The Linksys Atlas Max 6E has the distinction of being the first three-piece mesh Wi-Fi system we’ve tested that uses Wi-Fi 6E technology to operate on the 6GHz radio band. At $1,199.99, it’s also the most expensive mesh system we’ve come across. It delivered solid 6GHz throughput performance in testing and offers lots of I/O ports and multi-gig WAN, but unless you're a die-hard early adopter, you’re better off waiting for more reasonably priced competing systems to hit the shelves, especially if you don’t have any devices that can connect to the 6GHz band. If that’s the case, check out our Editors’ Choice winner for Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems, the $449.99 Asus ZenWiFi AX XT8. It doesn’t offer 6GHz connectivity, but it’s a strong performer and is significantly more affordable than the Atlas system.
Little White Towers Packed With Features
We reviewed the Atlas 6E three-pack, which comes with three nodes and offers coverage for large homes of up to 9,000 square feet. If you have a smaller house you can buy a single unit for $499.99, which covers up to 3,000 square feet, or a pack of two for $899.99, which covers up to 6,000 square feet. For comparison, the ZenWiFi AX XT8 covers up to 5,500 square feet for $450.
The Atlas nodes look identical to the ones you get with the Linksys Velop AX4200. The small white towers stand 9.5 inches tall and are 4.4 inches wide by 4.4 inches deep. There’s an LED status indicator on the top of each node that turns blue when connected, red when it loses internet connection, yellow when it's out of range of another node, and purple during setup. Located on the base are an on/off switch, a reset button, and a WPS button, while around back are numerous I/O ports including four gigabit LAN ports, a 5GbE WAN port, a USB 3.0 port, and a power jack.
Inside each node are 12 antennas, a 2.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, 512MB of flash memory, and a Bluetooth radio (for setup). The Atlas is a Wi-Fi 6E system that can use the newly liberated 6GHz radio band, which offers amenities like extra Wi-Fi channels, more bandwidth, faster speeds, and lower latency than the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It’s important to note that the client device must support Wi-Fi 6E to connect to the 6GHz band.
In addition to Wi-Fi 6E, the Atlas uses all of the latest 802.11ax technologies including 160MHz channel bandwidth, WPA3 encryption, 1024 QAM, Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) data transmissions, MU-MIMO simultaneous data streaming, and direct-to-client signal beamforming. It’s an AX8400 system that can reach maximum data rates of up to 1,147Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, up to 2,402Mbps on the 5GHz band, and up to 4,808Mbps on the 6GHz band. It supports dynamic wireless backhaul, or you can use one of the LAN ports for wired backhaul.
The Atlas Max 6E system can be managed using a web-based console, but the Linksys mobile app for Android and iOS offers most of the same settings and is easier to use. It opens to a dashboard screen that displays the name of the network, its status (online, offline), and the last five client connections. It also has panels that show the number of connected devices and the number of nodes. The bottom half of the screen has an Internet Speed button for testing upload and download speeds using Ookla’s Speedtest utility, and contains panels for Parental Controls and Guest Networking. There are also buttons for sharing Wi-Fi credentials and troubleshooting a slow internet connection.
To see the names of all online clients and which band they're connected to, tap the Device panel. Tap any client to view details such as which node it's using, the IP and MAC address, and the operating system. Here you can give the device bandwidth priority and enable Parental Controls which are limited to pausing internet access, creating a scheduled pause, and blocking specific websites. There are none of the age-based filters or categorized website blocking features that you get with TP-Link’s HomeShield controls, and as is the case with most other Linksys devices, you don’t get the malware protection tools that you get with the TP-Link Deco X90 and Asus ZenWiFi AX XT8 mesh systems.
To access system-wide settings, tap the three bars in the top left corner of the dashboard screen. This opens a menu bar with options for Devices, Parental Controls, Wi-Fi Settings, Guest Networking, External Storage (USB drives), Priority (bandwidth allocation), Notifications, and Network Administration settings. Advanced settings include Port Forwarding and Port Triggering, MAC filtering, and DHCP and DNS settings.
