Netgear Nighthawk R7000 wireless router
An 802.11ac router with mean looks and top-notch speed
- Stand-out design
- Excellent short-range speed
- Useful mobile features
- Long-range performance wasn't great
Netgear's Nighthawk router offers an impressive array of features and, most importantly, it serves up very quick 802.11ac speeds. It wasn't great in our long-range tests, though. Nevertheless, consider picking it up if you're in the process of implementing a new fast home network -- you'll get a lot out of it.
Price$ 259.00 (AUD)
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Sitting at the peak of Netgear’s consumer router mountain, the Nighthawk R7000 is a high-powered unit that’s aimed at gamers and anyone else who wants to supercharge their home network. It features the latest wireless standard, 802.11ac, and it has a dual-core processor on the inside to make sure all of its networking functions run as smoothly as possible. Furthermore, it’s designed with plenty of attitude, and this should make it appealing to potential customers even before the specs come into play.
On the surface, the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 (also known as the AC1900) has an angular design not unlike the Christian Bale-era Batmobile, with a sloping posture and three large external antennas at the rear. It looks mean, like it means business, and it actually does mean business. On the inside it houses a dual-core, 1GHz CPU, and it can run at up to 1300 megabits per second (Mbps) when you use its 802.11ac Wi-Fi network.
To get the most out of that 802.11ac speed, you will need client devices that can also handle 802.11ac speeds, and this means clients such as recent laptops (those which have an Intel Wireless-AC module built in) or USB adapters that can be plugged into your existing PCs and notebooks. Other devices such as recent smartphones will also be able to run faster on the 802.11ac network, and Netgear has even come up with a way for you to easily share data between mobile devices when they’re connected to your home network. Devices such as consoles, which don’t support 802.11ac yet, should be connected to the router’s Gigabit Ethernet ports if the physical layout of your set-up permits this, and likewise with NAS (network attached storage) devices.
For our 802.11ac tests, we used a Dell XPS 15 laptop with a built-in Intel Wireless-AC 7260 module, which is capable of running at a maximum speed of 867Mbps. We transferred a range of large and small files from an Asustor AS-202TE NAS device connected to one of the Nighthawk’s Gigabit Ethernet ports, and those transfers were conducted from close range (up to 2m) and long range (up to 15m) distances. We then averaged out the transfer rates.
The Nighthawk didn't smash all records in our close-range tests (the Netgear R6300 still holds the record, though that was with two R6300 units working in bridged mode), but it got close. It recorded an average transfer rate of 43.15 megabytes per second (MBps) and its transfers peaked at a maximum of 49MBps. It’s a sensational result that’s a good deal faster than the last 802.11ac router we tested in the same environment — the Belkin AC1800 recorded an average of 29.09MBps in the same test. Small files were also transferred at a high speed, recording 37.7MBps from close range, and peaking at 47MBps. Again, this is noticeably faster than the Belkin, which recorded 30.01MBps in the same test.
You can see that from close range, and without any hindrance from walls, appliances, windows, or anything else that could potentially hamper the signal, the Nighthawk is a stellar performer. Getting data from our laptop to the NAS device also produced quick results of 26MBps. The most pleasing aspect of its performance from close range was its consistency throughout our tests (we tested this router for a period of three weeks before writing this review).
However, long distance is a great equaliser for wireless routers, and the Nighthawk was not immune to the extra metres we put between it and our test laptop. From 15m, the same files transferred at much slower rates, with the large files going at 8.92MBps, and the small files at 10.27MBps. The Belkin router was consistent at up to 10.6MB for both types of files. We tried placing the client in slightly different positions (which helped a little at the start of the transfers), and also using different channels, but the overall rates didn’t go up.
Beamforming is supported by the Nighthawk, and this was enabled by default in all our tests. It’s a technology that aims to find the most efficient direction in which to send signals, rather than sending the signal everywhere at once. Of course, the router also supports 2.4GHz networks, but its performance in this band was nothing to write home about. We tested in an area that is littered by 2.4GHz networks all around, so the 5GHz band was the better option for us.
A great router for the NBN
Update: the Netgear Nighthawk can be used easily to distribute an NBN connection, if you're lucky enough to already have one. These results were obtained using a fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection from Opticomm, with iiNet as the ISP. The router received the Internet connection from an Ethernet port in the home, which was wired up to the NBN hub, which had the NBN modem connected.
Other interesting features of the Nighthawk include Airtime Fairness, which has nothing to do with Michael Jordan, but instead means that transfers from slow devices no longer slow down fast devices (the quicker device gets priority time for its transfers), and there is built-in quality of service (QoS) for video streaming. The QoS feature has pre-sets for services such as YouTube (as well as others that aren’t officially available in Australia), but you can add any service that you use simply by entering a keyword from its URL.
We tested the QoS feature by using the NBA League Pass service. We used this streaming service while simultaneously downloading torrent files in the background (these went directly onto our Asustor NAS). The video stuttered (and eventually stopped) when the download speed reached 700 kilobyes per second (KBps). The video stream was set to consume 375KBps, which maxed out our ADSL2+ connection (it can handle about 1MBps). We then added the keyword ‘NBA’ to the router’s QoS and restarted the router. Running the same stream and more downloads, we noticed severe throttling of the torrents and the video played back smoothly throughout.
However, we did notice a quirk with this feature. When we had QoS enabled and listened to audio streams from Shoutcast (with no other network activity), the streams consistently stuttered (as if they were buffering). When we disabled QoS, the streams worked fine once again.
One of the features we really like about the Nighthawk (and other Netgear routers) is the built-in Readyshare feature for hard drives. There is a USB 2.0 port at the back, and a USB 3.0 port on the front of the router (the USB 3.0 port is on the front because it can cause interference to the 5GHz network if it’s placed at the rear). We were able to see fast transfer rates of 17.1MBps when copying data from the USB 3.0 port across the 802.11ac network. This is much faster than other routers, such as the Belkin AC1800, which gave 3.79MBps from its USB 2.0 port. Incidentally, we used a Seagate Backup Plus Fast drive for our tests, which is a drive with two hard disks installed in a RAID 0 array, and the router powered it perfectly.
The Nighthawk also includes parental controls that rely on Norton DNS servers, or you can use keyword filters, and the usual gamut of consumer router features is present in the Web interface. It’s an easy router to install if you just log into it through a Web browser and go through its Quick setup routine. Since it’s a router-only product, you’ll have to plug in your own modem, which can be either ADSL2+, cable, or fibre based.
Netgear has revamped the Genie mobile app for its routers. It now includes a Wi-Fi analytics tool, which can show you the signal of your wireless network and allow you to specifically test different areas of your home for signal strength, and it also includes a nifty little Turbo Transfer feature. When Genie is installed on two smartphones, for example, and if both those phones are on the same Wi-Fi network, files can be transferred directly between those two phones. All that’s required is an initiation for a transfer on one phone, and an acceptance of the transfer on the other. It makes for very easy large file transfers.
Genie can also be used to distribute the details of your Wi-Fi networks to other phones using QR codes.
There are plenty of features to play with in this router’s configuration pages, as well as its Genie mobile app. Importantly, though, it provides excellent short-range performance when using 802.11ac and compatible client devices. Its USB drive sharing feature is also a cut above the rest. It wasn’t great over longer distances, though, but how it performs over longer distances will depend greatly on your own environment. The price for the Nighthawk is about $259, which is reasonable for a high performance unit with the latest wireless networking standard.
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