In my opinion E4X is the way to go, i always play it
I also enabled the 2 research mods of E4X and i must say, i'm happy that research keeps going.
I'm now playing a game ffa me and 5 of the hardest ai enemy's. It's been going for about 12h it's just me and 3 ai remaining, and my research is still going.
By using the research mods, the factions strengts are being more distingt, for instant AL is all about culture, now it's culture is insane,