/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Amped Wireless RTA2600 Athena Wi-Fi router review: Slower and more expensive than the competition

Dong_Ngo.jpg

Wireless routers already have a crazy amount of jargon attached to them, but apparently there's always going to be room for more. The latest piece of Wi-Fi tech to enter the vernacular is MU-MIMO (pronounced "moo-meemoh").

amped-wireless-rta2600-router-0481-003.jpg
6.7

Amped Wireless RTA2600 Athena Wi-Fi router

The Good

The Amped Wireless RTA2600 Athena High Power Wi-Fi router delivers solid performance, especially when multiple devices using various Wi-Fi technologies are connected. It's also compact and easy to use.

The Bad

The RTA2600 has less features and slower performance than its competitors and is more expensive. Its storage feature doesn't support media streaming or Time Machine backup for Macs.

The Bottom Line

The RTA2600 is a solid router that excels with multiple connected devices, but its competitors are faster and less expensive.

With a typical router, Wi-Fi devices (like your smartphone, laptop or media streamer and so on) of a lower Wi-Fi speed tier will adversely effect the performance of higher-speed devices in the same network. MU-MIMO routers like the Amped Wireless RTA2600, on the other hand, are much more efficient when doling out data, giving each connected device just as much as it needs; no more and no less. This means that with a MU-MIMO router, you can connect multiple devices at once without seeing a drop in speed for any of them.

The problem is that, in order to get the full benefit of this technology, both the router and the connected device need to support it. And right now there are very few devices that use MU-MIMO. In fact, the Linksys A8500 is currently one of only a few other routers that also supports MU-MIMO. The Linksys EA8500 is also faster and has more features than the RTA2600 and currently costs $40 less.

In addition, compared to traditional routers (the fastest of which range from $150 to $200), at $280 the RTA2600 is too expensive, doesn't offer as many features, and isn't as fast. (It's not currently on sale in the UK or Australia, but $280 converts to around £185 or AU$400.)

That said, for the alternatives that might better meet your budgetary and performance needs, check out CNET's list of the best home routers.

The RTA2600 has a traditional design for a home router.

Josh Miller/CNET

Compact design, powerful hardware

The RTA2600 is one of the most powerful routers from Amped Wireless to date. It features a dual-core 1.4GHz processor, 128MB of flash storage and 512MB of DDR3 system memory. The router also supports USB 3.0 with one port on its right side, with another USB 2.0 port on the back. All of these can be used to host storage devices.

The router has the usual four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN (Internet) port on its back. Also on the back are four detachable antennae, making the back area quite crowded. On top, the router has an array of LED lights to show its status, but you can turn all of them off (or on) via a button that's also on the back.

The RTA2600 is surprisingly compact, considering its specs. It's just about two-thirds the size of the Linksys EA8500. It's designed to sit flat on a table or shelf but can also be mounted on a wall.

As a Wi-Fi router, the new router features the new multi-user multiple-input and multiple-output (MU-MIMO) technology offered by Qualcomm MU/EFX Wi-Fi chip. On paper, this means the router is a quad-stream (4x4) router that has a top speeds of 1,733 megabits per second on the 5GHz band, and up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, earning it designation as an AC2600 router.

MU-MIMO Wi-Fi technology

In a nutshell, Qualcomm's new MU-MIMO 802.11AC Wi-Fi chip can handle Wi-Fi bandwidth more efficiently, thus is capable of delivering betters data rate to multiple connected clients at a time.

More specifically, existing 802.11ac routers (or Wi-Fi access points) employ the original MIMO technology that treats all Wi-Fi clients the same, regardless of the clients' Wi-Fi tier. For example, a 3x3 802.11ac router, such as the Linksys WRT1900AC, has a max Wi-Fi rate of 1,300Mbps, and the iPhone 6 is a 1x1 Wi-Fi client with a max data rate of just 433Mbps. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards in this article.) But when the two are connected, the router still uses the entire 1,300Mbps transmission to the phone, wasting roughly 867Mbps. This is like ordering a small cup of coffee and having the barista pour it into an extra large cup.

With MU-MIMO, multiple simultaneous transmissions of different Wi-Fi tiers are sent to multiple devices at the same time, enabling them to connect at the speed each client needs. In other words, having a MU-MIMO Wi-Fi network is like having multiple wireless routers of different Wi-Fi tiers. Each of these "routers" is dedicated to a tier of clients in the network, so that multiple devices of different grades can connect at the same time without slowing each other down. This is similar to having multiple baristas in a coffee shop, each assigned to give out particular cup sizes of coffee so that customers can get the exact amount of beverage they ordered at a much speedier pace.

