You would definitely love to be blown away by this first-of-its-kind Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E mesh Wi-Fi system. Who wouldn’t, after having paid $1200 for it?
(I paid nothing — Linksys shipped me a review loaner set — and still wished it were great!)
But the “it’s so expensive, so it gotta be awesome!” logic only goes so far. And in this case, the Linksys AXE8400 proved to be a bit of an exaggeration.
No, the new mesh system is not even remotely terrible. Quite contrary, each of its hardware units is an excellent standalone router. And if you have wired your large home, the 3-pack will fit in well.
As a fully wireless Wi-Fi system that costs an arm and a leg, though, the Atlas Max 6E falls short, partly because of the hype. If Linksys is your cup of tea, wait a bit for the price to go down or go with the now-discounted MX10 or even the MX4200 instead. If not, pick one of these Wi-Fi 6 alternatives.
Dong’s note: I first published this post on April 29, 2021, as a news piece and updated it to a full review on May 16 after thorough hands-on testing.
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Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E: A case of reality vs. expectations
Released on April 29, 2021, the biggest thing about the Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E is the hefty price tag. The second biggest thing, also supposedly its selling point, is the new 6GHz band — it belongs to the new type of tri-band broadcasters.
On the inside, though, the Atlast Max 6E is very similar to the MX10600 that came slightly more than two years ago, down to the physical look. And just like its older cousin, it proved to be a reliable tri-band mesh system. But this time with a twist.
It all started with how Linksys wants you to think of it. Specifically, the company says:
“Linksys Atlas Max 6E (AXE8400) unleashes the biggest upgrade to Wi-Fi in a decade, bringing the ultra-fast, low-latency 6GHz band to every corner of your home. Use as a backhaul between nodes or connect directly for seamless video conferencing, working from home, remote learning, and even the latest AR and VR. “
So the networking vendor paints lofty expectations of the 6GHz band’s range and performance. That’s misleading at best and just untrue at worst.
Let me be clear: It’s generally not a good idea to count on this new band’s range. Of the existing three Wi-Fi bands, the 6GHz has the worst range and signal penetration in my experience. That seems to be the nature of high radio frequencies.
That said, let’s check out the hardware specs and dive in a bit deeper in Wi-Fi 6E in a mesh.
Linksys MXE8400 vs MX10: Hardware specifications
Like the Linksys MX10 Velop AX (MX10600) which includes two MX5300 tri-band routers, the Linksys AXE8400 Atlast Max 6E mesh system consists of three identical routers — each has the model name of MX8500.
(In the future, you might be able to find it in 2-pack as well as a single router.)
At its core, the AXE8400 is a tri-band 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 router that includes a 2.4GHz, a 5GHz, and a 6GHz band. The MX5300 is also a tri-band, including two 5GHz bands (Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5) and a 2.4GHz.
|Full Mesh Name||Linksys MX8400|
Atlas Max 6E
Wi-Fi 6E Mesh System
|Linksys MX10 |
Velop AX Whole Home
Wi-Fi 6 System
|Model||Mesh System: MXE8400|
Each Unit: MX8500
|Mesh System: MX10|
Each Unit: MX5300
|Default Mesh Availability||3-pack|
|Dimensions||4.45 x 4.45 x 9.57 in|
(11.3 x 11.3 x 23.3 cm)
|4.5 x 4.5 x 9.6 in |
(11.4 x 11.4 x 24.4 cm)
|Weight||3.25 lbs (1.47 kg)||3.5 lbs (1.59 kg)|
|Wi-Fi Specs||Tri-Band AXE8400||Tri-Band AX10600|
|1st Band||2.4GHz 4×4 AX |
Up to 1147Mbps
|2.4GHz 4×4 AX|
Up to 1147Mbps
|2nd Band||5GHz 4×4 AX|
Up to 2402Mbps
|5GHz 4×4 AX|
Up to 2402Mbps
|3rd Band||6GHz 4×4 AXE|
Up to 4804 Mbps
|5GHz 4×4 AC|
Up to 1733 Mbps
|Wi-Fi Security||WPA2 and WPA3||WPA2 and WPA3|
|Web User Interface||Yes||Yes|
|AP (Bridge) Mode||Yes |
(as a router or a mesh)
(as a router or a mesh)
|USB Port||1x USB 3.0||1x USB 3.0|
|Gigabit Port||4x LAN||4x LAN, 1x WAN|
|Multi-Gig Port||1x 5Gbps WAN||None|
|Processing power||2.2 GHz Quad-Core CPU,|
1GB RAM, 512MB Flash
|2.2 GHz Quad-Core CPU,|
1GB RAM, 512MB Flash
|Release Date||April 29, 2021||February 2020|
|Price (at Launch)||$1199.99 (3-pack)||$599.99 (2-pack)|
Other than the 6GHz band, what’s most noticeable about the MX8500 is the 5Gbps WAN port, making it similar to the MR7500.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to make this port work as a LAN port in the router role, making it impossible to figure out its Wi-Fi’s top speed in my testing.
