Netgear Nighthawk R7000 Setting New Standards

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Today we look at Netgear’s flagship dual-band router, the Nighthawk R7000. Legit Reviews has been evaluating Wireless-AC devices for a number of years and has put off upgrading from what we think is currently the best overall router, the Netgear R6300. While not the absolute fastest, nor the most customizable, the Netgear R6300 has been a rock-solid device that has never let us down with wireless drops or general reliability. While we absolutely love the R6300, the Nighthawk R7000 looks to make a huge step forward in performance and thus out interest in evaluating the device today.

R7000_BoxTwo of the biggest changes that Netgear has implemented with the Nighthawk R7000 is the move to AC1900 from AC1750, and the inclusion of external antennas to the main body of the router.  For those who are unfamiliar with the wireless industry’s marketing, the “AC1900”, or “AC1750”, “N900”, “N750”, etc, describes the absolute maximum speeds that the wireless device can achieve.  When talking about Dual-Band Wireless Routers like the Nighthawk we see that its speed is designated by AC1900 where “AC” is the ‘best’ band – in this case 802.11ac or Wireless-AC. The “1900” is the speed designation where the Nighthawk can achieve 600 + 1300 Mbps.

R7000_Back-3There are some other significant upgrades that the Nighthawk has over the older R6300 such as the use of an updated processor and more RAM (1GHz Dual-Core Broadcom BCM4709A CPU) and 256 MB RAM with 128 MB of Flash memory.  This upgrade gives the Netgear Nighthawk one of the fastest CPUs found in any consumer wireless networking device.  It is clearly a step up from the R6300’s single-core 800MHz CPU (or 600MHz CPU for V1).

R7000_Front-2One thing that we noticed was that the price point of the Nighthawk was very competitive.  The MSRP of the R7000 is $199, but you can typically find Netgear’s flagship for sell for a little less which is than other manufacturer’s flagship routers.  A quick check on Amazon showed that we can grab this router for around $195 shipped.  To us this was a bit unusual for a flagship device – we have typically seen the top-of-the-line routers selling at their MSRP and only devices with less features selling at a bargain cost.

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Besides having an impressive list of features, we are expecting Netgear to maintain or improve on is graphics user interface (GUI).  On the next page, we take a look at setting up the router for use in a typical home network environment.

Netgear Nighthawk R7000: Setup

R7000_Front-1Over the years we have found that manufactures to a really good job of packaging these routers to make installation and setup very easy.  The Netgear Nighthawk is no different.  The Nighthawk R7000 ships with the main unit, three external detachable antennas, an Ethernet cable, power cable and adapter and a quick install guide.  We are glad that there is nothing else to clutter up our offices: it looks like manufactures are starting to take the hint that there is need to include driver CDs or stickers or a bunch of extra pamphlets and advertising.

The Netgear Nighthawk R7000 is designed much different than the older R6300 in that is has external antennas as well a host of buttons and LED indicators on the front.  Looking across the front panel we see LED indicators for Power, Internet Connectivity, 2.4 GHz Wireless, 5 GHz Wireless, USB 3.0 and 2.0, Ethernet ports 1-4, WiFi On/Off Button, and a WPS Button.

R7000-aOn the back of the router, we see a Reset Button, Ethernet Ports, Internet Port, USB 2.0 port, Power On/Off, and the Power Connector.

The Nighthawk is one of the largest home networking devices Netgear produces.  It measures in at 13.7 x 10.1 x 3.1 inches and sits flat on the desk unlike their R6100/6200/6300 routers which "stand" up. Overall, the Netgear R7000 takes up a bit more room on the desk than the older R6300.  You do have the ability to mount the router vertically on the wall, but Netgear doesn’t provide any sort of desk stand for vertical placing on your desk.

R7000_Back-2After connecting everything for use with our network, we powered the Nighthawk on and navigated to the Netgear’s router homepage (at http://192.168.1.1). Netgear’s Genie interface is almost identical to what Netgear is shipping for their recent model routers such as the R6100.  For users of Netgear’s older routers, the menu and options will look very familiar. Netgear has had one of the better looking GUIs and the programmers didn’t mess with the GUI that gives a user pretty much everything that you need.

