The RTA15 High Power Dual Band AC 700mW Wi-Fi router is the next step in Amped Wireless's quest for bringing great Wi-Fi range to its customers. The router packs even more power than the company's previous models and it's the first to support the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.
In my testing, it indeed offered very long range. Unfortunately the benefit of the large Wi-Fi coverage was, to some extent, canceled out by the signal's instability. The router's wireless data rates, though fast, were slower than those of similarly priced routers.
What the new device decidedly has going for itself are the well-thought-out Web interface, a nice feature set, and the ease of use. But at the current street price of some $190 -- more expensive than many more advanced routers -- the RTA15 is just too expensive for what it has to offer. For that amount of cash, general users can easily get a much better deal with one of those on this list.
Straightforward design, easy to set up
The RTA15 looks totally new compared with the R20000G, or the R10000G, coming in a typical design for a Wi-Fi router: a squarish box with three detachable high-gain antennas sticking up from its back.
Out of the box, these antennas are detached, but each of them comes with a number so you know which part of the router it's supposed to be attached to. Also on the back, the router comes with the usual four LAN ports (for wired clients) and one WAN port (to connect to an Internet source). All of these ports support Gigabit Ethernet, which offers a top speed of 1,000Mbps. There's also a USB 2.0 port to host a storage device (printers are not supported), and a recessed reset button that brings the router to its original factory settings.
On the front of the RTA15 is an array of LEDs showing the status of the ports on the back, the connection to the Internet, and the router's power. The router has four rubber feet and is designed to be put flat on a surface. It also comes with a small detachable base so that it can stay tilted at a 45-degree angle; you can also mount it on a wall.
Similar to the R20000G, the RTA15 comes with two LAN (CAT5) cables, one plugged into its WAN port and one plugged into one of its LAN ports. You just need to connect the cable in the WAN port to a broadband modem, and you are done. (The other LAN cable can be plugged into a computer that doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi, or you can just ignore it if all of your devices are Wi-Fi-enabled.) Now you can use the preconfigured wireless network information printed on the router's bottom to connect the devices to the network. The router also comes with a Wi-Fi Protected Setup button on the back that makes it possible to connect WPS-enabled clients to the network without having to know the preconfigured wireless network information at all.
If you want to further customize the router's default settings, such as changing the Wi-Fi network's name, Wi-Fi Protected Setup, or making guest networks, you will need to resort to the router's Web interface. To access the interface, just point a connected computer's browser to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.3.1. The default log-in information is the word admin for both the username and password.
In all, the entire setup process is quick and self-explanatory, but if you run into problems, the router comes with a very clearly illustrated setup guide and a DVD of support materials for you to read and watch.
Excellent Web interface, good set of common features
The RTA15's Web interface is very similar to that of the previous model but now is much more refined and robust. The interface has a Dashboard, which is a set of wizards for novice users, and and More Settings section for advanced users who want to customize everything manually via granular menus.
The router is a true dual-band router, offering two main Wi-Fi networks for the two 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. On top of that you can create four more Wi-Fi networks for each band, making a total of 10 concurrent networks. While in most cases just two networks are enough, having more networks means you can customize each of them for different purposes, or use one for each Wi-Fi standard. You can also use these as guest networks by isolating their connected clients from the local resources.
The RTA15 comes with a lot of common features collectively found in other routers, such as firewall, Web filtering, quality of service, port forwarding, the support for dynamic DNS, and so on. Each of these features were well-thought-out and convenient to use.
Like the R20000G, the RTA15's network storage feature is simple. Once an external hard drive is plugged into the router's USB port, its entire content will be shared across the network with everybody having full access to it. There's no way to customize this. In addition to this simple sharing method, you can set up an FTP server targeting the external drive. In my trials, the USB port worked with external hard drives formatted in either NTFS or FAT file systems and was able to handle drives that already contained data, quickly sharing a drive's content with the rest of the network.
Despite the fact this is a dual-stream router, I had high expectations for its performance, especially in terms of Wi-Fi range, and for the most part the router didn't deliver.
It did show great range, slightly longer than that of other higher-end three-stream 802.11ac routers. However, the signal quality was generally subpar. Farther away from the router, at 120 feet or more, it was generally hard to get a client connected, and when connected, the connection was finicky -- sometimes fast, others time slow, at the same spot.
A bit of a disclaimer: I tested the router at CNET's offices, where there are walls and many Wi-Fi devices that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference that hinders the reviewed unit's stability. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.
At closer distances, namely 15 feet and 100 feet away, the router did better. Its data rates weren't impressive on the chart, but this is mostly, again, because it's a dual-stream router, while most other recently reviewed routers are three-stream. Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.
When used with AC-enabled clients, the RTA15 scored 206Mbps at close range, faster than the other dual-stream router, the D-Link DGL-5500, and a few other three-stream routers. Quite impressive. When I moved the distance to 100 feet, it did even better at 166Mbps, right about average.
With 802.11n devices, on the 5GHz band, the router did terribly: 141Mbps and 65Mbps for the short and long distances, respectively, which was about at the bottom of the charts. On the 2.4GHz band, it did better: 75Mbps for short range and 32Mbps for long range, well above the average.
In all the new router's data rates were acceptable. What was not, however, was its Wi-Fi signal quality. In my stress test, where it was working with multiple clients and transferring data between them constantly, the router failed the test, with clients selectively being disconnected after just few hours. This happened consistently on both bands. This doesn't mean the router is useless; the clients reconnected right away, but it does mean you'll be frustrated if you use real-time applications, such as video chatting or online gaming.
In the end, I found that for the router to be worth its cost, the signal quality needs to be significantly improved. There's no use for the long range if you can't connect to it and keep the connection stable. Hopefully it will be improved via future firmware upgrades.
As for the storage support via its USB port, the performance wasn't anything notable. Via a Gigabit connection, when coupled with a portable external drive, the router registered just about 4MBps for writing and just 5MBps for reading. These were fast enough only for casual data sharing; if you want more, such as movie streaming or sharing a large amount of data between computers, a dedicated NAS server is recommended.
The RTA15 is an interesting router with lots of potential and could be a great choice for those who need range more than data rates. Unfortunately its unstable signal quality and the high price make it not a great buy, at least for now. Those currently having problem with Wi-Fi range, however, should still consider it, especially when new firmware has been released.