What makes a gaming router, anyway? That’s the question we’re setting out to answer today in our review of the NETGEAR Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 Router. We’ve also paired it with the Nighthawk Tri-Band WiFi Range Extender to deliver high bandwidth gaming to every corner of our home. Can a router really be made for gaming or is it all looks and marketing? Join us as we find out in our full review.
- Current Pricing: $286.98
- AC2600 (800Mbps @2.4GHz—256QAM support +1733Mbps @5GHz 11ac)
Simultaneous Dual Band WiFi
- Tx/Rx 4x4 (2.4GHz)+ 4x4 (5GHz)
- 4x4 11ac 80MHz + 2x2-160/80+80MHz
- Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO)
- Powerful dual core 1.7GHz processor
- Four (4) high-performance external antennas
- Memory: 256MB flash and 512MB RAM
- IPv6 support (Internet Protocol Version 6)
- On/Off LED light switch
- Standards: Two (2) USB 3.0 ports; IEEE 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz + 256 QAM support; IEEE 802.11 a/n/ac 5.0GHz; Five (5) 10/100/1000 Mbps—(1 WAN & 4 LAN) Gigabit Ethernet ports
- Security: VPN support—secure remote access; WiFi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2—PSK); Double firewall protection (SPI and NAT); Denial-of-service (DoS) attack prevention
- DumaOS: Gaming Dashboard with customizable view of bandwidth utilization by device, ping, etc.; Geo-Filter; Gaming VPN Client Support; Network Monitor; Quad Stream & 160MHz; Quality of Service; Beamforming +; ReadyShare USB; and ReadyShare Vault.
- Dimensions: 12.7 x 9.6 x 2.2 in
- (321.9 x 243.7 x 55.0 mm)
- Weight: 1.77lb (801g)
Nighthawk EX8000 Tri-Band WiFi Mesh Extender
- Current Pricing: $179.99
- WiFi Technology: 802.11ac
- WiFi Performance: AC3000
- Band 1: 400Mbps @2.4GHz - 256QAM
- Band 2: 866Mbps @5GHz - 256QAM
- Band 3: 1733Mbps @5GHz - 256QAM
- Ethernet Ports: Four (4) 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports with auto-sensing technology
- USB Ports: 1x USB 2.0
On looks alone, the XR500 is striking. Filled with sharp angles and stylized vents, it could double as a spaceship in a video game all its own. Coupled with the its four blade-like antennas, it can look downright mean. If comic books are more your thing, tell me this wouldn’t look right at home in the Bat Cave? In the center, on its nose, we find the status LEDs which have their own on/off switch if you plan on mounting it in your bedroom.
Our tri-band extender is another affair entirely. It’s much less aggressive in its looks but is huge. It’s easily the biggest WiFi range extender I’ve ever used. It’s also powerful and, frankly, fantastic so I don’t much mind. We’ll get into that more a little bit later but suffice it to say, since moving into a 2000 square foot home, my $30 “NewEgg special” WiFi extender was no longer cutting it. The EX8000 is big and much more expensive, but a complete solution for my whole home.
Around the back of the XR500 we find four gigabit LAN ports and our WAN/Internet port. It’s also worth noting that the antennas are specifically labelled to show which connects to which, something I’ve not seen on many other routers.
The XR500 also comes equipped with dual USB 3.0 ports. If you’ve never used a router with WiFi accessible storage before, it’s a godsend. Using these ports and the XR500’s ReadyShare features, you can access the connected storage device from any node on your network, from cell phone to second desktop. If you switch between computers, want to share files with your family, or even get interrupted mid-movie, you can access the media remotely and pick up where you left off.
Power Under the Hood and Range (With and Without Extender)
We’ve reached a point where routers have become fairly powerful computers unto themselves. Under the hood, the XR500 packs a dual core 1.7GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and 256MB of flash memory. This powers dual-band AC2600 WiFi. For wide-band, the 2.4GHz channel is rated for 800 Mbps while the closer-ranged 5GHz channel can touts 1733 Mbps transfer speeds.