The breakdown of Wi-Fi 6E in a mesh Wi-Fi system
I’ve written about both extensively — follow the links above if you’re new to them — but here is the recap:
- Wi-Fi 6E uses an all-new 6GHz band to deliver fast Wi-Fi speeds consistently — significantly more so than the 5GHz band. In other words, while these two bands share the same bandwidth cap, the 6GHz can deliver that basically all the time at close range.
- The 6GHz band has a noticeably shorter range and doesn’t handle walls or obstacles well. In my real-world experience, it has about 70% or 50% of the range of the 5GHz band when used in open space or behind a wall, respectively.
- A mesh system uses multiple broadcasters linked together to deliver a unified Wi-Fi network. When used in a fully wireless setup (for homes that are not wired), one of the Wi-Fi bands works as the backhaul link. In this case, clients will only get half that band’s bandwidth, if at all.
Put those three bullet points together, and you’ll get the picture of the Atlas Max 6E:
- If you use the 6GHz band as backhaul, the mesh will have mediocre coverage. That’s because you can’t put the hardware units very far from one another, especially when there are walls in between — all homes have walls. (For more check out this post on Wi-Fi as a whole.)
- If you use the 5GHz band as backhaul, the coverage will be better, and these are about to happen:
- You’ll get worse performance compared with a traditional tri-band system, like the MX10. That’s because existing 5GHz devices will have to deal with signal loss.
- Wi-Fi 6E client will get the speed of the 5GHz band backhaul at best.
- If you use the 2.4GHz band as backhaul, all devices connected to the satellite will get terrible speeds. But you’ll get the best coverage.
- As a system with a dynamic backhaul, the Atlas Max 6E will use whichever band it deems “the best” at any given time to work as the backhaul. Specifically, it’ll use the 6GHz, 5GHz, or 2.4Ghz in that order, depending on the distance between the hardware units.
So, as a wireless mesh, there’s hardly any scenario where the Atlas Max 6E is better than the MX1060 in terms of real-world performance and coverage.
Things are better if you use a wired backhaul or when you use a 1-pack as a standalone router. In this case, 6GHz clients will surely get better performance if you use them within the line of sight.
Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E: Detail photos
Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E: Familiar design and features
Despite being powered by the new Qualcomm Networking Pro 1210 Platform, the Linksys Atlas Max 6E is very similar to the previous Linksys Velop Wi-Fi 6 routers and mesh system.
Indeed, each MX8500 router shares the same hardware design as an MX5300 router. The two are almost identical, as you can see in the photos of the latter.
But the MXE8400 comes in a 3-pack (instead of a 2-pack). You pick one as the main router in a mesh, and the rest will work as satellite nodes. You can use the hardware fully wireless (intended) or use network cables as backhaul links (applicable to wired homes) in a mesh setup.
In the former case, the system uses Dynamic Backhaul Technology. Specifically, no band works solely in this role. Instead, any of the three bands will work as such, depending on the situation.
The mobile app vs web interface issue
The system comes with a full web interface, but it will nudge users to use the Linksys mobile app.
You can overcome this coercion by following the detailed steps in this post to set up and manage your network the way you do any standard router. The key here is to enable the hidden CA mode, which opens up advanced settings.
But if you use the mobile app, things are more straightforward. Linksys recommends setting up via web UI only if you run into problems using the app. By the way, even if you choose to use the web interface, you’ll also be coerced into getting a login account with Linksys though now it’s entirely optional.
Another thing to note is, like most modern Linksys broadcasters, the MXE8400 doesn’t support backup and restore (for its settings), so if you mess up big, you’ll need to reset the hardware and start from the beginning.
Also, even when you choose to go with the mobile app all the way, the setup process can be a bit tedious. Each step took a bit too long in my case and sometimes failed midway.
The Linksys mobile app itself feels a bit stale — it’s been the same app for years without any significant improvement. I tried it with a few android phones and an iPad, and it generally has a bit of delay to load or move from one section to another.
In short, the app sure gets the job done and is generally easier to use. But if you want to have complete control of the system, as well as your privacy, I’d recommend the web interface (without a Linksys account.)
Spartan feature and settings
Like most Linksys routers, the Atlas Max 6E has a relatively poor set of features and settings. In fact, considering its high cost, you can say the system has a terrible set of features.
Here are a few things you can expect from it:
- Device Prioritization: A relatively simple QoS feature that allows you to drag and drop up to three connected devices onto the Internet prioritized list. There’s no application-based prioritization.
- Parental Control: Also quite simple. You can block internet access or filter specific websites from certain clients at all times or based on a schedule.
- Essential network settings: Like most routers, the MX8500 has Dynamic DNS, port forwarding, IP reservation, and other common network settings.
