Netgear Releases Sub-$100 Wireless-AC Router

Over the past couple of years, we have gone to great trouble to look at what we consider the fastest wireless routers on the market. In the past, this has included Netgear, Western Digital, Asus, and a few others.  The cost for the very best has always been close to $200.  For many users, the cost of upgrading to the latest wireless standard, Wireless-AC , isn’t worth it.

With the holidays approaching, we have seen manufacturers release a Wireless-AC-compatible routers for less than $100. Today we take a look at Netgear’s R6100 Dual-Band 802.11ac Wireless Router that retails for just $95.10 shipped!

Netgear R6100 802.11ac Router 

The Netgear R6100 is a dual band router that supports combined WiFi speeds up to 1200Mbps. Users will be able to attain these speeds with fast Ethernet wired connections which will provide users reliable internet connections for fast downloads, clear voice calls, uninterrupted HD video, and lag free gaming.  

[youtube]http://youtu.be/1SiVM3vCsCE[/youtube]

The R6100 router offers users enhanced features for improving your home theater experience and prepares the users home network for new or upgraded devices that integrate 802.11ac WiFi support, such as the MacBook Air and smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. Netgear also equipped the R6100 with performance designed for whole home wireless coverage by using simultaneous dual band WiFi technology. The 2.4GHz band supports legacy devices while the less interference prone 5 GHz band is perfect for multiple HD media streaming and online gaming.

Netgear R6100 802.11ac Box

When you look at this router’s price point, it is a bout $20-$30 less expensive than the R6200 which has the same exact specifications except the R6200 features Gigabit Ethernet ports and a USB 3.0 connection.  For many, this isn’t a deal-breaker since most of their devices are wireless.  Others may consider the R6200 as a better overall solution. 

Netgear R6100 802.11ac Router

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Let’s take a closer look at the detailed specifications of the R6100 that we will be looking at today.

Netgear R6100 Featured Specifications:

 

 Let’s break open the box and see how hard the set-up is.

 

Netgear R6100 - Features and Setup

The Netgear R6100 AC1200 Dual Band WiFi Router Fast Ethernet with USB 2.0 comes packaged with a Ethernet cable, power adapter, and an quick install guide. The R6100 is more compact than the previous models - about half the size of Netgear’s flagship router the R6300.  In fact, when we first opened the box, I was thinking, “where is the rest of the router?”  As you can see in our pictures, the size is much smaller than its bigger brother, the R6300. 

[caption id="attachment_130777" align="aligncenter" width="645"]Netgear 6100 802.11ac Router Netgear R6100 in front of Netgear R6300 router[/caption]

Besides having a smaller footprint, the physical design of the R6100 is the same as the R6300 except for the vertical placement, internal antenna, and no wall mount option. The network ports are located on the routers back inside a groove making them slight harder to access especially for those with fat fingers. Also in the groove there is the one USB 2.0 port, a reset hole, and a power on and off button. On the side of the R6100 router there is a WiFi on and off button as well as a WPS button. On the front there are three LEDindicator lights which represent power, internet, and WiFi.

Netgear_R6100_Contents

Netgear ships the R6100 with a slightly modified (and upgraded) version of their Netgear GENIE software than we have seen in the past. The look and feel of the firmware is a bit different than what we have experienced with R6300.  It is certainly more pleasant to the eye with most all of the same functionality of the version that is currently running in the flagship router.

Netgear R6100 Setup

As with all of their routers, Netgear makes it pretty easy to set up the R6100.  The user just needs to plug the router into a power outlet and connect the router’s WAN port to an Internet source using the included network cable. The Ethernet cable even has labels on them that say specifically which end of it should go in to the router and which one should go into the modem.

Netgear R6100 802.11ac Router

The Netgear R6100 router is set up to have two encrypted WiFi networks out of the box: one on the 2.4 GHz and also on the 5GHz frequency band which shares the same name and passkey. The name and passkey information is printed on a label on the bottom of the router and will get the user up and running if they choose to use default settings.

R6100_Setup_4 

We took the time to play around and optimize our router for testing.  We were easily able to rename our wireless networks, change the wireless channel, change the type of security settings the router used, etc.  We did all of this (and more) by accessing the Netgear Genie interface.  The process is exactly like any other router we have looked at and will be no problem for anyone who can turn on a computer. Working with the R6100 will be very familiar to those who have had experience with Netgear or any other router manufacturer.  Netgear’s menus are almost exact duplicates of their flagship R6300, but moreover, the menu selection and layout is logical and complete. One of the things that we have enjoyed over the years is the way Netgear presents the vast number of options for their routers. We are pleased that this trend is continuing with their sub-$100 AC router. 

