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Wireless Reviews

Nighthawk X4S Smart WiFi Gaming Router
At a glanceAC Router Performance
March 2016
ProductNETGEAR Nighthawk X4S Smart WiFi Gaming Router (R7800)   [Website]
SummaryQCA based 4x4 MU-MIMO router with Gigabit Ethernet ports, USB 3.0 and eSATA storage and printer sharing and 160 MHz mode support
Pros• USB 3.0 (x2) and eSATA (1) ports
• Surprisingly high 2.4 GHz throughput with strong signals
• Working MU-MIMO
Cons• Nothing significant

Introduction

Updated 3/29/16: MU-MIMO performance tested

NETGEAR took its first step into the functional MU-MIMO router market with the R7500v2. The v2 swapped out the still-waiting-for-its-MU-MIMO-firmware Quantenna 5 GHz radio for a QCA9980 4x4 radio SoC with working MU-MIMO. But since it left the QCA9880 3x3 radio handling the 2.4 GHz side, the R7500v2 remained an AC2350 / 2400 class router.

With the R7800 Nighthawk X4S Smart WiFi Gaming Router, NETGEAR has produced its first all 4x4 AC2600 class router that, since it is Qualcomm-based, also has working MU-MIMO right from the start. Its top-of-line Broadcom-based R8500 Nighthawk X8 still has only a single beta release that supports MU-MIMO.

NETGEAR R7800

NETGEAR R7800

The R7800 also has another first for NETGEAR and the Wi-Fi industry; its 5 GHz radio supports 160 MHz bandwidth mode. Like MU-MIMO, 160 MHz mode support will primarily appeal to folks trying to future-proof their next Wi-Fi router buy. Although this mode has the potential to double link rates for 1x1 and 2x2 Wi-Fi devices, those devices must also support 160 MHz bandwidth mode. As of this writing, there are no 160 MHz enabled devices.

As noted in the Linksys EA7500 review, I am temporarily pausing MU-MIMO performance testing. Once VeriWave provides promised upgrades, I'll retest all MU-MIMO products tested to date, post an article with the results and add MU-MIMO benchmarks to the Router Charts.

MU-MIMO performance now tested. See this article for the results.

The R7800's callouts are shown below. Note it has two USB 3.0 ports and a single eSATA port. The physical Wi-Fi On / Off button conveniently sits right on the top panel. Each of the Ethernet ports also has a front panel link / activity LED. The bottom cover has mounting screw slots that will let you wall-mount the router so that cables exit up or down. The case is well ventilated on all sides except the top.

NETGEAR R7800 callouts

NETGEAR R7800 callouts

Inside

The R7800's FCC inside photos are still under short term confidentiality, so I opened up one of the samples after testing was done for some photos. The photo shows a tidy design, with processor section on the left, 2.4 GHz radio top right and 5 GHz radio bottom right. The QCA8337 switch right below the Ethernet ports gets its own little can, which I didn't bother opening.

NETGEAR R7800 board top

NETGEAR R7800 board top

The only thing of interest on the bottom is the 128 MB of flash.

NETGEAR R7800 board bottom

NETGEAR R7800 board bottom

The R7800 dispenses with the typical finned heatsink, instead using a heatsink plate that sits under most of the top cover. You can see the greasy skid marks from the thermal pads that couple the heatsink to the radio (left) and processor (right) section RF can tops.

NETGEAR R7800 top cover w/ heatsink plate

NETGEAR R7800 top cover w/ heatsink plate

The component summary table throws in three other MU-MIMO enabled routers for comparison. The R7800's key differences are its faster IPQ8065 processor and QCA9984 4x4 MU-MIMO radio used for both bands. This is the first radio we've seen to support 160 MHz bandwidth operation. More on that later.

  NETGEAR R7800 NETGEAR R7500v2 TP-LINK Archer C2600 TRENDnet TEW-827DRU
CPU Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8065 Internet Processor @ 1.7 GHz Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8064 Internet Processor @ 1.4 GHz Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8064 Internet Processor @ 1.4 GHz Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8064 Internet Processor @ 1.4 GHz
Switch Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337 Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337 Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337 Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337
RAM 512 MB 256 MB 512 MB 512 MB
Flash 128 MB 128 MB 32 MB ?128 MB
2.4 GHz Radio - QCA9984 4x4 MU-MIMO 802.11ac radio
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amp (x4)
- QCA9880 3-stream 802.11ac radio solution - QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amp (x4)
- QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amp (x4)
5 GHz radio - QCA9984 4x4 MU-MIMO 802.11ac radio
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz PA module (x4)
- QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio - QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio
- Skyworks SKY85405 5 GHz power amp (x4)
- QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio
- Skyworks SKY85405 5 GHz power amp (x4)
Table 1: Component summary and comparison

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