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Netgear has a pretty simple but effective Setup Wizard that you can use to configure the router.  Just type in http://www.routerlogin.net or http://www.routerlogin.com to detect the internet settings and automatically set up the router. Most newcomers to networking will choose this route as it steps a normal user though everything they need to get up and running in a short amount of time.  More experienced users will choose to manually set up and configure the router which really doesn’t take that much more effort.  It is nice to go through the Genie Wizard initially and then explore the “Advanced Menu” tabs to see what else you want to do.

Some highlights of the R7000 features include the ability to activate a “Guest” Network, Parental Controls, Advanced QoS, Beamforming+, DLNA, ReadySHARE USB access, VPN support, and manual or automatic channel selection.

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Now that we have completed our tour of the user interface, let’s see how well the Nighthawk R7000 router performs with its wireless speeds and performance.  

Netgear Nighthawk R7000: Wireless Speeds

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We were very interested to see the real-world wireless speed performance of the Netgear R7000 so we approached our speed tests like we have done in the past. We connected the Netgear R7000 to our desktop PC running Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit and configured the router using “Automatic” settings for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. We then took our Alienware M17XR4 to use as a target laptop client.  The Alienware has served us well in the past as a machine which is a workhorse and 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 (N450) 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 took our Alienware laptop and moved it 25-feet away from the router. We didn’t tell the client anything more than the SSID name for each router tested and let it automatically choose the channel to connect to.  For the fastest possible data throughput, the routers were set to “Unsecure Mode” and with WMM turned ON. After connecting, we ran the application LAN Speed Test (LST) to measure file transfer and network speeds. LST builds a file in memory and then transfers the packet without the effects of windows file caching.  It then reports the time and calculates the network speed.

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.  We took speed measurements at three different locations of the Legit Bunker: In the Same Room about 5 feet away from the router; in a 2nd Room about 20 feet away from the router through a door; and in a Far Room, one level below where the routers sat.  Doing this should really give us a nice taste of how our routers perform in the real-world.

 

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Benchmark Results: Our first test shows both Netgear routers and test laptop in the same room.  The average Read Speeds of the Nighthawk R7000 is 28% faster with its data throughput.  While the R6300 is still giving us some very fast speeds, the R7000 ups the ante and takes the 802.11ac 5GHz channel to another level. 

 

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Benchmark Results: We look at the 100MB data packets because it does a pretty good job of simulating multimedia data that you might have in your office or home.  If you've ever streamed movies or music you should pay attention to the the larger data packet sizes when looking at router comparisons.  Here we see the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 extends it speed lead over the older R6300 by clocking an amazing 455Mbps Average Read speed.  Looking at the data a bit closer we see that the R7000 actually produced speeds that topped 500Mbps!  At this point, the R7000 definitely has our attention.

 

Netgear Nighthawk R7000: Speed Tests, 2nd Room

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We now move our laptop and 802.11ac Bridge to a second room to take speed measurements. We set up exactly 23-feet away from our router testbed.  Let's see how are speeds are when we back up a bit.

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Benchmark Results: So a funny thing happened when we increased the distance to our Netgear Nighthawk R7000...Our throughput speeds actually increased!  At a distance of 23-feet away, the R7000's average speeds now topped 470Mbps almost 35% faster than that of the R6300.

 

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Benchmark Results: When we test our routers using the larger data packets, we get a bit more of the same.  The Netgear R7000 still dominates with Average Read speeds that top 500Mbps. Not only does this mean you will be able to stream your High-Definition content to your phone or computer, you will be able to host the same  movie to 5-6 of your friends simultaneously.

 

 

Netgear Nighthawk R7000: Speed Tests, Far Room

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For our last speed test, we moved to the far corner of the Legit Reviews bunker to get the most distance between our test routers and laptop/bridge.  There are at least 3 walls, 100-feet, and an entire floor between our test equipment and the routers.

