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Netgear R6300 802.11ac wireless router
Netgear's R6300 supports 802.11ac and is a great all-round wireless router for the home
- Super-fast Wi-Fi
- Good USB sharing performance
- Very reliable performer
- Needs 802.11ac adapters to work best
- Hardware design a little awkward
- Parental filters not the easiest to set up
Netgear's R6300 is a cream-of-the-crop dual-band wireless router that supports the 802.11ac standard. It's a great overall unit that will work well in any networking environment. Team it up with client devices that support 802.11ac, and it will supply wireless speeds that are noticeably faster than 802.11n. Indeed, it's a router that represents the next step in wireless networking and it's well worth considering.
Price$ 259.00 (AUD)
At the enthusiast end of the wireless networking market there is a router that can perform faster than practically every other consumer wireless router on the Australian market. It's the Netgear R6300 and it supports the latest (though yet to be ratified) wireless standard: 802.11ac.
Reaching top speed
It's a router that has a speed rating of 1300Mbps using the 802.11ac standard on the 5GHz frequency band, which is almost three times faster than the highest speed rating for top-end 802.11n routers. The inconvenient thing about 802.11ac at the moment is that it isn't likely to be integrated in any new devices that will be coming out in the next few months (at least). A USB adapter that can run at anything close 802.11ac speeds has been released by Netgear (it's the A6200), but it's an adapter that doesn't support the full speed rating of the router (it has a maximum rating of 900Mbps). At the time of writing, that adapter cost a cool $109 and was available from at least three Australian online stores as far as we could tell (mWave, Scorptec and Computer Alliance).
Without any current integrated support or USB adapters that can harness the router's top speed, to get the maximum benefit from its 802.11ac functionality, two R6300 routers must be run together on the same network: one as a router and one to act as a wireless bridge. Think of this bridge as being a big wireless adapter that you can plug up to four devices into using Gigabit Ethernet. That's what we did for our tests, and the results were impressive.
However, this is not a typical user scenario and we don't expect many households to even consider such a setup due to the clunky nature of having to cater for two routers within a close proximity of each other and, of course, the costs associated with buying two routers. That said, if you have up to four devices in your home theatre setup that use Ethernet and you want to give them all access to a quick wireless network without having to enter wireless details for each device separately, then this could end up being a good solution. At the time of writing, one Netgear R6300 router on its own could be pre-ordered from $259 and above, which actually isn't too bad at all for a top-end consumer product that's barely hit the store shelves.
While the R6300 supports a wireless speed up to 1300 megabits per second (which equates to 162.5MBps, or megabytes per second), as with all wireless throughput ratings, it's a theoretical one. Interference from other networks in your environment, physical obstacles that are in the way, as well as overheads that govern network packets as they whiz to and from your computers and other connected devices ensure that the real-world speed is significantly lower than that. But even with those factors, the 802.11ac standard is still very fast and it works best on computers that have swift storage devices for serving and retrieving data (think laptops with solid state drives and desktops with high-density 7200rpm hard drives).
In our test environment, we set up one of the R6300 units as usual as a wireless router. A second R6300 unit was then set up as a wireless bridge. To do this, we had to venture into the 'Advanced Setup' of the R6300's interface, and select 'Use other operating mode' from the 'Wireless Settings' page. We then punched in the SSID and password of our 5GHz network, which we had previously set up on the router at the other end. It's important to note that 802.11ac will only work in 5GHz mode, which means it should be free of interference from 2.4GHz networks in your environment. Setting up the bridge went smoothly and we were up and running without having to troubleshoot any part of our network.
On our router, we plugged in our usual assortment of PCs and media devices, while on the bridge end of the network we plugged in a couple of notebooks using their Gigabit Ethernet connections. The routers were set up initially in a best-case scenario situation, that is, within a few meters of each other in the same room. We call this our short-range test. We also tested the network over a 10m distance, with brick walls and doors as obstacles. We call this our mid-range test.
To gauge the speed of this network, we transferred a series of large movie files from one of the PCs attached to the router to our notebooks attached to the bridge — after all, this router is perfect for moving large files, and what's larger than a bunch of movie files for a typical household network. Our test scenarios include a laptop with a regular hard drive, and one with a solid state drive, and we also compared the 802.11ac speeds to Gigabit Ethernet and to 450Mbps 802.11n speeds (using a Netgear N900 USB adapter and Intel Centrino 6300 integrated networking), all on the R6300 router. A hopefully not-too-confusing table of the average speeds of these scenarios is below.
You can see that 802.11ac provides a significant boost over the fastest 5GHz, 802.11n networks, and that you'll get greater performance if you use a laptop with a fast SSD in it, too (although this can be true of 802.11n networks, too). The slowest performer on that chart is the 7200rpm hard drive-based laptop using an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 adapter. It only just managed to reach double-digit transfer speeds on this router. Netgear's N900 USB adapter, which is dual-band and supports up to 450Mbps 802.11n speeds, performed quite well on this router, and was a much better match than the integrated Centrino adapter in our hard drive-based laptop.
