The Cisco Linksys E3000 is similar to the recently reviewed and easy-to-use Cisco Valet Plus, though it lacks the Easy Setup Key and 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 include some NAS functionality.
On the whole, the E3000 performed well in our tests, though its network storage feature was quite slow 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 or don’t need a NAS server at all, the Linksys E3000 is an excellent replacement to the similarly configured Linksys WRT610N . It should have a street price of around $150.
Design and ease of use
With its aesthetically pleasing and sleek plate-shaped chassis, the Linksys E3000 shares the same profile as the previous model, the Linksys WRT610N. All of its antennas are hidden within the chassis, making it more compact than other routers that have the same footprint. The flat E3000 stays stable on any surface and it’s also wall mountable.
The router comes with four 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, the 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 that initiates the 2-minute window time for hooking up a 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 that the E3000′s software comes on a CD; the Valet Plus includes it in a USB thumb drive. The rest is the same.
To get the router to work, insert the Cisco Connect software CD into a computer’s CD drive and follow the instructions. During your initial install, 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, however, 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 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 then 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 thumb drive 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 thumb drive). This means you don’t have to clutter your computer with an extra software installation. This also means you’ll need to keep the software in a safe place for future usage.
Though 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 later use the Web interface to alter the password or change other major settings, 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, but not both.
The Cisco Linksys E3000 is a true dual-band router, meaning it has two separate access points, one for the ever-popular 2.4Ghz band and the other for the 5Ghz band, which can work simultaneously. It can also create an additional separate wireless Guest network.
Guest networking is a great solution when you want to share the Internet with others but want to keep them from accessing your local resources, such as files or printers. The Cisco Connect software allows you to configure a guest network, pick an easy-to-remember password (or just leave it password-free), and set the number of guests who can use the network. Unfortunately, you can’t set more than 10 guests at a time.
This means the E3000′s Guest networking is not a viable Wi-Fi hot spot solution for a cafe or restaurant. Also, you can’t configure the guest network via the Web interface; instead, you must use the Cisco Connect software.
On the other hand, the only way to configure the router’s network storage function is via its Web interface. The E3000 has simple support for network storage, including the ability to share the content of a USB external hard drive (formatted using either NTFS or FAT32), with user account restriction. It also has a built-in UPnP Media Server that allows for streaming digital content, including photos, music, and video to other UPnP-compliant devices, such as set-top boxes or game consoles. Unfortunately, though the photo and music streaming worked well in our trials, the video streaming wasn’t smooth and sometimes didn’t seem to work at all. We suspect that the router’s NAS function doesn’t provide enough bandwidth for streaming large files.
For file sharing, the E3000 supports Windows SMB, so you can browse the share folders easily while using a network browser, such as Windows Explorer. It also has the ability to turn a folder on the attached USB hard drive into an FTP site.
Other E3000 networking features include a simple, yet robust, parental control content filtering system. This feature, which you can manage with the Cisco Software or the Web interface, allows you to change the way a particular computer on the network accesses the Internet. You can restrict the connection based on time, age of the user (with two options being “Teen” or “Child”), or you can block individual sites. The router also has a feature called Safe Web Surfing, which warns you if you’re about to go to a Web site that’s unsafe.
The Web interface also gives access to the router’s “Applications & Gaming” feature that lets you set port forwarding and triggering for specific applications such as games, remote desktop, or FTP and HTTP servers. You can also assign static IP addresses to certain computers on the network, making the port forwarding much more relevant and easy to do. If you want to create a VPN connection, an FTP access or a remote desktop connection to a certain computer in the network, you will find the above handy and convenient.
Like most recent routers, the Linksys E3000 supports all available wireless encryption standards including WEP, WPA personal, and WPA Enterprise. The router allows for VPN pass-through for all existing VPN protocols including IPsec, L2TP, and PPTP, meaning having the router at home, you can use a VPN client to access your office via a VPN connection.
We tested the Cisco Linksys E3000 both as a wireless router and a NAS server and it offered mixed results.
As a wireless router, it excelled. In the 5Ghz frequency tests, the router registered 65.4Mpbs on the close-range throughput test, which is about 5Mbps faster than the Netgear WNDR3700. On our long-range test, the E3000 scored 48.8Mbps, which is 8.8Mbps faster than the Netgear.
On our 2.4Ghz frequency tests, the router scores, as expected, weren’t as high as those of the 5Ghz frequency. It scored 43.5Mbps on the close-range throughput test and 33.8Mbps on the long-range test. In the mixed mode test, where the router was set to work with both N and legacy G wireless clients, it scored 35.3Mbps.
The Linksys E3000 offers very good range, up to 280 feet in the 2.4Ghz band and about 250 feet with its 5Ghz band. Both are long among high-end true dual-band routers. The router also passed our 48-hour stress test; during this extended amount of time its signal didn’t reset once.
On the other hand, the router’s NAS performance was mediocre at best. We tested it with an USB portable hard drive and the scores were nowhere close to those of dedicated NAS servers. The router’s write speed was merely 57.1Mbps and the read speed was 32.2Mbps. However, this is common among routers with built-in NAS capability. So far, the network storage functionality among routers that have this feature built-in, including the E3000, is only suitable for casual small-file sharing among network computers. If you want to do heavy file sharing or media streaming, we’d recommend a dedicated NAS server, such as the HP MediaSmart EX495 or the Synology DS410.