R6100_Setup_3

The Netgear Genie interface can be accessed from a mobile app available for both Android and iOS or via a web browser. The mobile app only gives the user a limited amount of settings, but the web browser would be the user’s better option seeing how they get more options.

R6100_Setup_2

The Netgear R6100 isn’t quite in the “Ultimate Performance” category but it still has all the features of its more expensive sibling, the R6300, including Live Parental controls and the same Ready Share features.  The Netgear R6100 Wi-Fi router offers many advance features including: Netgear Genie, MyMedia, AirPrint, Guest Networking and more.

R6100_Setup_1

Netgear Genie is a free app for the PC, Mac, as well as iOS and Android smartphones and tablets that enable you to control, monitor, repair and manage your home network easily through a simple, dashboard. Users can actually download the utility at http://www.netgear.com/genie or from the Google Play or App Store.

Netgear Genie App

 Netgear ships the R6100 router with the same features as their flagship router. Below is a description of the major features that you will find in the Netgear R6100 User Interface.

 Netgear allows the user to upgrade their firmware with a touch of a button. one of the first things that we did was check to see if there were any updates to the firmware that was shipped with the router. Four this review, we used the latest firmware version 1.0.0.38 which you can also get directly from Netgear if you have any problems connecting your router to the internet. Netgear R6100 Setup

Now that we have completed our tour of the user interface, let’s see how well the R6100 router performs. 

 

Let’s now take a look at the wireless speed and performance.

Netgear R6100 - Wireless Speed & Performance

Netgear R6100 Alienware

We were very interested to see the real-world wireless speed performance of the Netgear R6100 so we approached our speed tests like we have done in the past. We connected the Netgear R6100 to a PC running Windows 8 Pro 64-bit and configured the router using “Automatic” settings for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. We took our Alienware M17XR4 to use as a target laptop client.  The Alienware has served us well in the past as a machine is certainly a workhorse that doesn’t skimp on features. The Alienware M17XR4 contains an Intel i7-3610QM CPU with 6GB RAM running Windows 7 64-Bit, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M video card.  More importantly for our tests, the M17XR4 is outfitted with a Qualcomm Antheros Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter. The Killer 1103 is a three-antenna network adapter that connects at up to 450Mbps over 802.11n and features reduced power consumption and Wi-Fi Direct. Much has been written about the Killer NIC technology in recent years but there is no doubt that this 3-antenna solution will give us the best possible wireless throughput for our test. Many people don’t have an 802.11ac device in their arsenal yet, so we are looking at some of the best speeds this router can do without the use of Wireless-AC.

We repeated the test 2 more times rotating the router 90 degrees after each test to make sure that the router’s speed was affected adversely by its orientation.

R6100_24-1mbBenchmark Results:  Well, this may not look correct, but it is. What you are seeing here is direct result of the LAN and WAN ports being limited to 10/100 Mbps speeds in the Netgear R6100.  Because of this limitation, you will see that the R6100 reaches a plateau or maximum speed and will go no higher.  Meanwhile, our flagship router, the Netgear R6300 is chugging along.  Even though we are using 802.11n and the 2.4GHz channel, the Killer NIC does a great job in throughput delivering speeds from the R6300 that easily double that of baby brother R6100.  Unfortunately, the anemic speeds that we see here manifest themselves throughout our tests.

 

R6100_24-100mbBenchmark Results: The reason we look at 100 megabyte data sizes is that this simulates what we would see when we stream multimedia content.  Since we are looking to see how these routers perform in the real world, we use this size to give us a more consistent measurement of wireless speed. Here we see, the Netgear R6300 dominating the R6100 with speeds 3-times faster than the sub-$100 brother.

 

R6100_50-1mbBenchmark Results: Using the more modern 5GHz channel yields similar results with the Netgear R6100 Average Read Speeds down around 88 Mbps while the R6300 shows a 195% improvement.  Obviously, we are seeing a dramatic limitation due to the 10/100 speed WAN and LAN ports.

 

R6100_50-100mbBenchmark Results: When looking at the 100 megabyte data packets, what is apparent is that the plateau for the R6100 Read/Write speeds are fairly consistent. Unfortunately for the R6100, these speeds are consistently slow.

