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We present the signal gain, wavelength tuning characteristics, saturation properties, and noise figure (NF) of MEMS-based widely tunable vertical-cavity semiconductor optical amplifiers (VCSOAs) for various optical cavity designs, and we compare the theoretical results to data generated from a number of experimental devices. Using general Fabry-Pe´rot relationships, it is possible to model both the wavelength tuning characteristics and the peak signal gain of tunable vertical-cavity amplifiers, while a rate-equation analysis is used to describe the saturation output power and NF as a function of the VCSOA resonant wavelength. Additionally, the basic design principles for an integrated electrostatic actuator are outlined. It is found that MEMS-tunable VCSOAs follow many of the same design trends as fixed-wavelength devices. However, with tunable devices, the effects of varying mirror reflectance and varying single-pass gain associated with the MEMS-based tuning mechanism lead to changing amplifier properties over the wavelength span of the device.