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Review: Linksys E2100L SOHO WiFi router

The Linksys E2100L router presents itself as a step up from baseline WiFi routers for home and small businesses that need additional configurability options.

The Linksys E2100L is an advanced WiFi router for the home or small business user with a twist: Linux inside.

Note: This review was performed based on a unit that the author purchased with his own funds. Photo is courtesy of Cisco.

Specifications

  • Company: Cisco / Linksys
  • Product: Linksys E2100L
  • Price: $119.99 (List Price)
  • Connectivity: 1 Ethernet port for Internet, 4 10/100 ports, Wireless-N, USB (for storage)
  • Additional Information: Product Web site

Who's it for?

The Linksys E2100L router presents itself as a step up from baseline WiFi routers for home and small businesses that need additional configurability options. The prospect of Linux on the inside is potentially appealing to enthusiasts and IT pros alike.

What problems does it solve?

The E2100L has a few extra features that you do not normally find inside a low-end WiFi router. For example, it has a built-in storage server that works with attached USB storage. The "L" in the model number stands for "Linux" with the implication that you will be able to tinker with this device a lot more than you normally could with a low-end WiFi router.

Standout features

  • Advance Configuration: Compared to previous models of Linksys routers, the E2100L is a bit easier to work with for advanced items. For example, QoS is easier to set up, and the port forwarding has more slots for people running a lot of services.
  • Storage Server: If you want an easy way to get some shared storage on the network, just plug in a USB drive to the system and it's ready to go with minimal effort.
  • Easy Setup: If you are a less-savvy user, the router comes with a CD that can configure it (and your computer) easily.
  • Linux Inside: It's nice that the device is running Linux; it potentially opens the door to some interesting possibilities for tinkering.

What's wrong?

  • Price: For a router which does not have many standout features, it is rather pricey.
  • No Gigabit: How much could it have added to the cost of the unit to put Gigabit Ethernet ports in it instead of 10/100? This means that you'll be hooking up a GigE switch to it for your wired PCs, and if you choose to use the storage server, it will be running slowly.
  • Linux is not exposed: Now, it's understandable that Linksys doesn't want you monkeying around under the hood and then calling their support staff. But the "Linux Inside" is all marketing and nothing else. The fact is there is no obvious way to get to the underlying operating system.

Competitive Products

Bottom line for business

The Linksys E2100L takes the basic SoHo WiFi router formula, and adds Linux to the mix. On paper, this sounds great; it seems like you will have the opportunity to do something neat with your router, especially given the USB port.

For example, you might want to use the router to act as a VPN server, tweak the firewall settings "just so" or maybe even run a Web or email server on it. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen, at least without a ton of effort.

The sad truth is, Linksys put Linux on this router and advertises it as such, with marketing phrases like "customizable control over your wireless network for Linux pros" and "connect your devices with a wireless router that utilizes the Linux operating system and gives you more options for network customization," but the underlying OS is completely hidden from use. These marketing phrases (taken directly from their site) certainly imply that you will be able to get under the hood and tweak it, but the reality is, this is the same Web-based configuration that you see in every other Linksys devices, with the exact same configuration options (other than the built-in storage) that my WRT54G that I bought in 2008 had.

So, what justifies the $40 extra compared to, say, the Netgear WNR2200 (which I saw on Amazon for a mere $59)?

Well, there is the built-in file sharing. I suppose that if you want to do internal file sharing, and none of the devices on your network are always on, or you cannot figure out how to do file sharing on your operating system of choice, this might be a useful option.

However, no business should be using this, because they won't have any ability to easily back up their data, and I would not recommend that home users store anything important on it either. From what I can tell, there is no way to change the workgroup information, let alone join an Active Directory domain. Ironically enough, there is no NFS access for the Linux users either.

To make matters worse, the wired ports are 10/100, not Gigabit Ethernet, so anything large that is stored will be transferred much slower than it needs to be. On that note, if you use the wired ports at all, you will really want to pick up a GigE switch separately and connect it to the router, so at least your wired computers can run at full speed. This was honestly shocking to me, I cannot remember the last time I saw a PC with only a 10/100 NIC, so why make a router with 10/100 ports?

If you really want a router with Linux on it, pass on the E2100L; for all intents and purposes, the underlying OS is irrelevant since you cannot get to it. If you need to share important data, use a proper file server that can perform backups on a regular basis and supports all of the functionality you really need, like Active Directory and Windows Workgroup participation, NFS access, etc. For users who need high speed data transfer between devices, you will (again) want a different device or an external switch. The upscale features of the E2100L are all held back by their limitations, and it is hard to see spending more on this device that its competitors.

User Rating

Have you encountered or used the Linksys E2100L SOHO WiFi router? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

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About Justin James

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

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