Netgear Nighthawk X10 Wireless AD7200 Router Review [Updated]

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How We Tested and Nighthawk X10 Performance

When we test hardware we typically use a blend of "real world" and synthetic tests, but that can be difficult to pull off with something as unpredictable as wireless networking. There aren't any established benchmarks like 3DMark, per say, and it is impossible to remove variables in the testing environment anywhere outside a laboratory, so as always your mileage may vary. Here in the real world where we test, performance varies according to a variety of factors, including where the router is placed, the size and construction of your dwelling, interference from neighbors, and many more.

X10

However, we did our best to illustrate both real world and "best case scenarios" with our testing, and for that we relied on the program NetPerf. This tool allowed us to setup one PC as a server, and one as a client, and test the connection speed between the two computers. The wireless adapter we used for these tests was a Broadcom BCM4360 which is the onboard part in the Macbook Pro we used for testing (running Windows 10 via Boot Camp). We tested at both 20 feet away with line-of-sight, and 30 feet away with two walls separating the computers. We tested both TCP and UDP packets; TCP represents the "real world" expectation and UDP represents the best case scenario. To make things actually "real world" we also connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the routers and tested a file-copy at 20 feet from the router on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels. Both of the PCs we used for testing were running Windows 10, and we ran each bandwidth test three times and recorded the average of the three runs. We think these tests provide a fair representation of what one can expect in an urban or suburban environment using these routers at medium range. We compared this router to all the AC routers we've tested previously, including the tri-band routers.

We were also able to test the X10’s 802.11ad performance, thanks to a laptop with an appropriate wireless adapter that is on loan from Netgear. The company sent us the Acer TravelMate P648, which is one of the few AD-enabled laptops on the market, and due to its line of sight requirement we could only test it at 20 feet, but not at 30 feet, since there are walls involved in that test. Netgear told us AD’s range is around 30 feet or so, in case you were wondering. 

We'll begin with testing at 5GHz, then move to 2.4GHz testing below.

5ghz 20

Right off the bat, the X10 leaped to the head of the pack in short-range TCP performance, besting the Asus RT-AC88U by a modest six percent. What's more interesting is that it spanked its little brother, the Nighhawk R7800 X4s by a surprising 18 percent. Overall that seems to be the average performance advantage it has over the other "fast" AC routers, in this test at least.

5ghz 30
In our 30" test with walls in between we actually saw performance go up instead of down, which is interesting, and bodes well for those deploying this router for long-range scenarios. In this test it had no competition at all really, beating the next-fastest router in TCP throughput by a healthy 17 percent and the rest by an even bigger margin. It was also the fastest in our UDP test as well by 15 percent compared to the Asus router, and about 30 percent faster than the others.
5ghz filecopy
The X10's performance advantage paid off in our 2GB file copy test, as it was not surprisingly able to complete the transaction faster than any router we've tested thus far. It required a mere 49 seconds to copy our test folder, which is 24 percent faster.

24Ghz 20
Though we doubt many people would buy a router that costs this much and use it for pokey 2.4GHz wireless, it's still the only way many older devices can connect so we test it. At 20" it was the slowest router we've tested thus far, but if you look at the next test at a longer distance you can see it held its own. It seems that, at close range, the Nighthawk X10's signal can't "beam form" properly, meaning it's really only "fast" at 30 feet and further away, which makes sense given its power and price point.

24Ghz 30

Though the X10 wasn't the speed king in this test it was the second-fastest router we've tested by a slim margin, losing top honors to the Asus RT-AC88U in our TCP test by 16 percent. It pretty much hung with the faster routers though, meaning it's decent at long range using the 2.4GHz band.  

24Ghz filecopy

Our file copy test backed up what we saw at 30 feet, with the Nighthawk X10 basically performing on par with the rest of the routers we've tested. There's nothing significant about the result, as it's merely average. 

power

We also measured each router's power output at the outlet using a watt meter. The X10 consumed more power at idle than any other router we've tested at full load, which was a bit surprising. We suppose with great power comes a greater power bill. 

Plex Media Server Testing - 

In testing the Plex Media Server using 5GHz AC wireless connectivity, we had a difficult time with 4K video though it handled 1080p content just fine. It would play, but only after a very long time where it was spooling up. Once videos began to play if we decided to skip ahead, the stream would typically fail or buffer endlessly. We observed this with multiple movies on both an iPad and an iPhone. This is what we saw on-screen when problems arose...

