Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 review – the fastest Wi-Fi in the business

£187
Price when reviewed

Netgear’s latest high-end router sports the newest innovation in Wi-Fi: it adds support for the fastest AC2350 transfer speeds. This ups the ante over last year’s AC1900 models by delivering a welcome performance bump and improved multi-user performance.

Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 review - the fastest Wi-Fi in the business

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Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 review: specifications

Like other true dual-band routers, the AC2350 number doesn’t refer to a single 2350Mbps signal, it’s actually the combined maximum throughput of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The AC1900 specification increased the bandwidth in the 2.4GHz band, bumping it from 450Mbps to 600Mbps, but with AC2350 it’s the turn of 5GHz to get a boost, rising from 1300MBps to 1733Mbps – an increase which delivers a theoretical total of 2333Mbps. For marketing purposes, though, Netgear has rounded this figure up to AC2350.

This is also classed as a true ‘Wave 2’ 802.11ac router as it sports a 4×4 antenna array with MU-MIMO (Multi User – Multiple Input Multiple Output) capabilities. This essentially means the router can provide its beam-forming range and speed accelerating abilities to more clients (up to four) at once.

Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 review: hardware and features

It’s this that leads to the R7500’s defining external feature – its four external aerials. These are all bolted to an already fairly hefty chassis and combined they make for a device that has a whopping footprint of 30 x 22cm, with those aerials also making it 20cm tall. It can also be wall-mounted, where it takes up 36 x 30cm and juts out about 5cm.

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Subtle it isn’t, then, but at least its styling has a certain angular, aggressive appeal to it – it’s all very fighter-jet-meets-Lamborghini, with the build quality to match.

Nor is it short on features. The R7500 packs in two USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA port for class-leading shared storage options. These are mounted on the left and right edges, where they’re a bit easier to reach, while the rest of the connectivity is on the back. You also get four gigabit Ethernet ports – we might’ve hoped for a couple more at this price.

Also round the back is a dedicated switch for turning off all the lights on the front edge. Not only does this mean you can reduce the disturbance of blinking lights in your living room but the fact it’s a hardware switch (rather than a software setting) means you can easily switch the lights on for troubleshooting.

Alongside those lights are buttons for toggling the Wi-Fi on and off and using WPS. These buttons are also backlit, which marks yet another nice little premium touch to this router.

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It’s a shame, then, that the user interface doesn’t live up to the same standards. For the most part it’s perfectly functional but it’s rather tired looking and in some respects a little unintuitive. It’s also quite slow and is missing some useful features, such as the option to specifically choose the Wi-Fi channel bandwidth and mode.

The same could be said of Netgear Genie. This otherwise useful desktop utility for finding and setting up the router and tracking network activity gets the job done, but we’re not fans of the way the router settings section uses a clunky sideways-scrolling interface.

The single most awkward part of the R7500’s interface, though, relates to its single biggest problem overall: a lack of client devices. Quite simply, at the moment there are no adapters/receivers that use a 4×4 aerial and thus can take advantage of what the R7500 offers. As such the only way to make the most of its speed and range is by buying two and using one as a Wi-Fi bridge.

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It’s setting this mode up that is particularly annoying as you can’t simply search for and find the SSID of your main router but instead have to manually input the SSID and security settings – it’s a tedious process.

Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 review: performance

Once up and running, though, there’s little to complain about here – the R7500 performs admirably. Running in bridge mode with the routers just 2m away we obtained a figure of 82.7MB/s, which compares to 76.8MB/s achieved by connecting via Asus’ PCE-AC68 AC1900 receiver. Using the same Asus receiver, the rival Linksys XAC1900 delivered 70.1MB/s.

Moving the test setup to 5m away and with one brick wall in the way, the Netgear struggled to a much slower 32.5MB/s. In contrast the Linksys only dropped to 44.6MB/s. However, moving further away still (15m with two brick walls) saw the routers swap places, with the Netgear delivering 27.8MB/s and the Linksys more than halving to 20.7MB/s.

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It’s a solid performer when using the more common 2.4GHz 802.11n protocol too delivering 16.5MB/s, 14.4MB/s and 7.31MB/s in the same test scenarios, which compares to 19.3MB/s, 13.1MB/s and 6.65MB/s for the Linksys. The Linksys may snatch the lead for short-range transfers, but long-range performance sees the Netgear edge back in front. Likewise the USB NAS performance is excellent: the Netgear delivers 60.8MB/s compared to the Linksys’ 37.5MB/s.

Another key feature is the enhanced QoS which can track not only what device is being used but what application, to ensure the most time-sensitive apps are delivered their data promptly. This is always difficult to test quantitatively but trialling it by watching HD video while performing hefty file transfers suggested it works well.

Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 review: verdict

All told, the Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500 is an excellent performer that is a good choice for those that crave the best performance and range from their router. We’d prefer a slicker UI, and there are definitely still concerns over how few devices can connect to it to take full advantage of its speed, but there are enough extras here to make it a shoo-in for the A-List top spot.

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