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NETGEAR Nighthawk X6S AC4000 Tri-Band WiFi Router

By Christopher Coke on February 08, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

NETGEAR Nighthawk X6S AC4000 Tri-Band WiFi Router

If you’re a PC gamer, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of NETGEAR’s NightHawk series. It’s well known for offering stellar performance and we were able to get our hands on the new X6S (R8000P) to put it through its paces. It’s the well-upgraded refresh to 2014’s X6. It’s a got more bandwidth, an improved processor, and Dual Gigabit Port Aggregation, but is it worth the $299 MSRP?

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Specifications

  • MSRP: $299.99
  • Tri-Band WiFi to deliver fastest performance to new WiFi devices, uncompromised by older, slower WiFi technologies in the connected devices
  • AC4000 WiFi for up to 4Gbps* (750+1625+1625 Mbps) of 802.11ac WiFi speed
  • Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) for simultaneous streaming to multiple devices
  • Powerful, 64-bit 1.8GHz Dual Core Processor plus 3 offload processors for data-intensive applications, better video streaming, lag-free gaming, surfing, and more
  • Smart Connect for intelligently selecting the fastest WiFi band for every device all under one SSID
  • Amazon Echo/Alexa compatibility for voice control of your home network through the NETGEAR skill for Alexa
  • 5 Gigabit Ethernet Ports (1 WAN and 4 LAN) Two Gigabit LAN ports can be aggregated for fast wired connections for devices such as NETGEAR ReadyNAS® Network Attached Storage
  • 6 High-Performance Antennas for better WiFi coverage and faster speeds
  • 2 USB Ports including one SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port for faster streaming, backup and easy access to your stored media
  • NETGEAR genie® app with remote access for easy installation, monitoring, control and repair of your network whether you’re at home or away
  • NETGEAR ReadyCLOUD® for personal, secure cloud access to USB storage anytime, anywhere
  • Beamforming+ for improving range and performance for both 2.4 and 5GHz devices
  • Top security features include Parental Controls by family member and device, separate Guest Network, and VPN Support for remote access to your home network and Internet using any of your devices

Like many gamers looking for an upgrade, I came to the NightHawk X6S from a now far out of date Wireless-N router. With an upgrade to 100Mbps service in my area, it was time to upgrade. The NightHawk line came highly recommended from other gamers, most with much faster internet than my own. The X6S in particular has a number of features which not only make my old router look like it’s from the Stone Age, but that will go long way toward future proofing my home network through years of speed upgrades.

Main Features

The NightHawk X6S is an AC4000 Tri-Band Gigabit WiFi router offering wireless speeds up to 1625 Mbps. It features  As the name implies, it can simultaneously support three separate wireless connections: a single 2.4Ghz and dual 5GHz connections, backed with MU-MIMO technology, allowing it to support multiple devices simultaneously without slowdowns. Each of these connections can also run a guest network for when friends come to visit. All told, this router can transmit an incredible 4Gbps.

The X6S also supports Beamforming+. Older WiFi routers largely used omni-directional antennas which provided coverage in a radius around the device; the further away you were, the weaker the signal became. The X6S uses an array of six directional antennas capable of targeting connected devices and optimizing their connections. The result is a stronger signal anywhere within range and much better, more consistent speeds. As a side note, the wide body and antenna array look more than a little like an alien space ship, which is honestly a little cool.

Peeking under the hood, the router features its own 64-bit 1.8GHz dual-core CPU with three offload processors to ensure smooth transmission. This is perfect for gaming and streaming, and is supported by 128MB of flash and 512MB of RAM. Anecdotally, it’s immensely more powerful than the full-fledged computer I owned growing up in the 90s. Around the back you’ll find five 10/100/1000 Gigabit ethernet ports (1 WAN and 4 LAN). Two of these can take advantage of link aggregation to support your NAS setup for extremely fast transfers. There are also dual USB ports, one 2.0 and the other 3.0. Using the ReadySHARE Vault app, the router is able to automatically backup your PC to a plugged in USB device, while the other port can be used for file sharing across your network.