Like with all Wi-Fi technologies, MU-MIMO supports all existing Wi-Fi clients, but it works best with clients that also supports MU-MIMO. That said, you won't able able to experience MU-MIMO in its full benefit with existing pre-MU-MIMO clients, though the new technology did help improve the performance in my testing.

capture.jpg
The RTA2600 router's interface is responsive and easy to use. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Ease to set up, responsive interface

Like previous routers from Amped Wireless, the RTA2600 was easy to set up. Out of the box, it even comes with a network cable already plugged into its WAN (Internet) port. You just need to connect the other end of that cable to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem, then plug the router into an electrical outlet and you're done. The router comes preconfigured with two Wi-Fi networks (one of each band), the information for which is printed on its underside. That's all you need to get up and running.

If you want to further customize the router, however, you will need to access its Web interface by pointing a browser from a connected computer to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.3.1. The default login is admin for both password and username.

The RTA2600's interface is similar to that of previous Amped Wireless routers. It has a granular menu on the right, in which each item opens to sub-menu items that will display their content in the middle. The settings, are generally self-explanatory ,and there's also a quick context-based Helpful Tips button that explains what each section does.

Overall, the interface itself is user-friendly and responsive. There's one caveat, however: the router requires a restart for almost all changes to take affect, and it takes quite a long time -- more than a minute -- to restart. Other routers I've reviewed can apply many changes without having to restart at all.

Scant feature set

If you want to customize your Wi-Fi networks, the RTA2600 has that covered. The router has in-depth settings for Wi-Fi. There is one main Wi-Fi network for each band, plus four optional guest networks. In all, you can create up to 10 separate Wi-Fi networks and customize settings, bandwidth, security and so on for each one. You can even adjust the router's output power and range between 100 percent (default) and 15 percent, in case somehow you want to reduce the router's Wi-Fi coverage.

However, some other features of the router are rather shallow. For example, the dynamic DNS feature, which allows users to associate a plain-language domain name to the router's WAN IP address, only works with DynDNS.com and not any other provider. The network storage features, which is available when you connect an external hard drive to the router's USB port, supports only local file sharing and FTP. There's no support for media streaming to network media players or Time Machine backup.

Popular features like Firewall, Quality of Service (QoS), Web filtering and so on are also either too simplistic or require a lot of work to manually program them. Overall, compared with the Linksys EA8500, I find Amped Wireless RTA2600's advanced features to be lacking and less refined.

Mixed Wi-Fi performance

The RTA2600's performance is basically that of the Linksys EA8500 turned down a notch. Supporting MU-MIMO, it worked well in my testing with Wi-Fi clients of different tiers, allowing them to connect at their top speed. For example, a 1x1 802.11ac laptop would connect to the router at 433Mbps while at the same time, other 3x3 clients would connect at 1,300Mbps. While I had no problem getting the clients connected at the desired speeds (as shown by the software tool), the actual real-world speed of each connection wasn't as fast as that of the EA8500.

On the 5GHz band, when used with 3x3 clients, the router registered a sustained copy speed of 378Mbps at close range (10 feet). When I increased the range to 75 feet, it now scored 250Mbps. These were quite fast but noticeably slower than the EA8500 and even slower than many AC1900 routers.

It's important to note, however, that the power of MU-MIMO is not in the speed of a single connection, but that of each connection in a mixed environment in which many clients of different Wi-Fi grades are used together. For this, the RTA2600 did well. As I added more clients of slower speed to the network, the speed of the original test connection remained largely unchanged.

CNET Labs' 5GHz Wi-Fi performance

D-Link DIR-890L/R 601.7 160.9Linksys EA9200 577.8 242.7T-Mobile CellSpot 570.6 340D-Link DIR-880L 525.6 212.8Linksys WRT1200AC 522.6 246.8Asus RT-AC68U 521.4 336Linksys WRT1900AC 520.67 340.7Asus RT-AC3200 513.7 289Linksys E8350 511.1 304.6Asus RT-AC87U 504.4 278.6Netgear R8000 482.2 241.6Linksys EA8500 437.8 272.4Netgear R7000 432.1 295.4Netgear R7500 381.7 242.4Amped Wireless RTA2600 377.6 250.2Asus RT-AC66U 339.2 178.5Securifi Almond+ 277.6 173.4D-Link DIR-868L 271 221Amp Wireless RTA15 205.5 165.5
  • Close range
  • Long range
Notes: Measured in megabits per second, longer bars indicate better performance.

