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Wireless Reviews

Nighthawk X4 Smart WiFi Router V2
At a glance
ProductNETGEAR Nighthawk X4 Smart WiFi Router V2 (R7500v2)   [Website]
SummaryRedesigned all QCA 4x4 router with Gigabit Ethernet ports, USB 3.0 and eSATA storage and printer sharing and working MU-MIMO.
Pros• USB 3.0 (x2) and eSATA (1) ports
• MU-MIMO support
• OpenVPN support
• Open source support
Cons• Not AC2600, 2.4 GHz radio is 3x3

Introduction

Updated 3/29/16 MU-MIMO performance retested
Updated 3/21/16 - RAM size corrected

It's been just over a year since we reviewed NETGEAR's Nighthawk X4 AC2350 Smart WiFi Router. Like all other first generation 4X4 AC2350 / AC2400 class routers, the NETGEAR R7500 used Quantenna's QSR1000 5 GHz 4X4 "MU-MIMO ready" radio, which remains "ready". Firmware enabling MU-MIMO has yet to be publicly released for any Quantenna-based product.

In the meantime, consumer router makers have moved on to produce a second round of 4x4 routers, using chipsets from Qualcomm Atheros (QCA) and more recently, Broadcom, now Avago. QCA-based products created the AC2600 class, using the same 4x4 QCA device for both 2.4 and 5 GHz. This bumps the 2.4 GHz maximum link rate to 800 Mbps, which added to the 1733 Mbps 5 GHz maximum equals 2533 Mbps total, which has been rounded to a nice, even 2600 Mbps.

Although it supports MU-MIMO, the R7500v2 remains an AC2350 class router because it continues to support 600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band. As such, it is a bit of an oddball, being the only AC2350 class router with working MU-MIMO.

NETGEAR doesn't make it easy to get your hands on a MU-MIMO version of the R7500. It doesn't have a separate SKU and v1's have not all "sold through" as this review is written. So if you buy online, you'll just have to see what you get. If you buy in a store, however, you'll need to look carefully at the shield-shaped badge on the box front. A helpful SNBForums member posted the image below, which has been enhanced to make it obvious what to look for, i.e. "Now with MU-MIMO".

Telling the R7500 V1 and V2 apart

Telling the R7500 V1 and V2 apart

Inside

The R7500v2 catches up with the other routers - all of them AC2600 class - that have implemented MU-MIMO by using the second generation Qualcomm QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio on the 5 GHz band. But NETGEAR chose to stay with the same QCA9880 3-stream 802.11ac radio used in the original R7500 on the 2.4 GHz side.

While this gives the R7500v2 the marketing disadvantage of being a lower class number, it makes no practical difference vis-a-vis AC2600 class routers. The only difference between the two classes is the AC2600's 4x4 2.4 GHz radio. Since most devices connecting to routers are 1x1 or 2x2, they can't take advantage of one extra stream, let alone two, anyway.

Here's what the top of the v2 board looks like. 5 GHz radio is at top left; 2.4 GHz bottom left. Note the fourth amplifier is not loaded on the 2.4 GHz radio.

NETGEAR R7500v2 board top

NETGEAR R7500v2 board top

Here's the v1 board with Quantenna 5 GHz radio for comparison. Both photos have RF can tops removed. Thermal pads on the can tops connect to a large heatsink plate attached to the top cover on both versions.

NETGEAR R7500v1 board top

NETGEAR R7500v1 board top

Here's the v2 bottom side with 128 MB of flash.

NETGEAR R7500v2 board bottom

NETGEAR R7500v2 board bottom

And the v1 bottom.

NETGEAR R7500v1 board bottom

NETGEAR R7500v1 board bottom

Table 1 below summarizes the key components of the NETGEAR R7500v2 plus R7500v1, ASUS RT-AC87U and TP-LINK Archer C2600 I'll be using as comparison products later.

Updated 3/21/16

NOTE: NETGEAR increased RAM capacity to 512 MB after FCC sample submission.

  NETGEAR R7500v2 NETGEAR R7500v1 ASUS RT-AC87U TP-LINK Archer C 2600
CPU Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8064 Internet Processor @ 1.4 GHz Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8064 Internet Processor @ 1.4 GHz Broadcom BCM4709A Qualcomm dual-core IPQ8064 Internet Processor @ 1.4 GHz
Switch Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337 Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337 in BCM4709A Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337
RAM 512 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB
Flash 128 MB 128 MB 128 MB 32 MB
2.4 GHZ Radio - QCA9880 3-stream 802.11ac radio solution - QCA9880 3-stream 802.11ac radio solution - Broadcom BCM4360 (3x3 ac) - QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio
-Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz power amp (x4)
5 GHz Radio - QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio - Quantenna QSR1000 (4x4 ac) - Quantenna QSR1000 (4x4 ac) - QCA9980 4-stream 802.11ac MU-MIMO radio
-Skyworks 85405 5 GHz power amp (x4)
Table 1: Key components summary and comparison

Features

The features of the NETGEAR R7500v2 are the same as the original R7500, so if you are interested, please refer to that review. There have been a few tweaks on the UI, so I've included a screenshot of the landing page from the R7500v2.

NETGEAR R7500v2 Advanced landing page

NETGEAR R7500v2 Advanced landing page

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