I think that routers today are kind of commoditized, you can get them everywhere.  And, if you are a DSL subscriber, many times you get a combo device that is both a modem and a router.  To be honest, I didn’t feel like I needed a new router for my home network: I have DSL, so my routing and wireless internet needs are covered by my ISP.  “Need,” and “want,” though, are very different.

But, of course, that’s not the only way.  Your ISP’s gateway device is not as cool as the Linksys EA9500.  Certainly, not as cool looking.  And from a functionality and control perspective, using a device like this definitely can add value to your home network—if you take advantage of the features available.

I am by no means a networking expert, but I know things…I remember setting up wireless internet at my own home as well as the homes of my friends and family, and how annoying it used to be.  And as nice as it was to have that skill set, I think “annoying” is the best way to describe setting up a home network: relatively simple steps, repeatable, over and over again.

The product is the Linksys EA9500 Max-Stream AC5400 Tri-Band WI-FI router.  When I unboxed this thing, I was very surprised at how large it was.  Keep in mind the dimensions: 10.41 x 12.53 x 2.62 inches without antennas…it is a sizable router.  But it has a good weight to it; it feels like the almost 350 cubic inches of device is being put to good use.  Add in the antennas (all 8 of them) and you’ve got quite a thing to look at, perhaps sitting on your TV stand or a side table, and if you’re really daring, mounted to your wall.  This is something that people will ask about when they see it—and if you like to show off your home network equipment, this is probably a good choice for you.

So let’s talk about setup.  You get this monster of a router, unbox it, point all the antennas to the sky, and follow the very simple setup instructions: plug it in, connect to it wirelessly with your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet, navigate to a web page, answer a few simple questions about what you want your wireless network to look like and how you want to access the physical router (if necessary), and wait for the thing to reboot.

And that’s it.

Now, there’s extra stuff you can do with this…but I want to share how NOT gratifying it was to set this thing up.  I love gadgets…I love technology…and when you get a brand new router with more antennas on it than there are natural wonders of the world, you should plan to spend some quality time with it, right?  Maybe light some candles, make some popcorn, put on some nice music…

Not any more.  This was ridiculously quick and easy, and Linksys absolutely NAILED the setup process for the average home network user.  In fact, the setup was so easy that my 5- and 7-year old kids did most of the setup together, without much help from me.  It is truly that simple.

But you say, what if I want more?  Well, enter cloud controller access provided by Linksys.  This is not my first experience with wireless cloud controllers, but I have to admit it is a much more intuitive interface than I’ve experienced in the past.  A customizable home page showing you the basic items you find most important about your network hub, plus the ability to monitor your network traffic, activate parental controls or guest access, and even some basic QoS settings that allow certain devices priority access for media consumption, all work together as a great package that is included with the cost of admission…not a bad deal.  And, for the home network enthusiast out there, all of the old settings are available here as well: port forwarding, wireless channel management, and much much more.

A couple other things that need to be mentioned: This router has a built-in 8-port gigabit switch.  One of my BIGGEST complaints about ISP provided equipment is that it rarely has a switch that goes above a standard 10/100 fast ethernet connection.  And, while my internet connection certainly can’t transmit or receive at that speed, it’s nice to know that my internal network can move traffic at some of the highest speeds available for home users.  Also…and it goes without saying…this is an AC router.  If you don’t know, AC is really fast.  That speed combined with the directional antennas makes for great wireless coverage in your home at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, and as long as your devices can work on the higher frequencies, you will not be dissatisfied with your home wireless…but your neighbors might get jealous.

So now the question is, who should buy this?  It’s certainly not the cheapest router out there, and there are plenty of accessible, easy-to-setup wireless AC routers (even some others provided by Linksys).  If you like to have a top-of-the-line home network but don’t have access to enterprise-grade equipment, and you like to have TOTAL control of what’s going in your home, this may be the router for you.  I certainly wouldn’t advise getting this if you don’t have the intention of using the cloud management tools—and it is a truly wonderful feature set that I think even amateur networking enthusiasts could really take advantage of.  In particular, being able to control an individual device’s access to your network based on a pre-defined schedule is a great feature that most parents with younger children can make use of.  My daughter likes to use her iPad before bed, and often times stays up a little later than she should because she gets sucked into Youtube video after Youtube video…this product can solve that problem.

Grandma though, probably doesn’t need this at her house, even if she does want to limit the data she uses on her smartphone when she’s at home.  If you don’t have a bunch of devices connecting to your home network, you should probably pass on this one and spend the money instead on picking up some additional wireless devices…

The problem with any piece of technology is how future-proof it is when you take it out of the box.  AC wireless has just started to become reasonable financially accessible for most households, maybe in the last 6 months to a year.  A decent AC wireless router may set you back $100-$150, and that number will continue to drop over the next couple years.

That said, AC wireless is (like I mentioned before) REALLY FAST.  And it’s not going to be replaced any time soon, at least not in a way that will be reasonably financially accessible for most households.  I wouldn’t worry too much about this device being outdated shortly after you purchase…it will be a solid device for at least a few years, if not longer.

I love gadgets.  And I love having the newest, latest and greatest.  And before getting this device, I was shopping different routers and considering replacing my not-too-old network setup at home.  I’ve used business-grade devices with cloud controllers in the past, and the cost for the device plus the license to access the cloud controller is more than the cost of the Linksys EA9500.  When you look at it that way, there is quite a bit of value in this product beyond the physical device itself.  Wireless internet is all about control; and if you like control, you’ll love this platform.

This device is a great addition to my home network, but I think could be even better suited for a small business network that relies on providing wireless to guests or utilizes wireless to run a low-cost Point-of-Sale solution.  It is stable, easy to setup, and cool-looking.  Oh, and it’s fast…not sure if I mentioned that.

If you are a home user and you have some disposable income, or perhaps are looking to spend some of that bonus money or tax-return, this is a great product to put into your home…otherwise, the price tag may be a little high and too hard to justify.  If you like the feature set and can finance it over 12 or 18 months, I think you won’t be unhappy you did.  Otherwise, maybe wait for the price tag to come down a bit.

If you are a small-business owner looking to get a decent wireless setup for your new company, but don’t want to pay crazy fees for enterprise-grade equipment or managed services, I think this device is the sweet-spot for you: the ability to create a guest network that is separate from your main wireless, as well as some additional VLAN controls for the built in gig-switch (no, it’s not a PoE switch), you would be hard-pressed to find a solution at this price point that gives you basic control of sought-after enterprise options.

For features, ease of setup, and ease of use, this is a grand slam.  The price is a little high, but if that’s the only setback, 4.5 out of 5 stars is an easy grade to give here.  Linksys did a great job putting this solution together, which is a good balance of hardware and software that even less-experienced home users would be able to setup and manage without much fuss.

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