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Wireless Reviews

Nighthawk X4 Smart WiFi Router
At a glance
ProductNETGEAR Nighthawk X4 Smart WiFi Router (R7500)   [Website]
SummaryQCA / Quantenna based AC2350 class router with Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 3.0 and eSATA ports.
Pros• Has Client Bridge and AP modes
• USB 3.0 (x2) and eSATA (1) ports
• WOWZA! read speeds
• StreamBoost bandwidth shaping
Cons• Disappointing range on both bands
• No site survey in client bridge mode

Typical Price: $165  Buy From Amazon


Update 9/25/2014: Transmit power control is provided

I'm a bit late to the party in reviewing NETGEAR's first 4x4 router, which was prematurely outed back in June by an overzealous NETGEAR partner in Taipei. Some of my foot-dragging is a (futile) attempt to slow down over-excited buyers and protect them from these not-quite-baked Quantenna-based products. But the larger reason was that my initial tests showed such unimpressive 5 GHz performance that I had to go back to NETGEAR and see if they had an explanation (they did). At any rate, my testing is done, so let's get on with it.

The R7500 is a 4x4 802.11ac router based on a mix of Quantenna for the 5 GHz portion and Qualcomm Atheros (QCA) for the main CPU and 2.4 GHz. NETGEAR has more honestly classed the R7500 as AC2350 vs. ASUS' inflated AC2400 for its RT-AC87U/R. Marketing philosophies aside, both products offer the same maximum link rates, i.e. 1733 Mbps on the 5 GHz size, 600 Mbps in 2.4 GHz.

Even though the R7500 is also a "wave 2" AC router like the ASUS, it also does not yet support Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO). NETGEAR said it will enable MU-MIMO at some point via firmware upgrade, but has no firm timeline. NETGEAR also has no plans to offer a 4x4 AC client. So if you want to see what a 1733 Mbps link rate really can buy you in usable throughput, you'll need to part with another $280 for a second R7500 or RT-AC87U/R.

The photo below comparing the AC87 and R7500 seems to make the AC87 look smaller due to its smaller body size. Both routers are essentially the same width, so their footprints aren't that much different.

ASUS RT-AC87& NETGEAR R7500 head to head

ASUS RT-AC87& NETGEAR R7500 head to head

The side-by-side comparison show below shows that when antennas are included in the footprint, the R7500 is only a tad deeper.

ASUS RT-AC87 and NETGEAR R7500 side by side

ASUS RT-AC87 and NETGEAR R7500 side by side

Comparing NETGEAR's R8000 to the R7500 shows similar results whether compared head-to-head...

NETGEAR R8000 & R7500 head to head

NETGEAR R8000 & R7500 head to head

...or side by side.

NETGEAR R8000 & R7500 side by side

NETGEAR R8000 & R7500 side by side

The R7500's general styling has more in common with the original R7000 Nighthawk than the X6 R8000. Most indicators are white, with some using amber to indicate states other than normal or Gigabit Ethernet links. The LEDs are fairly bright, but can be extinquished via a back panel hardware switch.

R7500 callouts

R7500 callouts

The top cover is solid, but all other surfaces are composed of open plastic grid for convection cooling since there is no fan. All Ethernet ports are Gigabit. There are two USB 3.0 ports on the left side and one eSATA port on the right. There are bi-directional mounting screw slots on the bottom panel so that you have the freedom to aim cables upward or downward when wall mounting.

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