One of my biggest concerns with this router was range. My house was built in 1968 and has walls that seem to hate WiFi. Without the EX8000 mesh extender, I was surprised to find that I was still able to connect to the 5GHz band clear on the other side of my house. The signal had dropped to sub-100 Mbps speeds, but that’s still quite an improvement from my prior entry-level Linksys which wouldn’t connect at all. The 2.4GHz band was fairly strong, coming in at 117 Mbps at the farthest point.
With the extender added to the chain, those speeds skyrocketed. My 5GHz connection now connects between 300-500 Mbps right up to my back door and in the pits of my cinder-block basement. What I’d previously thought of as a “dead zone” in my washroom now connects at 50-117 Mbps when previously it was 17-30. Wow.
The only downside here is that the XR500 remains an AC2600 router. At this price point, I would have loved to have seen it compete with the X6S a bit better on the spec sheet for transfer speeds. That said, AC2600 is going to be more than sufficient for the vast majority of gamers looking to buy a dedicated gaming router, so it shouldn’t hold many users back from seriously considering this purchase.
DumaOS - What Makes a Gaming Router?
The real defining feature of the XR500 is DumaOS. Without any hyperbole, this is easily the best, most customizable interface I’ve seen or even read about on a router. What’s more, it offers features hardcore gamers will will actually benefit from: Quality of Service options, Geo-Filtering, bandwidth visualization and allocation per device, and anti-bufferbloat all make a difference in your gaming experience.
Geo-filtering is, perhaps, the most striking feature benefit. Using a world map, DumaOS allows you create a radius of connections, preventing you from being thrown onto a server on the other side of the world. While some games allow you to use region selection, others don’t and we all known the pain of a red ping in a competitive game. You’re toast and it’s no fault of your own.
Anti-BufferBloat is another neat feature that’s a saving grace if you game in a house where other people are using the internet. BufferBloat is NetDuma parlance for the lag spikes that happen when multiple people are drawing on the connection at one time. You’re playing a game, your daughter is watching Netflix, your husband is download from Steam and BOOM, your connection is saturated and your ping goes out the window. With Anti-BufferBloat, the XR500 will detect when a game is connected and limit other devices to a percentage of the total bandwidth, keeping your connection smooth and intact.
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. As it happens, we had another Nighthawk router in the house from a prior review, the R8000P Nighthawk X6S. We first began by looking at transfer speeds along the 5GHz band.
For this test, we used NetPerf to simulate a client-server relationship. Many variables can affect these speeds, but they should provide you with a good indication of relative performance.
As you can see, we repeated the test in three locations within the home. The 15-foot test was conducted across the hallway in nearby bedroom in line of site to the router. The second was done downstairs, through several walls. The last was done in the far corner of the basement, through a ceiling of pipework and HVAC ducts.
The XR500 performed admirably when compared to the X6S. The X6S is rated for higher WiFi speeds and also has a quad-core processor where the XR500s is only dual core.
For storage assessment, we connected the XR500 and 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, particularly for the read speed on the XR500. The write speed did suffer a bit in comparison, though still delivers solid results when factoring in the key differences in internal hardware.
The NETGEAR Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming Router could have gotten away with calling itself “gaming” based on looks alone. Instead, NETGEAR partnered with NetDuma to deliver a router that actually delivers a set of gaming-centric features to earn its tag. Its speed and range are respectable, and paired with the EX8000 Tri-Band WiFi Mesh Extender, is more than enough to deliver exceptional speeds throughout our larger home. If you’re a gamer who shares their connection or needs consistency in their ping times, look no further: the XR500 is for you.
- Reasonably priced for a premium, gaming-centric router
- True, gaming targeted features
- Solid throughput speeds, low gaming ping
- Mesh range extender works very well
- DumaOS is rich and very well done
- May still be too expensive if gaming features aren’t as important to you
- Only AC2600 speeds
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for purposes of review.