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Wireless Reviews

MU-MIMO Range Extender
At a glance
ProductLinksys MU-MIMO Range Extender (RE9000)   [Website]
SummaryTri-band Wi-Fi Range Extender based on MediaTek chipset.
Pros• Less expensive than NETGEAR EX8000 with similar performance
• Small footprint that can be wall/ceiling mounted
• Four port Gigabit switch
Cons• Doesn't use 2.4 GHz as backhaul

Typical Price: $169  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

Linksys' RE9000 MU-MIMO Range Extender follows NETGEAR's EX8000 Nighthawk X6S Tri-Band WiFi Range Extender as the second "tri-band"/three-radio Wi-Fi extender to hit the streets. Linksys has decided to use price as its primary means of knocking the EX8000 down a peg or two in sales, given its current $170 price vs. the RE9000's $230. I'll be comparing the two throughout the review.

The RE9000 combines a two-stream dual-band 802.11ac AC1300 class radio with a third, four-stream 5 GHz radio. Maximum link rates of 400 Mbps (2.4 GHz), 867 Mbps (5 GHz) and 1733 Mbps (5 GHz) add exactly up to the 3000 Linksys uses as the RE9000's class rating. So far, this puts the RE9000 and EX8000 on equal footing.

Both products always prefer to use the highest-bandwidth four-stream 5 GHz radio to connect back to the base router being extended, i.e. for backhaul. However, where the EX8000 uses the 5 GHz U-NII-3 high band (Channels 149-165) for its four-stream backhaul radio, the RE9000 uses the U-NII-1 low band (Channels 36-48). Since maximum allowed transmit power is now the same for both channel groups, this should have no effect on performance.

Linksys RE9000 architecture

Linksys RE9000 architecture

But you'll want to make sure you change the base router 5 GHz channel to allow the RE9000 to take full advantage of its maximum bandwidth if you have a three or four-stream router. In the old days before Wi-Fi classification became the mess it now is, it was much easier to tell how many streams a router used. The simple approach for the RE9000 is, if in doubt, just set your base router's 5 GHz radio to 36, 40, 44 or 48.

The more significant difference between the Linksys and NETGEAR, however, is that the RE9000 does not use the 2.4 GHz radio for backhaul. The EX8000 prefers to use its four or two-stream 5 GHz radios for backhaul, but will fall back to using 2.4 GHz if it can't connect on 5 GHz. I suspect this is a software limitiation and could be changed in a future firmware release. But when I confirmed the no-2.4 GHz-for-backhaul "feature" with Linksys, they didn't say they would be changing this limitation.

In any event, the RE9000 is like most other of today's extenders and doesn't require your router to support WDS. The RE9000's connection wizard has a built-in site survey to make setup easy.

Linksys RE9000 site survey

Linksys RE9000 site survey

The RE9000 is a compact little guy and could be mistaken for one of Linksys' remaining E1200 or E2500 N-class routers were it not for the four external dual-band antennas (not upgradeable). The LED callouts shows the single LED used to communicate status. I'm red/green color blind, so the choice of green and orange colors were not good for me.

Linksys RE9000 LED callouts

Linksys RE9000 LED callouts

The rear panel callouts show the four Gigabit Ethernet ports, power port and reset button. There's also a WPS button on the right side. Each Ethernet port has a link/activity LED. One of the things you don't get with the RE9000's lower price is the ability to serve/share files from USB storage.

Linksys RE9000 rear callouts

Linksys RE9000 rear callouts

The RE9000 can sit on a shelf or table but also has screw mounting slots on its bottom that allow pointing the rear connectors up or down.

Inside

The RE9000's short term confidentiality period expired, so I was able to use the FCC internal photos. It's a little difficult to see in the photo below, but the two black cables connect the 2x2 2.4/5 GHz radio to the rear two antennas. The four gray cables connect the 4x4 5 GHz radio to all four antenna positions.

Linksys RE9000 inside

Linksys RE9000 inside

Another FCC photo makes the RE9000's MediaTek platform pretty plain. Not called out here, but shown in a close-up photo is the MediaTek MT7621AT dual-core network processor powering the whole shebang. The white 5 GHz band filters are labeled with frequency values that make it easy to tell which radios are which.

Linksys RE9000 board top

Linksys RE9000 board top

The table shows the key components of the RE9000 and NETGEAR EX8000 for comparison. The FCC photos didn't clearly show the RE9000's RAM and flash, so I used WikiDevi's guess. I could find no sign of any 2.4 GHz power amplifiers or front ends, by the way.

  Linksys RE9000 NETGEAR RE9000
CPU MT7621AT Dual-core Network Processor Qualcomm IPQ4019
Switch In MT7621AT QCA8075
RAM 128 MB (?) 512 MB
Flash 16 MB (?) 32 MB
2.4 GHz Radio (2x2) - Mediatek MT7615DN
- No power amp
- In IPQ4019
- Skyworks SKY2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x2)
5 GHz radio (2x2) - Mediatek MT7615DN
- SKY85728-11 5 GHz WLAN Front-End Module (x2)
- In IPQ4019
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz power amp (x2)
5 GHz backhaul (4x4) - MediaTek MT7615N
- SKY85728-11 5 GHz WLAN Front-End Module (x4)
- QCA9984
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz power amp (x4)
Table 1: Linksys RE9000 key components

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