Software

Setting up the router is extremely easy. After plugging it in, the router automatically detected the settings from my Spectrum cable modem and applied them. It then guides you step by step through naming your network, changing your passwords, and deciding which wireless radios you’d like to use. In my case, I chose to enable the 2.4GHz network and both 5GHz channels, though it turns out, at least in my case, the range on the 2.4GHz channel is completely unnecessary.

Once you’re in, you control your settings through the NETGEAR Genie interface. All of your main functions live under the Basic tab. Here you’ll be able to check your internet status, adjust your speed caps, manage connected devices, and enable Dynamic Quality of Service, complete with a regularly updated service database. You can also make changes to your parental controls, guest networks, and access/manage your USB network folders.

On the Advanced tab, is where gamers will feel most at home. This is where you can really get into the details of your network, analyze usage, and prioritize different kinds of traffic. Here you can apply port triggering and port forwarding to greenlight game and program-specific traffic to your PC. If you use a VPN, you can set up the X6S to use it as an access point and save logging in on every device. You can enable and lock down remote management, adjust your dynamic DNS settings, control port aggregation for you NAS… the works. It is quite simply the most powerful suite I’ve seen in a router.

NETGEAR is no slouch when it comes to security. Earlier this year an exploit was found which affected a number of their routers and one of the first things you’re prompted to do upon setting it up is to load the new firmware. This process is very easy. There’s no visiting support pages and scrolling through version updates; it checks for updates, asks for confirmation, then downloads and installs them automatically. It’s the easiest interface I’ve used.

If you’re keen, you can even manage your router settings away from an actual computer. If you have Amazon Alexa, you can download the NETGEAR skill and use voice commands to control your WiFi settings. If you don’t and would rather use a smartphone, there’s an app for that.

Range

The NightHawk X6S is rated for “very large” homes. While there isn’t a clear definition of what that means, my apartment is certainly not it. Yet, it is three floors including the basement with its cinder block walls. Throughout our entire house and even into our yard, the I was able to keep a strong 5GHz connection. Upstairs, at the furthest point away from the router, I did drop to three out of four bars, but connection speed remained impressive at just under 400Mbps. Downstairs surrounded by all that cement, connections usually slow to a crawl but with the X6S, stayed firm with three bars and a 260Mbps connection speed. Switching to 2.4GHz, the connection stays rock solid anywhere in the house, easily staying about 130Mbps even the furthest distance away in the basement. Most places, it stays between 170-192Mbps. But in my case, there’s no reason to ever use that band. 5GHz is just so strong with the power of Beamforming+.

Coming from my ASUS wireless-N router, I couldn’t be more impressed. The 5GHz band produced there barely  reached into the next room, let alone upstairs. Since my bandwidth is currently capped at 100Mbps (though routinely hits 117Mbps), speed tests confirm that I have a maximized connection anywhere in the house, with our without wires.

Speed

When looking at high speed routers like the X6S, it’s important that we have a way to check manufacturer’s claims. For our purposes, we look at storage performance and wireless performance. Since we do not have a database of existing wireless routers to provide data for, we recommend you visit our friends at SmallNetBuilder and take a gander at their router charts.

For storage assessment, we connect the X6S to an external hard drive via the USB 3.0 port and measured both read and write throughput on a laptop in the other room (approximately 15 feet away). The results were impressive. This made for fast transfers of large media files in normal use.

For WiFi speeds, we used NetPerf to simulate a client-server relationship. We measured transfer speeds between two PCs first within line of sight, approximately 15 feet away (in the kitchen, where the storage test took place), approximately 25 feet away, upstairs and through walls, and approximately 20 feet away in the basement, surrounded by cinder blocks and through walls. These tests were repeated several times to determine an average.

Final Thoughts

Coming from my prior router, the speed boost from my ISP and the NightHawk X6S are an incredible breath of fresh air. In the two weeks we’ve used it, my family has streamed, gamed, and downloaded simultaneously with no slowdowns, buffering, or laggy play. That simply wasn’t possible before. The $299.99 MSRP is pricey, and there are competitors out there offering similar specs for less, but NETGEAR’s NightHawk line has a reputation for amazing gaming performance. That’s certainly been true in my home and I have no reservations recommending it.

Pros

  • Excellent range
  • Consistently maximizes downloads/uploads
  • Great transfer speeds
  • Powerful admin features
  • Great QoS for gaming

Cons

  • Expensive

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.

 

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.