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Wireless Reviews

Nighthawk X6 Tri-Band WiFi Router
At a glance
ProductNETGEAR Nighthawk X6 Tri-Band WiFi Router (R8000)   [Website]
SummaryFirst three-stream AC3200 router based on Broadcom XStream technology with two 5 GHz radios
Pros• The second 5 GHz radio can improve total throughput
• OpenVPN server
• USB 3.0 storage activity does not affect either wireless radio
Cons• Expensive
• Total throughput improvement from second radio depends on client mix
• 5GHz radio assignment is simplistic
• Heavy wireless traffic reduces storage throughput

Typical Price: $219  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

This is the second half of the R8000 review. It will focus on wireless performance and stress testing the Broadcom XStream based architecture to see if it delivers on its multi-processor promise.

Wireless Performance

This review marks the debut of results measured with our V8 Wireless test process. In general, you will find that 5 GHz band range is less than produced by the V7 process. While many products made it all the way out to 45 dB attenuation without disconnecting in the V7 process, most products don't make it past 39 dB in the V8 process.

During the many correlation studies run during testbed shakedown, I found the biggest source of the eariler disconnects was the increased distance between router and chamber antennas (8" to 18"), which reduces the received signal level. Just as important, however, is the fact that we now rotate the router under test while the test is running. As the router rotates, its throughput varies and under high attenuations (low signal) the connection tends to break.

The IxChariot composite plot below illustrates this. This plot shows three 5 GHz test runs made with 39 dB of attenuation. The topmost green trace (79.824 Mbps) is a test run made with the router stationary in its 90 degree position during test (0 degrees is router front facing chamber antennas; rotation is counter clockwise). The lowest red trace (39.400 Mbps) has the router stationary at 0 degrees. The blue trace with the high variation (67.342 Mbps) shows the router rotating through 360 degrees during test. Even with the high throughput variation introduced with router rotation, I have found some products are better than others at maintaining connection.

Downlink throughput comparison - 39 dB attenuation

Downlink throughput comparison - 39 dB attenuation

The point of all this is that the new process makes it even more important to only compare products measured with the same test process. So use the Test version filters in the Charts and especially in the Rankers when doing product research. To make these comparisons possible, I have retested all AC1900 class routers in our database.

NETGEAR released V1.0.0.100_1.0.44 firmware since our first look review, so we upgraded the R8000 to it before wireless testing. In keeping with NETGEAR's recent practice, the R8000 is not yet Wi-Fi Certified. NETGEAR has decided to not let Wi-Fi Certification become a product shipment gate. But they do eventually get products certified.

The R8000 defaults to Up to 600 Mbps mode in 2.4 GHz and Up to 1300 Mbps mode on both 5 GHz radios upon power-up. Both radios defaulted to Auto Channel selection on power up. The router comes with unique 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs set, so you don't have to change anything to connect dual-band clients to the desired band.

I didn't run checks for WPS or 40 MHz Coexistence / Fat channel intolerance. I seem to be the only person who cares about the latter, i.e. making sure only 20 MHz wide channels are used when there are interfering networks. Besides, what's the point when NETGEAR provides a disable for 20/40 MHz coexistence in the advanced wireless settings?

For throughput testing, the router was first reset to factory defaults and Channel 6 set for 2.4 GHz with mode set to Up to 298 Mbps, which puts it in 20 MHz bandwidth mode. The 5 GHz - 2 radio was set to Up to 1300 Mbps mode to enable 802.11ac link rates. I ran throughput tests on the 5 GHz -2 radio since it is the only one that supports our standard Channel 153 test channel. Smart Connect was of course disabled and so was the 5 GHz - 1 radio. The NETGEAR R7000 in bridge mode new standard test client was connected using WPA2/AES encryption.

Our standard practice with the new testbed is to center the router under test's antennas on the turntable. The chamber antennas are also centered on the turntable (front-to-back of chamber). This method is intended to keep maximum distance between the router under test and chamber antennas.

Here's what the R8000 looked like in the chamber in its starting test position. The power and Ethernet cables have to come in from the chamber top since there is no route for them through the turntable.

NETGEAR R8000 in test chamber

NETGEAR R8000 in test chamber

The Benchmark Summary below shows the average of all wireless throughput measurements made over the tested attenuation range. Although this is a first-in-class (AC3200) product, it's fair to compare it to AC1900 class routers since our chart tests doesn't take into account the two-radio Smart Connect feature. In other words, with only one 5 GHz radio active, the R8000 is essentially an AC1900 class router.

Keep in mind that these results are the first time we have tested AC1900 class routers with an AC1900 class client. We don't test with the 40 MHz bandwidth mode required to produce a maximum 600 Mbps link rate in 2.4 GHz. But even at the 20 MHz bandwidth that is our test standard, 2.4 GHz tests should produce a maximum 288.9 Mbps link rate vs. the 216.7 Mbps achieved by AC1750 class products.

NETGEAR R8000 Benchmark Summary

NETGEAR R8000 Benchmark Summary

Comparing all the retested AC1900 routers' 2.4 GHz average throughput, there is a definite clustering of results in the low-to-mid 90 Mbps range on downlink. Still, there is a significant difference between the retested original R7000 Nighthawk and the R8000 for downlink; not so much on uplink.

2.4 GHz average throughput comparison

2.4 GHz average throughput comparison

The 5 GHz comparison finds a wider range of results. The big surprise here is that the R7000 does significantly better than the R8000 on downlink and uplink. We'll explore this further in the throughput vs. attenuation plots.

2.4 GHz average throughput comparison

5 GHz average throughput comparison

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