June 30, 2020 – Extending its reach in the home networking arena Linksys introduces Max-Stream AX6000, a dual-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh router, model MR9600 currently $400 from Amazon.
I have relied on Linksys routers for several years and confidently recommend the brand. Until evaluating this new Max-Stream, my current setup has included Linksys Velop tri-band mesh routers. With five “nodes” successfully deployed providing strong Wi-Fi throughout a two story home over 3,000 square feet and a two-node setup in an apartment under 1,000 square feet, I’m a happy Linksys tri-band mesh fan.
The system has proven reliable, with Wi-Fi speeds close to the maximum provided by the ISP, strong signal from inside corner to corner without any dead zones and usable Wi-Fi outside well beyond the walls. Linksys pushes firmware updates to keep their routers humming along happily and up to date. Isn’t that a foundation for success?
Management through Smartphone and Web Browser
Linksys routers are matched to a management app for iOS and Android mobile devices. Management is also available by logging on to the user’s Linksys account from a computer browser. Sweeeeeet!
After creating a Linksys account, installation is as easy as following along through the smartphone app. Upon completion of the main, or “parent” router installation, the software prompts the user for additional hardware “children” that will operate transparently and seamlessly. Additional compatible Linksys routers are optional. A variety of settings may be selected and created through the Linksys account dashboard.
The administrator has the opportunity to choose a unique router SSID, the name shown for this wireless network, and a unique password, both of which I advise.
The administrator dashboard, whether through a smartphone app or computer browser, shows all connected devices. I like the ease with which up to three devices may be selected for prioritized connectivity. In this way, signal goes to these devices first to assure optimal network performance.
Unlike conventional routers, mesh routers mask individual 2.4 Ghz and 5.0 GHz bands. There are no consumer choices needed. The router locks onto the best performing network based on signal strength present at the device.
Connecting to the router’s unique Wi-Fi network is easy, made easier by not having to choose anything but a single network name and password. (HOWEVER, it is possible to de-couple and make separate the 2.4 Ghz and 5.0 Ghz bands if that is what the user wants or needs.)
This can also include a custom guest network name if the user decides to set up a guest network. Why do this? A guest network can give authorized “guests” basic Wi-Fi access while preventing access to other resources such as shared printers, folders and network-connected drives, often referred to as NAS, or Network Attached Storage.
Note from the product photo of the rear panel, MR6900 has two USB ports as well as four Ethernet ports for hard-wired connectivity to nearby Internet-enabled devices. The Ethernet ports can prove handy for connection to a nearby TV, DVR, Blu-ray player, security camera, game system, streaming device, such as Roku, and more.
Gigabit Ethernet Switches
More than four devices can be Ethernet-connected by adding a multi-port unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switch. Think of an Ethernet switch as an extension cord. I recommend and use these lifetime-guaranteed, plug ‘n play, under-$20 eight-port models – TP-Link TL-SG108 and TRENDnet TEG-S82G.
Get Your Ethernet Cables
While these and other devices might have the capability to connect using Wi-Fi, don’t do it. The industry-accepted and recommended rule is to use Ethernet (hard wiring) where available and Wi-Fi ONLY where wired connectivity is not available. In other words, if it’s mobile, use Wi-Fi. For every other device where it is possible, use Ethernet. Pre-made Ethernet cables are also quite inexpensive and are available in lengths for almost any need. Always use the newest Ethernet technology standard for a long, future-forward life. The current standard is CAT-6. Here is what I use from Monoprice, starting under $1 each. I always have spares on hand for new or reconfigured runs and installations. Be sure to only choose cables with protectors over the little release tabs. Unprotected tabs are easily snagged and broken. When that happens, the cable is useless, with no way to secure and release it from the connected port.
How will this new dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router perform by comparison? In order to give it a fair evaluation, I unplugged and deleted all the individual Velop tri-band router nodes from the app and installed this new MR6900 as a single router, as if nothing else had ever been installed.
Mesh is the way to go! Think of a blanket. Think of a bullet. Bullets target a single point. Blankets cover a wide area. It’s not quite this simple, but it’s a good way to grasp the concept. Multiple products under the blanket get the signal better than multiple products in the bullet scenario. Adding “nodes” to a mesh network allows the mesh umbrella’s coverage area to be extended at full capacity and speed. Mesh is best.
