NETGEAR just cranked the volume up to eleven. Let’s find out more.
While TP-Link was first to market with an AD7200-class router – the Talon AD7200 – earlier in the year, it’s taken some time for competitors to follow along. You’ll have heard of the 802.11ac standard which, until now, has offered the fastest wireless speeds available in consumer networking devices. To date, the most powerful of these devices have been the so-called AC5400-class routers, supporting combined (theoretical) speeds up to 5400 Mbps.
These tri-band devices operate on the slower but longer range 2.4 GHz spectrum and faster, shorter range 5 GHz band to deliver wireless speeds up to 1000 Mbps at 2.4 Ghz and 2167 Mbps on each of the two 5 GHz bands. Add those figures together and you reach the claimed 5400 Mbps aggregate speed. (In the real world, the highest 5 GHz speeds you’ll get are around 930 Mbps at 5 GHz and 175 Mbps at 2.4 GHz).
802.11ad is a new standard that uses the 60 GHz spectrum. Just like the relationship between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies – the higher the frequency, the faster the data transmission, but the shorter the range – the 60 GHz spectrum offers really fast networking speeds at very short range. Like, only in the same room as the router range.
So, manufacturers are crafting the next generation of super-routers with combined 802.11ac and 802.11ad support which, theoretically, offer aggregate speeds up to 7200 Mbps. Of course, that’s all nonsense when you consider that the real world speeds will be far lower, but it should – under the right conditions – offer a speed boost that’s unprecedented.
The right conditions? This is bleeding-edge networking technology, so there are compromises to be made. I’ve mentioned range, which means that careful placement of the router (as well as your inbound Internet connection) is critical to ensure the right devices get the highest wireless speeds available.
Second, have a dig around your favourite online electronics store and you’ll struggle to find 802.11ad wireless adapters today – or devices with them integrated. There are a few around – the Acer TravelMate P446 laptop, for example – so your best bet is to purchase two AD7200 routers and use one in bridge mode (serving as a network access point). Priced at $499 a pop, however, we get to the third compromise – the Nighthawk X10 is one pricey router.
Super-fast, super-expensive, potentially a little impractical? You can see where how the supercar analogy fits. But just like the Bugatti Veyron and its like, peer under the hood of the Nighthawk X10 and you’ll see it’s going to be super-fun.
Billed by NETGEAR as the “World’s fastest router” the Nighthawk X10 is powered by a quad-core 1.7 GHz Alpine AL-514 from Annapurna Labs, supported by 1 GB RAM and 512 MB Flash RAM. If that model sounds familiar, you may know it as the same processor that powers Synology’s DiskStation DS2015xs NAS. It’s a reasonably capable CPU for a NAS and a seriously powerful chip for a router (faster than the dual-core 1.4 GHz Qualcomm IPQ8064 processor that powers the TP-Link Talon AD7200. The Talon also runs with half of the RAM of the X10). If you’re wondering why a router needs this kind of horsepower, then stay tuned.
Wireless duties are handled by twin chipsets from Qualcomm. The Qualcomm Atheros QCA9984 handles 4×4 802.11ac support, with dual-band speeds supported up to 1733 Mbps at 5 GHz and 800 Mbps at 2.4 GHz. Meanwhile, the 1×1 Atheros QCA9500 supports 802.11ad connections with speeds up to 4600 Mbps. The Nighthawk X10 has four external active antennas, that NETGEAR tells us boost transmission signals before they leave the antenna and amply incoming signals on receipt). As with most high-end routers we’ve seen this year, there’s MU-MIMO support, optimising streaming speeds for up to three compatible wireless devices.
In terms of port count, you’ll find two USB 3.0 sockets, a generous six Gigabit Ethernet ports (two of which support Link Aggregation for faster connectivity to supporting NAS devices), a single WAN Gigabit port for your incoming Internet connection, plus a 10G LAN SFP+ port for ultra-fast wired networking.10 Great 10G Networking Products for Prosumers guide for more).
Obviously, the Nighthawk X10 is stacked with advanced hardware, supporting technology that’s only just reaching early adopters in the home. But from a software perspective too, NETGEAR has loaded the X10 with a rich array of features that’ll delight networking gurus and media enthusiasts alike – and they can all be used today.
The standout is integrated support for Plex Media Server. While Plex is a favoured platform for NAS devices, PCs and Macs we’ve yet to see the software actually running on a router. The idea is to remove the need for a dedicated Plex installation on a computer and simply run the media software from the router itself. With powerful media organisation, remote streaming and transcoding capabilities (that can convert video file formats on the fly before transmission to media players) you can see why the X10 requires a capable engine under the hood. It’s one feature I’m really looking forward to checking out.
But that’s not all. The Nighthawk X10 also supports automatic PC backup (to a connected USB hard drive), cloud backup (copying data from the USB drive to Amazon Drive), a standard DLNA media server, VPN support, parental controls, remote access management and more.
While high-end routers have been slowly inching towards the type of duties traditionally performed by a NAS, the NETGEAR Nighthawk X10 is the first consumer router that looks equipped to do the job.