Amped Wireless REA20
Amped Wireless may be one of the lesser-known vendors in this fight, but its REA20 range extender is a strong contender for a variety of reasons. With a retail price of $160, the REA20 is easily the most expensive model being reviewed. But, at least on paper, there some added values we have to take into account. Of the four products we're covering, this is the only one with three external antennas: one for 2.4GHz, another for 5GHz and a third that supports both frequencies. Amped Wireless also has some internal goodies to optimize your signal, as well as one of the stronger feature sets in terms of configuration and management.
The REA20 ships with five gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting wired clients. Amped Wireless provides a USB 2.0 port that can be used for sharing files from a connected USB storage device, though no media server support is offered. LED indicators along the top of the unit provide status information on power, the 5GHz and 2.4GHz radios, each of the five Ethernet ports and the USB port.
Included with the REA20 is a stand that holds the chassis diagonally, assisting with air flow and raising the antennas slightly (though this can get a little awkward if you have more than a few devices plugged into the Ethernet or USB ports). A WPS button is located on the back of the device, as well as a Reset button that's recessed to prevent your configuration from being wiped by mistake.
Amped Wireless arms the REA20 with a comprehensive set of configuration options. For starters, it can be configured as either a range extender (the default), an access point or a media bridge. Up to eight guest networks can be enabled in order to expose different SSIDs to clients. The BoostBand feature allows you to configure the network backhaul—connectivity from the range extender to the existing wireless network—to use a specific wireless band.
For the most part, the REA20 is pretty unremarkable in terms of appearance. The white finish under a layer of glossy acrylic certainly won't hide a coating of dust, but it's easy enough to wipe down (or hide, depending on your preference). Each antenna rotates and articulates independently, allowing you to adjust them for shelf or wall mounting. Cooling is strictly passive, using ports on the bottom and front to facilitate airflow. The lack of fans keeps this device completely silent.
Amped Wireless uses a Realtek 8197D SoC operating at 660MHz inside the REA20, which should be adequate for a platform that doesn't offer media server functionality. Each wireless band is powered by a Realtek controller: the RTL8192CE for 2.4GHz and RTL8812AR for 5GHz. The REA20 offers 700mW of amplification through a total of 10 amplifiers (4 x two-stage 5GHz, 2 x 2.4GHz and 4x wireless reception amplifiers), minimizing potential performance degradation due to a weak signal. The amplifiers used are the SkyWorks 50231 for 5GHz and Skyworks 65900 for 2.4GHz. Amped Wireless touts its combination of amplifiers and high-gain antennas, and claims that wireless signal strength is one of the REA20's most notable advantages.
In addition to the aforementioned networking options, the REA20 enables a variety of security features, including WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPA mixed and WPS; radio scheduling; and user filtering by MAC or IP address. Even the radio signal power can be managed individually for each frequency, from 10 to 100 percent power, giving you the ability to fine-tune the footprint of your wireless network. Finally, the REA20 can be configured to serve DHCP addresses to connected clients in situations where that's needed.
The REA20 comes with a power adapter and the aforementioned desktop stand, which also allows for some cable management. Each of the detachable antennas (2.4GHz, 5GHz and dual-band) is shipped disconnected in the box, and must be installed into the proper port prior to use. Documentation includes a setup guide and a CD with a full user guide and an installation video.
Note: Pricing for the Amped Wireless REA20 has been adjusted to current price.