Difference between TP-Link RE650 and RE500? Firmware limits.

TP-Link’s two Wi-Fi access points/repeater models AC1900 RE500 and the AC2600 RE-650 look identical on the outside, and their FCC filings reveal that they’re also identical on the inside. The two products are limited to different theoretical maximum speeds only because the cheaper model is locked to at lower speeds.

At the time of publishing, the RE500 costs 109 USD and the RE650 costs 149 USD on Amazon. However, you’re getting the same physical product no matter which model you decide to purchase. Despite being the same product sold under different names, the two models are sold with different performance specifications:

Model MU-MIMO 802.11ac Type
RE500 3×3 AC1900
RE650 4×4 AC2600

The availability of the different models varies by market.

Despite the two models’ different performance characteristics, the hardware is entirely the same according to FCC test report filings. Meaning that the lower performance on the cheaper model is controlled entirely by software locks in the device’s firmware. Specifically, the RE500 is limited to using 3×3 streams Multi-User Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MU-MIMO) compared to the 4×4 streams the hardware is capable of.

This artificial performance cap in one of the two models based on the same identical hardware is just yet another thing that reinforces why it’s important with open Wi-Fi firmware. The device could be faster at the same reduced price, but TP-Link decided to cripple one version of the product to ensure they could charge extra for the fastest performing model. Notably, TP-Link was one of the first Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers that began locking down their firmware in to prevent the installation of custom after-market firmware.

I don’t know the technical measures TP-Link uses to limit the RE500 to slower speeds. It could be that you can just install the RE650 firmware on the RE500. I’m unable to test this and can’t confirm whether this is the case. TP-Link could be signing or verifying their firmware by serial numbers or other markers that would block the RE650 firmware from being installed on the RE500. If anyone can test this, please get in touch!

Update (): I’ve now heard from three readers who’ve tried to install the firmware from the RE650 on the RE500. The installation will fail with a message saying the update failed a checksum test.

In conclusion: if you’re considering getting either of these models then you shouldn’t buy the RE500. Instead, wait for the RE650 to either drop in price or go on sale at a comparable price to the RE500. TP-Link themselves have confirmed that the price of the RE500 is closer to what you should be paying for a device with the performance characteristics of the RE650. You shouldn’t pay any extra to get the exact same hardware without the artificially imposed performance restriction.