Atlas Max 6E Installation and Performance
Installing the Atlas Max 6E system is easy. I started by downloading the Linksys mobile app and tapping Set up a New Wi-Fi Network on the opening screen. I then picked Velop from the list of router choices and followed the instructions to plug in a node and connect it to my modem. After a few seconds the LED began blinking purple, so I tapped Next and created an account using my email address and a password. I gave the network a name and a Wi-Fi password, gave the Atlas router a name, and the router node setup was complete. I tapped Add a Node, placed the satellite node in my living room, plugged it in, and waited a few seconds for the LED to blink purple. I confirmed the blinking LED and waited several minutes for the node to join the network, at which point I gave it a name. I repeated this step for the third node, updated the firmware, and the installation was complete.
We use a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra phone equipped with a Wi-Fi 6E radio to test throughput on the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz radio bands, and for the most part, the Atlas Max 6E turned in solid results. The main router node scored an impressive 121Mbps on the 2.4GHz close-proximity (same room) test, beating the Linksys Hydra 6E MR7500 (106Mbps) while coming in just behind the Netgear RAXE500 (127Mbps). At a distance of 30 feet, the Atlas router node managed 54Mbps, once again besting the Linksys Hydra 6E MR7500 (33Mbps); the Netgear RAXE500 led with a speed of 71Mbps on this test. Meanwhile, the Atlas satellite node garnered 120Mbps on the close-proximity test and 61Mbps on the 30-foot test.
On the 5GHz close-proximity throughput test, the Atlas router node returned a speed of 806Mbps and the Atlas satellite node delivered 792Mbps. Both speeds beat the Linksys Hydra 6E MR7500’s 750Mbps, but couldn’t match the Netgear RAXE500’s speed of 936Mbps. On the 30-foot 5GHz test, the Atlas router’s speed of 300Mbps was the slowest of the bunch: the Atlas Satellite node managed a respectable 515Mbps, the Linksys Hydra 6E MR7500 scored 303Mbps, and the Netgear RAXE500 topped them all with 530Mbps.
The Atlas router node provided a speed of 921Mbps on the 6GHz close-proximity test, which is pretty much in line with what we saw with the Linksys Hydra 6E (927Mbps). The Atlas satellite node managed only 598Mbps, and the Netgear RAXE500 took top honors with a speed of 951Mbps. On the 30-foot 6GHz test, the Atlas router (258Mbps) and satellite (218Mbps) couldn’t touch the Netgear RAXE500 (427Mbps). The Linksys Hydra 6E showed better range than the Atlas with a speed of 379Mbps.
We use an Ekahau Sidekick Wi-Fi diagnostic device and Ekahau’s Survey mobile app to test wireless signal strength. The software generates a heat map that displays the router and satellite node’s signal strength throughout our test home. (Editors' Note: Ekahau is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag's parent company.)
The circles on the maps represent the location of the router and the node and the colors represent signal strength, with dark green representing the strongest signal. Yellow is weaker and gray indicates no measurable signal reception. As shown on the maps, the two nodes combiner to deliver strong 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless signals to all corners of our test home. (Ekahau doesn't yet support 6GHz measurements.)
Mesh Wi-Fi 6E for Early Adopters Only
If you’re in the market for a whole-home Wi-Fi mesh system that operates on the uncrowded 6GHz radio band, the Linksys Atlas Max 6E is pretty much the only game in town right now, but at $1,200, it's very expensive. It delivered relatively good throughput in our performance testing and was easy to install and manage, but for this kind of money, Linksys should offer free malware protection and stronger parental controls. If you’re not yet ready to take the 6GHz plunge but want to upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6 network, consider our Editors’ Choice for Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems, the Asus ZenWiFi AX XT8. It doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6E, but it's a strong performer that offers a nice assortment of features including multi-gig WAN, USB connectivity, lifetime malware protection, and robust parental controls.