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

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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.

6.7 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6
  • Support 7

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").

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.

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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.

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