Plex Media Problem

To isolate the culprit in these tests, we installed the Plex Media Server on our desktop PC with a Devil's Canyon Core i7-4790K CPU and of course had no trouble streaming 4K videos to the same devices, likely not completely a bandwidth issue. It does, however, seem to be at least partly a processor load issue. Standard, unhosted 1080p streaming from its integrated USB port is certainly achievable though, over the 60GHz 802.11ad band. More on that shortly...  

Update - 60GHz 802.11ad testing

After this review was published Netgear reached out to ask if we wanted an Acer laptop with a wireless 802.11ad equipped laptop so we could test that functionality of the router, so naturally we agreed. The Acer TravelMate P648 arrived and we got down to business.  As we wrote above, 80211.ad is very fast, but has a short range and requires line of sight with the router, so it’s implementation options are quite limited. It is certainly enough for a living room setup beaming to a TV or laptop, however. We were only able to run two tests; the standard TCP/UDP test and the file transfer test, and here are the results.

60GHz - TCP and UDP at 10 feet vs. Standard 20' Test

60ghz 20ft
It’s pretty easy to see why the Netgear Nighthawk X10 might command a premium in this chart, as it bested the previous fastest router, which also happened to be the Netgear Nighthawk X10. The difference in this test between its 5GHz performance and 60GHz performance was nowhere near the 4x value one might expect, but it is still approaching Gigabit speeds, which is impressive. If you look at the speeds compared to most of the AC class router’s we’ve tested, the X10 towers above them all on the 60GHz band, at least in the TCP test. In the UDP test things were much closer, however. 

60GHz File Copy Test at 10 Feet

60ghz file2
This test was a real eye-opener for us, as the Nighthawk X10 blazed through this test so quickly we thought it was caching the file or something. We rebooted between each run, and after doing some calculations came up with a speed for the transfer of 606Mb/s, which is smokin’ fast and more than twice as fast as the Nighthawk X10 on its 5GHz band. Though the notion of doing file transfers within this router’s short range is a bit dubious since you could probably just use a USB key or something, it is damn fast and seems like proof that 802.11ad is legit, as long as you’re within 20 feet or so to the router. For what it’s worth, our connection strength at this distance was three out of five bars, so not the best but decent. 

4K Video Streaming with Plex at 10 Feet

Though we had issues streaming 4K video on the 5GHz band, those issues largely evaporated using 802.11ad connectivity. Videos spooled up quickly, played smoothly, and we were also able to skip around without suffering endless buffering like we did on the 5GHz band. The bandwidth difference between AD and AC isn’t that dramatic, but we saw it with our own eyes where the Nighthawk X10 struggled streaming 4K using AC with the on board Plex server, but had no issues using AD. This makes it an extremely good option for a living room setup beaming to a compatible laptop or set-top box, so we’ll be curious to see if any future devices support this nascent protocol. We can say with experience it does work, and it is indeed extremely fast.

60GHz Summary  

After we finished testing, we booted the laptop one final time to check something and lo and behold, we could not even see the 60GHz network any longer. This was a problem throughout our testing, as even at 10 feet the connection strength was tenuous, and the Acer laptop we had for testing would just disconnect from the network quite often. If we moved it closer, say within five feet, it would reconnect, but the notion of using anything wirelessly at five feet is more than limiting.

Like any PC performance enthusiast, we were very curious to see what 60GHz would deliver, and we can tell you, after spending a few days with it, that it's not something that currently seems ready for widespread adoption. It is currently too finicky, has to be line of site, and its range is very limited compared to 5GHz. Not to mention there are almost no clients that support it, or routers for that matter. We suppose you could theoretically stream data from a compatible PC with a 10G port to a compatible laptop, if you somehow owned both of these unicorn devices, but you'd still be limited to short distances. Currently the standard requires specific hardware in a very specific, and limiting, environment. In the end we were left shaking our head at 802.11ad as we can't see any business or serious enterprise adopting it due to its limitations. We applaud Netgear for pushing the envelope, but this is one technology that is just a bit too bleeding edge for most folks, in its current state and implementation.


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