|At a glance|
|Product||NETGEAR Nighthawk X6 Tri-Band WiFi Router (R8000) [Website]|
|Summary||First three-stream AC3200 router based on Broadcom XStream technology with two 5 GHz radios|
|Pros||• The second 5 GHz radio can improve total throughput|
• OpenVPN server
• USB 3.0 storage activity does not affect either wireless radio
• Total throughput improvement from second radio depends on client mix
• 5GHz radio assignment is simplistic
• Heavy wireless traffic reduces storage throughput
Typical Price: $180 Buy From Amazon
Updated 10/20/15: Component information added
So much for summer being a slow time for product introductions. Router manufacturers seem to feel that it is the ideal time to foist new products upon buyers. Last year it was AC1900 routers. This year it is two new router classes: AC3200 based on Broadcom's XStream "tri-band" architecture; and AC2350 (or AC2300), or the first true 4x4 router based on Quantenna's QSR1000 "wave 2" 802.11ac device.
The difference between these two approaches was described in MU-MIMO vs. XStream: The Coming Battle For Wi-Fi Airtime. So if you have no idea what the heck I'm talking about, please first go read that piece.
First out of the chute for AC3200 is NETGEAR's Nighthawk X6 that is the focus of this review. AC2350 is represented by ASUS' RT-AC87U, which is sitting in the "to be tested" pile waiting for a bit more stable firmware.
My R8000 coverage will be in two parts. This first installment will cover wired routing and storage performance and take its "Smart Connect" feature (NETGEAR's term for its implementation of Broadcom's XStream technology) for a stroll. The second part will cover wireless performance using a new wireless test process that I am putting the finishing touches on. The new process uses larger Octobox chambers, a new AC1900 class test client and even a turntable to rotate the router under test so that I don't have to eyeball multiple test runs any more to choose the "best" one.
The R8000 wins the contest for largest router yet. The photo below compares it to the original R7000 Nighthawk. The two are about the same width, but you can clearly see the X6 is deeper. The top cover is mostly a grid of small open triangles to provide plenty of ventilation. There is no fan in this puppy, so you better not stack anything on top of it.
R7000 and R8000 head to head
The bottom of the router has the same triangle pattern, but without the openings. The real vent slots are at the top of the photo and run the width of the router. Note the two mounting slots at the bottom of the photo. This puts the back panel connectors toward the floor if you choose to wall-mount it. NETGEAR chose not to go with the centrally located bi-directional slots the R7000 has.
All indicators are in a nicely-styled strip on the router top as shown below along with the larger WPS and Wi-Fi On/Off lighted buttons at the bottom. The default color is a soft white vs. the eye-killing blue that tends to not have high WAF. For an additional WAF boost, there is a physical LED On/Off switch on the back panel, that shuts off everything except the Power light.
R8000 front panel
All switches except the two mentioned above are on the rear panel along with all connectors. There is nothing on the side panels and only attractively designed ventilation slots on the front panel. All Ethernet ports are Gigabit, of course, and you one each USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports.
NETGEAR R8000 rear panel callouts
It's been awhile since I described the setup process for NETGEAR's Genie-based routers. But things—at least from a user's perspective—haven't changed since we looked at the WNDR3800. You just plug everything in, power up the router and point your browser at http://www.routerlogin.net and you're redirected to the web interface on the router. You don't have to type in an IP address such as 192.168.1.1, though that's the default address for the router.
If you have only wireless devices, you can connect via WPS or use the wireless password printed on the serial number label that contains everything else you need to know to first access the R8000.
NETGEAR R8000 rear panel callouts
In running through the setup, I was first presented with a screen that said that another router was detected and asked if I wanted to set the X6 up as an access point, which I declined. I appreciate the thought, since many ISP modems now actually include routers that in some cases can't be bridged. But I can see where unknowledgeable users could be confused by this.