2013: So far I’m much happier with this device than I was with the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station. While the AEBS wasn’t a bad device, and would handle the needs of most consumers just fine, I found that I prefer the flexibility of this router over the limit options available with the AEBS. I haven’t had problems with my VPN when connecting to my home network remotely and have actually been able to connect on networks that it wouldn’t work from previously. In addition, signal coverage seems a good bit better.

My experience to date has been one of “set it and forget it”. I haven’t had to reboot the router or fiddle with settings that weren’t quite working.

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