Netgear prowls the dark frequency ranges with the R7000 Nighthawk
The Netgear Nighthawk R7000 was originally launched in March, but for various reasons it has only just recently come to me.
That’s not a bad thing in some respects, because since then the price has dropped from the RRP level, and Netgear updated the firmware with an AC certified release.
Visually, the Nighthawk R7000 is a major departure for Netgear. Gone is the bevelled monolith, to be replaced with a look inspired by the F-117a Stealth Fighter. Love or hate it, one can’t deny that it has all the aesthetic impact of a hurled Batarang.
What’s probably more important here is what Netgear put inside the box. and it didn’t skimp on trying to make this one of the most impressively specified home routers available today.
To this end, it gave the R7000 a 1GHz dual-core SoC Broadcom BCM4709A, 256MB of RAM and four radios supplied by Broadcom and Skyworks chippery. The wi-fi part of the devices is wired to a four-port gigabit switch and dual USB ports (one 3.0 and another 2.0).
But it’s hard not to be cynical, because I’ve seen well- specified routers that failed to convert great specifications into performance when it counted. Yet the R7000 actually exceeded my expectations in both its wired and wireless functions, and even the USB performance is good.
This router is rated at AC 1900, the significance of which is subtle. On AC 1750 hardware, 2.4GHz 802.11n connections use 64-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation), but the Broadcom chips used here allow 256-QAM (aka TurboQAM), boosting the bandwidth from a theoretical 450Mbps to 600Mbps. Another 1300Mbps is available from 5GHz, making the collective total approximately 1900Mbps.
However, to connect at this higher 2.4GHz speed, clients need to be upgraded to support 256-QAM, usually with a firmware patch if the makers have issued one.
That hints at the special conditions that must be met to access these speeds. At this time, there is only one AC 1900 capable client device available, and that’s a PCE-AC68 PCIe card by Asus, so whatever phone you’ve got. it won’t exploit this capability. The only practical method to use all this bandwidth today is to have two AC 1900 routers and bridge between them.
That begs the question of whether the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 is a technical wonder but practically pointless. I’d contest not, because more AC 1900 client devices will appear, and for those going through a transition, this is also very well disposed to support 802.11n clients.
However, as I’ve pointed out on previous occasions, any router that claims to distribute more than a gigabit needs to have more than that bandwidth to write, and the Ethernet here is only gigabit.
As this is a switch, two AC devices could be accessing two wired NAS boxes, and it would be distributing more than a gigabit overall, but with a single source more than a gigabit is impossible.
What you’re buying into with the R7000 is the future of 802.11ac wi-fi, because this router is set up for where we’re heading now, not where we are at this exact moment.
That point firmly put, what speeds can you really expect for this level of investment? Close up, you can experience over 600Mbps, dropping to 300Mbps by about 80ft. That equates to roughly 70MB/S nearby and at least 35MB/S further out.
The 802.11n performance is lower but still very impressive, especially if the client supports dual-channel modes.
As 802.11ac routers go, these are sterling numbers, and overall throughput is very good on both wi-fi and wired connections. The range is also excellent, and with detachable antennas, you could upgrade that capability later.
This is also the very first router I’ve tested where using the USB 3.0 port over the 2.0 option actually made a difference to the speed that files were shared. It still maxed out at about 65MB/S reading, but that’s at least double than USB 2.0 and quicker than some NAS boxes I could mention.
How could it be better? For whatever reason, Netgear didn’t offer channel bonding on the wired side – something this router could really use.
The web interface also isn’t the most elegant I’ve seen, but it provides a better level of access than the Netgear Genie application it promotes for phone and tablet use.
There are also AC class routers that are substantially cheaper than this one, but the Nighthawk R7000 does offer some of the best performance of this technology so far.
It all depends if that extra zip and the promise of future 802.11ac enhancements outweigh the difference in cost between the Nighthawk and a good AC 1750 specification router.
by Binh Phan Duc