On the 2.4GHz band, however, the RTA2600 did much worse, with a sustained speed of just 98Mbps and 45Mbps for close and long range respectively, when working with a 3x3 802.11ac client.

CNET Labs' 2.4GHz Wi-Fi performance

T-Mobile CellSpot 249.56 214.34Asus RT-AC3200 235.7 66.4Linksys EA9200 226.2 40.9Asus RT-AC68U 225 211.4Netgear R7500 188.8 119.3Asus RT-AC87U 170.7 56Linksys WRT1900AC 168.3 50.34D-Link DIR-880L 160.8 89.5Linksys E8350 139.4 68.3Linksys EA8500 138.7 57.1Netgear R8000 134.4 57.6D-Link DIR-890L/R 121.8 34.4Netgear R7000 117.4 63.2Amped Wireless RTA2600 98.4 45.2Securifi Almond+ 87.9 23.2Amp Wireless RTA15 74.6 35.2D-Link DIR-868L 63.3 55.6Linksys WRT1200AC 57 41.6Asus RT-AC66U 36.8 15.2
  • Close range
  • Long range
Notes: Measured in megabits per second; longer bars indicate better performance

The router's range was slightly shorter than that of the EA8500, with the effective range topping at about 150 feet. While I was able to detect and sometimes connect to the router from farther away, as much as 250 feet, the signal wasn't strong or stable enough to maintain a solid connection.

Note that I tested the router at CNET's offices, where there are walls and many other Wi-Fi devices that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.

The RTA2600 also excelled in my stress test. It worked for days transferring large amounts of data back and forth between multiple clients and didn't disconnect even once.

Average NAS speed

Despite the powerful hardware and the USB 3.0 support, the RTA2600's network storage performance wasn't impressive.

In test via a Gigabit connection, it scored a sustained speed of just 31 megabytes per second for writing and 59MBps for reading. While these weren't exactly slow for a router, they were just half of what you could get from the Linksys EA8500, which shared the same specs.

At this speed, when coupled with an external hard drive, the router can work relatively well as a storage server for casual file sharing. Since it doesn't have any media streaming or backup features, it's recommended that you get a dedicated NAS server if you want to have a viable network storage solution.

CNET Labs' router network storage performance

Linksys EA8500 90.8 105.52Linksys WRT1900AC 75.9 105.24Linksys WRT1200AC 70.9 88.88Netgear R8000 42.6 71.76Asus RT-AC68U 41.2 53.86Netgear R7000 38.6 60.1Securifi Almond+ 38.5 48.5Linksys E8350 37.8 85.47D-Link DIR-890L/R 35.5 65.23Netgear R7500 33.9 65.86Amped Wireless RTA2600 31.3 58.78Asus RT-AC3200 27.5 28.79D-Link DIR-880L 27.4 44Asus RT-AC87U 27.2 32.31Apple Time Capsule 25.8 28.67Linksys EA9200 25.6 48.57Asus RT-AC66U 16.7 9.6D-Link DIR-868L 12.5 12.81D-Link DIR-827 8.5 15.8
  • Write
  • Read
Notes: Data rate of router when coupled with an external hard drive via a gigabit connection; measured in megabytes per second

Conclusion

Should you buy the RTA2600? The short answer is no. The biggest reason why is that $280 is a lot of money to spend on a router that is currently slower than several cheaper ones.

However, if you're dead set on buying a MU-MIMO right now, so that you're ready when supporting devices hit the market, we'd recommend you go instead with the Linksys EA8500. It has the same suggested price as the RTA2600 (and a cheaper street price) but has faster performance and includes many more useful features.

Still, prices on both routers are high, and while the MU-MIMO technology may eventually make an impact on your network speed, there just aren't enough devices that support it yet, so right now there's no real benefit.

By next year there may be more options to choose from, and prices on the current routers may also be much lower. As it stands now, I'd recommend going with a regular MIMO router such as the Linksys WRT1900AC, the Netgear R7000 or the Asus RT-AC68U . All of these cost significantly less and offer faster performance, longer range and more features.

amped-wireless-rta2600-router-0481-003.jpg
6.7

Amped Wireless RTA2600 Athena Wi-Fi router

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 6Performance 6Support 7