It's important to note that the speeds you'll get will vary to ours depending on your environment and the equipment that you use. What you can glean from these results is that this 802.11ac router will be a worthy step up from 802.11n routers as long as you have 802.11ac gear on the other end of that router. It won't provide any immediately-noticeable speed boosts using current client hardware. That said, it's still worth considering this router if you're in the process of upgrading your current network. It's a simultaneous dual-band operator, so you'll be able to run 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n gear at the same time (up to 450Mbps in either band), it has a stack of built-in features and, of course, it will allow you to run at 802.11ac speeds once you upgrade your clients.
Design and other features
The style of the R6300 is also much different to current routers. It sits up straight and proudly illuminates the Netgear name for all to see on its wide face, and the splash of yellow at the base gives the otherwise black finish a bit of flair. The face is glossy and the downside is that after a while it can show up dust, so it will need regular cleaning. The rear has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a WAN port, a USB port and a power button (which we love), while the right side has another USB port and buttons for Wi-Fi Protect Setup (WPS) and for enabling or disabling the Wi-Fi (which we also love). However, the rear ports can be hard to work with due to them being in close proximity to the base and under a lip. It can be a tight squeeze to get your fingers under Ethernet cables if you ever need to remove them.
Unlike most routers, the R6300 doesn't ship with a wall adapter; instead it comes with a power brick similar to a laptop's that can put out up to 60W. During regular usage with 802.11n clients, it will consume about 12W. We didn't get a chance to measure the power draw with 802.11ac transfers.
The interface of this router, which can be accessed through the usual 192.168.1.1 address in a Web browser is the new Netgear Genie, which we've seen before in the N900 router. It's a comprehensive interface that takes a little getting used to. The main page contains the status of the Internet connection, the Wi-Fi network, it tells you how many devices are attached to your network, whether a USB drive is attached, if the parental controls are enabled and if the guest network is running. Clicking on any of these status buttons will bring up more information about them or take you to configuration pages.
We like the fact that the R6300 ships with a pre-configured network name (SSID) and password — you can be up and running in no time at all without even hard-wiring the router to a PC. The SSID and password information comes printed on a sticker and this means you can connect to it from a laptop or tablet straight away. The only thing you'll need to do is log in to the Web interface and let the Genie detect your Internet settings. Then it's just a matter of entering your ISP login details to get connected. If you want to change the SSID and password details (and you should), you can change all the details, including the SSID, the password and channel of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks from the same page. This makes setup very quick and convenient.
You can easily use the R6300 to turn external USB drives into network-accessible drives, simply by plugging them in to the router's USB ports (you can also share printers through these ports). When you plug in a USB drive, it will be accessible through your computer network and you will be able to read and write files to it at a quick rate. Because the router supports DLNA, you'll also be able to easily access files through your TV, console or any other devices you have that also support DLNA. We had no problems at all using this functionality on our network. The USB storage also worked well to serve files to a WD TV Live media streamer.
The R6300 has parental controls that are supplied by OpenDNS. You have to download an extra program in order to use this function and when you click on 'Parental Controls' in the router you are taken to the page from which you can download the program for your computer. To use it, you have to first add your network to OpenDNS, which means you have to let it detect your IP address and tell it that it is a dynamic one (it will update it automatically as it changes), and then you have to select a protection level.
The protection is based on lists of questionable sites so it's important to note that not everything will be caught by this filter. If you want more control over what your kids can access, then you can enable keyword filtering or even add any specific domains that OpenDNS may have missed. Email alerts can also be enabled so that you can see what content has been blocked according to the site, and from which computer on your local network it was accessed. Your inbox could get messy.
Other features of the router include QoS, which can be applied from a pre-defined list of services, or to ones that you specify; you can configure port forwarding and Dynamic DNS for remote access or if you want to set up a server, and you can set up remote management of the router. There is also a traffic meter, which will bring up a Web page informing you if you are approaching the data limit you have set. The router supports IPv6.
We used the Netgear R6300 almost exclusively for at least two months and found it to be rock solid. It distributed our iiNet ADSL2+ connection without any problems and we didn't encounter any stability issues across the wired, wireless or USB interfaces of the router. We also found it to be very quick and relatively easy to manage through its Genie interface, and we like the fact that it comes with pre-defined wireless settings so that you don't have to plug it in to a computer to initially configure it.
So the question is, should you buy the Netgear R6300 now or wait until more 802.11ac routers come to market? You could wait to see what happens with prices, but as far as the product itself is concerned, we think it is well worth considering. It worked very well for us during our prolonged test period and we're excited by the speeds that 802.11ac produced, albeit in bridged mode. It's a fine router all around.
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