Scant Wi-Fi settings
Like previous Linksys routers and mesh systems, including the MR7500, the Atlas Max 6E has scant Wi-Fi settings.
For the most part, all you can do is name the three bands with three different SSDs (network names) or as one — by the way, you have to do this for each since there’s no SmartConnect setting. After that, there’s not much else for you to customize.
If you turned on the CA mode, you could change a few additional things, but there’s no way to customize the setting to favor performance.
On the subject of router management, Linksys told me that its Wi-Fi “solutions are geared more towards the average consumer who prefers simple app-based setup and minimal backend work.” However, its “team is working to better combine the Linksys app and web UI features to cater to the more advanced users.“
That said, there might be more positive changes in the future via firmware/app updates. Or not.
Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E’s performance: Reliable, but you need to pick between fast speeds and large coverage
I tested the Atlas Max 6E as a single router and a mesh system for more than 10 days.
During this time, it proved reliable, which has been the strong point of Linksys Velop mesh in general. As for throughput speeds, that depends on how you use the hardware.
Modest 6GHz speeds as a single router
As a single router, the MX8500 proved to be slightly slower than the MR7500, which was a bit surprising considering the better specs. But it delivered the numbers one would expect from a Wi-Fi 6E router that has no Multi-Gig LAN port, according to my testing.
Again, since the hardware has limited Wi-Fi settings, I couldn’t tune it to deliver the best performance. As a result, of all the Wi-Fi 6E routers I’ve reviewed, the MX8500 was the slowest. But the numbers were within the max speed of a Gigabit connection.
By the way, as a single unit, the MX8500 has the same range as the MX5300. So if you have a place of some 2000ft2 (186 m2) to 2500 ft2 (232 m2), this single unit can probably handle it.
Interesting mesh performance
And if you wonder if a 3-pack will be able to handle some 6000ft2 or more, well, that depends on what kind of speed you want.
Indeed, the MXE8400 generally uses the 6GHz band as the backhaul in an open space. However, when you place the unit with a wall or two in between, chances are they will use the 5GHz or even the 2.4GHz band as the backhaul.
It’s important to note that sometimes the backhaul link changes without any particular reason, even if you don’t move the hardware at all.
There’s no way to figure out which band is being used as backhaul, by the way, and I figured this out myself by connecting a client to a satellite’s network port to gauge the speed between it and the main router.
Also, I generally get about 300Mbps out of this system in my anecdotal trials within a large home, likely because it used the 2.4GHz band as backhaul.
However, the performance numbers in the charts here are those of my standard tests where I placed the nodes 40 feet (12 m) away from the primary router within the line of sight. In other words, these are the throughputs of the best-case scenarios.
Another thing to note is since most Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems don’t allow for separating the band as different networks, I generally only test them with Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 clients. The Linksys AXE8400 allows this, and I decided to try all its bands separately.
As you can see on the chart, the new system was not slow at all, but it wasn’t the fastest I’ve seen either. But it’s safe to say, if you have a large home and use this in a wireless setup, you should expect no more than 500Mbps out of it on average.
Excellent NAS performance
The Linksys AXE8400 did well in my testing when hosting storage devices. Each node can host a device, so with a 3-pack, you can connect up to three portable drives to the network to share their storage space.
I used two My Passport SSDs in my trial, one at the router and the other at a node. In the former case, I used only a Gigabit connection for the test (the modem occupied the WAN port.) However, at the satellite, I could use a 5Gbps connection — the WAN port now worked as a Multi-Gig LAN –, and the performance showed accordingly.
Specifically, via a Gigabit connection, the MX8500 average over 110 MB/s for both reading and writing, effectively maxing out the 1Gbps link. Via the Multi-Gig link, it now averaged over 160Mb/s ver writing and almost 237MB/s for reading.
In all, with this type of performance, you can expect good network data sharing via the Atlas Max 6E. And the ability to host multiple external drives is always a bonus.
Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max's Rating
Reliable performance, extensive coverage
5Gbps WAN port
Excellent NAS performance when hosting external storage device(s)
Separate SSID for each band
Comparatively slow mesWi-FiFi speeds in homes with walls
Limited Wi-Fi settings and features, mobile app coercion
No Multi-Gig LAN port (main router), Dual-WAN, or Link Aggregation
No setting backup and restore
Linksys picks and chooses in describing the Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E, which is expected in marketing, and that’s the company’s prerogative to do so. The issue is, in return, the new mesh system is not equally flexible in settings and management.
What’s more, the hyped-up expectations of the new 6GHz band can bring about disappointments. And finally, the ultra-high cost is a deal-breaker.
Again, the Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E will work out well in most cases, but there’s no way it’s worth the $1200 investment. Wait a while for the price to go down before considering it. You likely don’t have many 6GHz clients before then anyway.