With both dual- and tri-band mesh routers available, here is what you need to know in order to make an informed decision. Generally speaking, tri-band mesh offers the most options and best possibility to get full speed with more connected devices. An individual dual-band mesh router, as you will read in this linked article, offer a good middle-ground for most consumers. In MY experience, this applies to those in a home under about 1200 square feet.
The good news is that additional nodes, or “children,” along with the main, or parent node, are easily added as part of the robust blanketed “mesh” with overlapping signals. Confused? Don’t overthink it. If Wi-Fi signal is needed where it is not, add a node. Each node provides connectivity as if hard wired to the parent.
The best example I can think of is this. Let us say the “parent” unit is in the living room nearby to the entry point for the cable company’s coaxial cable run enters the premises. The coax connects to a modem, whether the modem belongs to the ISP or to the user. I own my modem, currently an Arris SURFboard SB8200. It has all the latest technology assuring that it is future-proof for the foreseeable future. The modem provides Internet signal to the router. Here’s the signal flow in this and most setups with a separate modem and router – Coax to modem, then Ethernet from modem to router, and wired and Wi-Fi from the router.
In this example, wired Internet is needed at equipment in the living room AND in another room set up as an office, where there are a couple of computers, a printer, scanner and hardware for a couple of VoIP (Internet-based) phone lines. Adding a node in that room with an Ethernet switch provides all the ports required to hard-wire these devices, with ports to spare.
I know what you’re thinking – why Ethernet-connect the printer when it must be also be capable of Wi-Fi connectivity? Refer to the rule above– wired when possible, wireless only in the absence of Ethernet capability. I can send printing jobs to that printer from the screen on virtually any of my devices whether at home or from anywhere in the world.
Wi-Fi 6 comes is newer than WI-FI 5, right? Here’s the scoop, courtesy of this informative article from Consumer Reports Magazine.
The full benefit of Wi-Fi 6 technology requires devices with built-in Wi-Fi 6. Backwards compatible with older Wi-Fi standards, though there are few Wi-Fi 6-enabled products, Wi-Fi 6 allows more simultaneous connections than Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6 allows speed that is much faster than Wi-Fi 5. Finally, the newer the router, the farther into the future the manufacturer will push updates for performance and security.
Most of us have added more devices to our Internet network than even a year ago. Today’s consumers can enjoy internet-connected light bulbs, door cameras and security systems, door locks, thermostats, smart watches, medical equipment, multiple mobile phones, tablets, computers, more than one TV, DVR, gaming systems, Blu-ray player, multiple smart speakers, smart kitchen appliances including a smart refrigerator, washer and dryer. And who wants audio and video dropouts during Zoom or similar get-togethers? Or dropouts while streaming different content across different devices? Add them all up. Surprise! You’ve got more Internet-connected devices than you thought. What have I forgotten? All of these, with more surely to follow, will gobble up more bandwidth across an expanding universe of devices.
Who among us would have thought about reliance on greater bandwidth even six months ago, before the COVID-19-pandemic? How quickly we have adapted to being home more than ever imagined!
Linksys MR9600 includes two USB ports, unlike my Linksys Tri-band Velop routers without USB ports. The USB ports can accept hard drives or USB thumb drives that may be used for content sharing and backup across the network. I have installed a Solid State Drive (SSD) with music and videos accessible on any compatible device on the network. Two ports, no waiting! How would you use them?
Testing Wi-Fi 6 through an iPhone 11 proves the point, connecting at nearly full speed from the ISP, without performance hits from simultaneous downloads on two computers and streaming a movie on without breakup or buffering a big screen TV. Running the Speedtest app for iPhone just now, speed was measured at 223mbps down and 30mbps up. The Cox service package is “up to” 300mbps down and 30mbps up. All is well here.
There is Internet throughout a small apartment installation, but not full strength and at full speed at the farthest distances from the router, which is to be expected. Outside there is still good coverage past 50 feet from the walls, but not at full speed. Still, it’s proof positive that the signal carries well with this individual Linksys MR9600.
The combination of future-forward Wi-Fi 6, proven mesh technology, Linksys reliability and strong signal makes this Linksys Max-Stream AX6000 Mesh Wi-Fi 6 Router Model MR9600 an easy Mr. Gadget-recommended choice.