Netgear just introduced the latest in its line of AC based routers, the model R7000. The R7000 is the 5th in the line of AC based routers from Netgear following on the previous top of the line R6300, the R6250, R6200 and the budget R6100. I was at Netgear a month ago speaking with the product manager who took me through the deign goals of the R7000 also known as NightHawk.
The R7000 differs in that while it replaces the R6300 as the top of the AC product line it has been designed and built for 3 main use cases, gaming, mobile and media streaming. Clearly the focus in these areas is obviously where the action is and has been a focus for Netgear but I was curious how the R7000 would be different and ultimately better then the excellent R6xxx family that already exists. Well that turned out to be a long conversation.
To start the R7000 has a significant upgrade in its processor with a 1 gig Hz dual core cpu. When we discussed this I was curious as to why it was needed. Clearly the existing routers are performing fine with 600mbs-800mbs single/dual core chips. Well the reasons are many and they all have to do with the improved performance this router provides.
The R7000 Overview
In addition to the processor the R7000 is an entirely new form factor from all the other Netgear routers. They call it a stealth form factor as it does have resemblance to the stealth bombers. But more importantly the R7000 is built for the highest possible performance. It has 3 external high gain antennas and a horizontal design that can lie flat on a desk or be mounted vertically on a wall which with its antenna design will provide the highest level performance. Aside for the stealth design, new antenna designs and horizontal form factor everything else is pretty straight forward. There are 4 gigabit network ports, 2 usb ports - 1 usb 2.0 on the back and 1 usb 3.0 on the front. The power supply is a medium to large size wall wart.
The R7000 uses the now familiar Netgear UI which I happen to like a lot. Comparing it to my existing R6300 or WNDR4700 it looks the same. Although I am told there is a final firmware coming in mid October that will add the key performance features I am about to get into so I suspect it will change some.
In addition to the UI the R7000 leverages all of the software features that we have seen across a multitude of Netgear routers. Aside from the WNDR4700 the R7000 is the first AC based router to utilize Netgear’s l Genie Vault backup software (this will also be rolled out among the other R6xxx routers soon). The Vault is the best back up software I have used as it backs up in real time. Add a file it is backed up in seconds. I never have to worry about a drive failure anymore. It is really great. On top of Netgear Genie Vault there is Netgear Ready Share Cloud, AirPrint for IOS, Printer sharing, DLNA Server Apple Time Machine backups and a new iTunes Server.
The iTunes Server is an interesting addition. I run a copy of iTunes on a PC server I use so I have access to my my music library with my IOS and Airplay devices. It is OK but requires me remembering to launch it and the maintenance iTunes requires. This may be a much easier way to achieve this. I am looking forward to trying it out. This function will be on the October release.
The Performance Difference – What makes the R7000 different
As I stated the market focus is on gaming, mobile and media streaming. Mobile and Media Streaming often go hand in hand. There are different challenges streaming to an iphone then streaming Netflix to a Roku. Netgear has worked to solve them all. Here is what is new.
Explicit and more importantly Implicit Beam Forming and Smart Connect Technologies
Most AC based routers incorporate a standard called Explicit Beam Forming. Explicit Beam Forming is a technology that can help AC routers identify the best path to reach a particular client through interoperable technologies built into the various chips in the AC clients and routers. This will result in greater range and overall performance with AC based devices. Unfortunately for most of us this won’t help as it requires a compatible AC client device. As of today the Mac book Air, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 are what is available. While these are top products they still make up a small part of the client universe.
To help the majority of us in the mobile space Netgear developed a unique technology that builds on Beam Forming called Implicit Beam Forming. The big difference here is that this technology works with standard N based clients like phones, iPads, and most laptops. It also helps with devices like Roku’s and ATV too.
In speaking with the product manager he explained to me that the R7000 regularly pings the attached wireless clients and looks for latency. There are 3 radios in each of the 2.4 GHz and 5g Hz bands (total of 6 radios in the r7000) and the radio and antenna that has the best response is the one that will connect with your mobile device. As a note here non AC based devices like phones have single radio clients. This is typical in most phones, laptops and other wireless client devices. As you move about the R7000 is analyzing this data and determining the best path and will automatically connect your device in the most efficient manner.
In addition to the Implicit Beam Forming technology the R7000 has another new technology called Smart Connect. Smart Connect works with the Implicit Beam Forming to not only determine which radio and antenna to use it also determines which band to use! This will cause your dual band (2.4g hz/5.0 g hz) devices to automatically switch from one band to another for the most effective wireless connection!
This constant analysis is one of the many reason the R7000 needs a hefty dual core processor.
In addition to the Implicit beam forming the R7000 employs two other new technologies that help the mobile experience. These are Smart Connect and AirTime fairness. Smart Connect works in conjunction with Implicit Beam Forming. As I mentioned the Implicit Beam Forming determines the best radio and antenna to use to connect to your device. If you have a dual band device it also determines the best band and will cause your device to connect to that band automatically.
XBOX One Gaming QOS Enhancements
For gaming Netgear has worked with Microsoft to create a technology that will allow the router to know what traffic is coming from the XBOX One. This awareness will allow the router to prioritize this traffic to provide the fastest throughput which will result in the lowest latency results thus providing gamers an edge in online gaming.
Online Media Streaming QOS Enhancements
Similar to the gaming approach Netgear has worked with the major streaming services like Netflix and Amazon to make the R7000 aware of when those services are being used. When detected the router prioritizes this wireless traffic and ensures the best possible wireless throughput for those devices.
Airtime Fairness is another new technology that Netgear built in that allows the R7000 to detect when slower legacy wireless clients join the network. This is an area where in the past wifi networks generally adapt to support slower devices thus lowering overall wireless network speeds. Airtime Fairness works in a way where when it detects slower devices it is able to route that wireless traffic in a way that does not negatively impact the faster devices on the network.
OpenVPN and new DNS options
Netgear is also adding OpenVPN to the R7000 which will allow secure access to remote into your home network. It is also adding new free DNS options since DYNDNS is no longer a free option for dynamic redirects to your home address.
My Experience as of Oct 3
I have been using an R7000 for a week now. Netgear will have a major software update in mid October that enables the key performance features like Implicit Beam Forming, Smart Connect, Airtime Fairness, iTunes server and the several other key features. So I will wait for this software update and post my experiences later.
But in the meantime I have been able to compare the R7000 range against a WNDR4500 N routers which had some of the best range I had experienced from Netgear. What I found that in the far end of my house which is about 100 feet from my office where the router sits I am seeing about a 20% or greater improvement in wifi signal strength. In particular I am seeing almost equal range from the 5 ghz band to that of the 2.4 ghz band. That was my biggest surprise. Admittedly this improved range most likely comes from the antennas. Whatever the reason it certainly has the best range of any of the routers I have used from Netgear.
In checking the web today there are a lot of articles about the R7000 already. PC World quotes it sets LAN Speed Records http://www.pcworld.com/article/2050761/netgear-nighthawk-review-this-802-11ac-router-sets-lan-speed-records.html
. Another good review is found on CNET http://reviews.cnet.com/hubs/netgear-nighthawk-ac1900-smart/4505-3335_7-35828277.html?part=rss&subj=latestreviews&tag=title
The R7000 Nighthawk is a unique product that is a new benchmark for home routers. I am looking forward to the release of the new software so I can experience the new capabilities this router has. Look for an update later in October.
Netgear AV Consultant