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March 27, 2016

Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart WiFi Router review – CNET

by John_A

The Good The Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart WiFi Router is fast and can reach pretty much anywhere in my house.

The Bad The router’s software interface is confusing and slow and its network storage performance can’t match the competition. It’s pricey.

The Bottom Line If you need a powerful Wi-Fi solution for a large home, the X4S is a great choice.

The Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart WiFi Router (model R7800) is an updated version of the X4 R7500 and not only is it much faster, its Wi-Fi signal reach much farther. What’s more, the new router now supports MIMO, an increasing popular feature that helps boosts the speed for supported Wi-Fi clients in a crowded home. (Note: Netgear has also released a D7800 version of the X4S that includes a built-in DSL modem.)

It’s not perfect, however, and shares the same bloated Web interface as previous Netgear routers and having relatively slow network storage performance when coupled with an external hard drive. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to cover a large home (of 4000 square feet or less) with a dozen or so of Wi-Fi devices, the X4S is a great choice. For more options, check out this list of top 802.11ac wireless routers on the market.

netgear-nighthawk-x4s-router-7387-001.jpgView full gallery

The Nighthawk X4S share the same bulky design as the X4 that came out in 2014.

Josh Miller/CNET

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know about this router:

  • The X4S is fast: Local tasks (such as sharing files or backing up your storage over the network) don’t take long, and if you have super-fast Internet, the X4S will accommodate that speed. The X4S has a long range and a stable signal to give you better Wi-Fi coverage in your home. Depending on the number of walls, a home of some 4,000 square feet will likely have coverage in every corner if the router is in the middle of the home.
  • MU-MIMO: If you have Wi-Fi devices of different Wi-Fi tiers (and we all do), all of them will work at their best without interfering with one another. The router works best with less than a dozen or so Wi-Fi devices at a time, though it can technically support a lot more.
  • Peripheral ports: With two USB 3.0 ports and one eSATA port, the X4S can also work as a printer and storage server when connected to a USB printer and and an external hard drive, respectively. Its storage performance is not the best, however.
  • Bloated interface with redundant menu items and sections: If you’re a novice, you will have trouble trying to customize your network with the X4S. Pro-users will find it a bit lacking in customization options.
  • Pricing: Its $270, £230, AU$549 suggested retail price is expensive, but you can likely find it on the street for less.

Bulky design, powerful hardware

The X4S shares the same bulky design as the X4, with four detachable antennae, five network ports (four LAN ports and one WAN/Internet port) and three peripheral ports (two USB 3.0, one eSATA.) It also has quad-stream support (4×4) with a top speed of 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 800Mbps (compared to 600Mbps of the X4) on 2.4GHz. Combining the two bands, the router has a top Wi-Fi bandwidth of 2,553Mbps to earn the AC2600 designation. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards and designations here.)

The router sports the most powerful hardware on the market, running a dual-core 1.7GHz processor with 256MB of RAM and 512MB of flash memory. In my experience, powerful hardware doesn’t always translate into fast performance (which was the case of the X4) But the X4S, for the most part, delivered in my testing. More on this below.

Easy setup, confusing Web interface

Similar to most Netgear routers, the R7800 is basically ready to use right out of the box. It’s preconfigured with a Wi-Fi network the information for which (that is, its name and password) is printed on the underside of the device. Using this information, all you have to do is plug the router into power and connect its WAN (Internet) port to a broadband modem, and you’re done.

(Overall, like all routers with a Web interface, the setup process of the X4S is rather standard. More information on how to set up a home router can be found here.)

But if you want to customize your network (for example, changing the name of the Wi-Fi network and choosing a new password) that’s a different story. The router has a sluggish and confusing Web interface, called Netgear Genie, with too many menu items. Some settings were difficult to find and some common settings weren’t even available. For example, by default the 5GHz band is set to work for both 802.11ac and 802.11n Wi-Fi standards. If you want it to work for just one of those standards, there’s no way to do that.

Apart from the Web interface, you can also use the free downloadable Netgear Genie app for the job. The app is slightly easier to use but you can’t access all of the router’s settings and features with it. Frankly, it’s disappointing how little the Netgear Genie firmware platform has improved despite how many years it’s been around.

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