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Benchmark Results: Even with the large distance to both of our routers, both the Netgear R6300 V1 and R7000 gives us pretty good throughput speeds.  The Nighthawk R7000 gives us the best Average Read and Average Write speeds by a pretty significant margin. 

 

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 Benchmark Results: Even though the Netgear R6300 V1 drops a bit in performance with the larger distance and larger packet sizes, the Nighthawk R7000 seems to thrive and continues to give us very high performance levels.  The Average Read speeds for the R7000 continue to top 450Mbps, 28% faster than the R6300.

 

 

 

Netgear Nighthawk R7100: Power Consumption

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

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Benchmark Results: The NetgearR7000 is one of the most cost effective routers we have tested. It is interesting that for a router with double the processing power and much faster speeds than other routers on the market, the power consumption at idle should be so low.  We even took a peek at the power consumption while we were testing our wireless speeds and the router didn't really go past 11 Watts. Very impressive!

 

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 showing that amount as the national average.

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Benchmark Results: More evidence that the Nighthawk R7000 router is cost efficient. After having the R7000 in your possession for a time, you can see how those savings add up to real money.

 

Netgear Nighthawk R7000: Conclusions and Final Thoughts

R7000-bI have to say working with the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 Dual-Band 802.11 has been a real eye-opener.  We really had the bar set high – especially comparing it to our favorite router the Netgear R6300.  Netgear changed the entire package in this flagship upgrade.  We now have external antennas and a “sit-flat” design.  The colors and LED lighting are even different.  In fact, Netgear went with a totally different look than any of their previous router series.

The Nighthawk sounds like a superhero and it certainly performed like one smoking anything that we had in our WiFi-AC arsenal.  When compared to our previous champion R6300, we saw a pretty consistent step up in wireless performance, around ~20% over all distances.  At first we were a bit concerned that our speeds tests in the same room resulted in slower speed on average than in room tests farther away.  I think this might be because of the way the R7000 external antennas have been designed.

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The R7000 802.11n channel can now reach up to 600Mbps which is faster than most WiFi-n receivers on the market today.  For instance, our Alienware M17XR4 laptop contains a leading-edge Qualcomm Antheros Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter card.  This card is a three-antenna card which is capable of up to 450Mbps.  One of the reasons we didn’t spend a bunch of time testing the 2.4GHz channel is that to max out the N600 speeds, we would need a 4-antenna transceiver which we don’t have and didn’t think the majority of our readers had either.  

The Nighthawk R7000 is Netgear’s latest flagship and as such carries Netgear’s highest price.  The dual-band router can be found for around $194.99 shipped.  You can pick up the older Netgear R6300 v2 for around $148.99 shipped.  Competing routers would be the ASUS RT-AC68U ($219.99) and Linksys EA6900 ($187.99), so the Netgear R7000 is competitively priced.

We definitely think the upgrade from anything older than an WiFi-AC will be worth it.  The speed increases that we saw from AC1750 were not small. One of the interesting things we saw was that we got better speeds on average when the router was in our “second room” during our speed tests.  We think this is a result of Netgear’s Beamforming technology that helps to lock in the signal from clients.

R7000_Front-2For those who are familiar with the Netgear GUI, the R7000 will not disappoint you.  Even for those who have never used a Netgear product, the set-up and interface are robust and straightforward.  Following the simple steps from Netgear, you will up and running very quickly and making modifications to your network with ease.  We have been fans of Netgear’s GUI for many years and have yet to see one that is better laid out.

Netgear ships the Nighthawk R7000 with an industry-leading limited lifetime warranty on parts and labor.  It’s been a while, but I think we finally have a worthy replacement to our R6300.  We have to tip our hat to Netgear for responding to the market and other manufacturers as they vie for king of the AC routers.  With the dual-core 1GHz process and redesigned external beamforming antennas, Netgear has raised their game tremendously.  

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Legit Bottom Line:
Netgear’s R7000 Nighthawk Dual-Band AC router delivers everything that a flagship router is supposed to.  Cutting-edge speeds, user-friendly GUI and a competitive price