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Tom's Hardware's 2011 Gift Guide: Part 2, Last-Minute Extras

Networking: Linksys E4200 v2


These days, many families have at least one computer guru whose thankless job is to make tech recommendations for the rest of the family. And then install said purchases. And then support them…at any hour, day or night. For free. But we’re not bitter. Quite often, this leads to a dichotomy. On one hand, there’s the gear you would buy for yourself because it has the most features and is wicked fast. Then there’s the gear you recommend for your family, which is idiotproof simple and comes backed by 24x7 free tech support. In the latter case, performance is the least of your concerns. You just don’t want another reason to be IT support.

The amazing thing about Cisco’s Linksys E-series routers is that they satisfy both polar opposite groups. As we’ve seen from in-house testing, the E-series has the ability to blow most other consumer-class routers off the map on performance. Its reception range and sustained throughput are simply epic. However, Linksys' instructions are simple and largely automated, and we’ve always found the 24x7 phone support (usually off-shore) to be competent and effective.

Moreover, this premium Linksys offering comes stocked with loads of power user perks. Like what? At the top of the list  you have four gigabit Ethernet ports and a USB connection for turning add-on storage into a mini-NAS. A UPnP server comes built in for streaming your media to gaming consoles or similar reception devices, plus you can tweak packet stream prioritization (QoS) within the router’s settings for improving media playback, videoconferencing, VoIP, gaming, or any other app type you please.

The E4200 v2 uses a 3x3 transmit/receive antenna system for both radio bands, enabling theoretical throughput of up to 450 Mb/s. The original E4200 did 3x3:3 (three spatial streams) in the 5 GHz band, but only two streams (3x3:2) in 2.4 GHz, which is why you see it listed as 300 + 450 rather than the v2’s 450 + 450. Of course, this won’t matter if your client devices aren’t capable of handling three streams, so make sure to keep your eyes open for this spec in your clients heading into 2012. In general, 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi will provide more solid video performance as needed, free from interference by other common Wi-Fi devices. You can set up a guest access account for better Wi-Fi security and implement WPA2 to prevent unwanted snooping.

Last but hardly least, we love the slender, simple aesthetic the Linksys group has brought to the E-series. Keeping things sleek and all of the antennas internal is such an improvement over the functionally excellent, but clunky-looking, W-series of yore.