 

Netgear R6100 - Wireless 802.11ac Tests

Netgear R6100 802.11ac Router

For our next test, we turned off the built-in Wi-Fi on our Alienware M17XR4 and connected it to a Netgear R6300 802.11ac Router configured as a Bridge to each of the wireless AC routers (Netgear R6100 and Netgear R6300) in our test. Let’s check out what true 802.11ac wireless networking can do.  Again, we used LAN Speed Test (LST) to check the throughput of our 1MB and 100MB data packets.

 

R6100_AC-1mb 

Benchmark Results: Once again we see the Netgear R6100 reach a sort of ‘saturation point’ with the router’s wireless speeds topping out at just under 90 Mbps.  Meanwhile, the Netgear R6300 performs more than 300% faster than that of the Netgear R6100 router who is limited by the lack of Gigabit Ethernet.

R6100_AC-100

Benchmark Results: Taking a look at the larger data packet sizes, we see once again the large difference in performance numbers. While the Netgear R6300 is in line with speeds that we would normally expect from 802.11ac routers, the R6100 is clearly lacking something.

 

Netgear R6100 – Power Consumption

Netgear R6100 802.11ac Router

Power consumption by your home’s electronic devices continues to be a very important issue so we have made an attempt to present some simple power consumption tests on the various routers that we had. To measure idle usage, we reset each wireless routers to the default settings and plugged them with no devices connected to them. We then measured the power draw from each router at the wall with our P3 International P4400 Kill-A-Watt electric usage monitor.

R6100_AC_Power-Consumption

Benchmark Results: The Netgear R6100 turns out to be very conservative on power when in use.  It was the “greenest” router in our suite of 802.11ac routers.  In fact, the R6100 uses less than half the energy our other AC routers did.

 

Since most people will have their routers turned on for 24-hour a day operation, we think that examining power usage is an important benchmark. Total cost of ownership (TCO) is an important financial estimate that helps consumer’s direct and indirect costs of a product. In our TCO calculation we will be figuring up how much it costs to have a wireless router running per year in an idle state with the unit being installed 24-hours a day. We will be using 12.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) based on the bureau of labor statistics report from April 2012 showing that amount as the national average.

 

R6100_AC_Energy_Cost

Benchmark Results: Because the Netgear R6100 WiFi-AC router has the lowest power consumption in its class of 802.11ac routers, the cost of  on the market.

 

Netgear R6100 – Final Thoughts and Conclusions

When we first heard that Netgear was going to release a sub-$100 AC router we were very excited. With the number of wireless devices being used in the home rising greatly, there is greater need for users to embrace the latest wireless standard, 802.11ac.

Netgear R6100 802.11ac Router

Because Wireless-AC is designed to handle more traffic at a much higher data rate, this is the standard we recommend users pursuing when looking at new home or small office routers. In the past, however, these routers came at a cost premium that not very many could work with.  Things have changed over the past year or so. Not only have prices come down on flagship router models, but manufacturers are now starting to introduce “economy-class” AC devices such as the Netgear R6100.

Wildly available for less than $100, the Netgear R6100 has the pedigree but unfortunately doesn’t seem to have the right tools to challenge higher price point routers. The lack of Gigabyte Ethernet is really this router’s most glaring shortfall. As a result, you cannot take advantage of the speed gains that 802.11ac delivers.

Netgear 6100 802.11ac Router 

For $20 more than the cost of the Netgear 6100, you can pick up the very economical Netgear R6200 802.11ac router, which can be found for less than $115.  This router does everything its younger brother (R6100) does, but in addition, it will allow the user to take advantage of all the speed that WiFi-AC has with the 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports, gives you USB 3.0 ports and Beamforming+.

Of course, if you want the ultimate speed for your wireless network, our choice is still the Netgear R6300 v2 where wireless-AC speeds will take you up to 1300 Mbps. The R6300 hovers around $170 and steps up the number of features including Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 for file and printer sharing.

Netgear 802.11AC Router Chart

With a 1 year limited parts and labor warranty, Netgear is branding the Netgear R6100 router as AC1200 where 2.4GHz channel has a maximum speed of 300Mbps, and the 5GHz channel has a maximum theoretical maximum of 867 Mbps which is much higher than the 5- 10/100 (Mbps) Ethernet LAN/WAN ports.  We are just struggling to see who exactly this router is designed for.

 

Legit Bottom Line:

While the Netgear R6100 is the first 802.11ac wireless router that we have seen costing under $100 shipped, but the router lacks Gigabit Ethernet ports to actually take advantage of the speedy wireless.  We would strongly suggest that users considering low-cost AC routers first take a look at something else.