Netgear is the latest early-adopter of the in-development 802.11ac standard, which is intended to provide throughput of at least one gigabit per second. That’s almost double the maximum throughput of 802.11n, the highest-speed Wi-Fi standard that’s been widely adopted.
We tested the company’s R6300 Wi-Fi 802.11ac router, with help from its D6300 ADSL router and A6200 USB adapter (both also designed for 802.11ac).
The R6300 is an attractive freestanding device, which will take up minimal space on your bench or desk. Unlike most routers we test, it’s not designed for wall-mounting. It also uses a bulky external power supply, which counteracts some of its ‘looks good, fits anywhere’ appeal.
There are five gigabit Ethernet ports on the rear (one is the designated WAN port). There are also two USB 2.0 ports which can be used to provide network attached storage or connect to printers. Finally, there are buttons for Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) and to enable/disable Wi-Fi.
Netgear ship the R6300 pre-configured, with an SSID (network name) such as ‘NETGEAR68’ for 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi, and ‘NETGEAR68-5G’ for 5GHz 802.11ac. Both have the same factory-assigned password, which is a combination of two plain-English words and a number. It’s a neat idea at first thought, as it’s far more memorable than the random alphanumeric passwords assigned by most vendors. However, I have to don my black hat – if the list of words Netgear uses to define those passwords was leaked to the public, it would make those routers highly susceptible to a dictionary attack. Changing the default password is a good idea, as always.
The web interface is easy to work with, and the R6300 provides all the functionality you’d expect of a modern home router: firewall, quality of service rules, bandwidth monitoring, parental controls, optional guest networks on both 2.4 and 5GHz, a DLNA media server for any connected USB storage devices, and IPv6 support out of the box. It can also function as a wireless repeater or access point, though that seems akin to using a shotgun to kill a fly.
You’ll probably have to leave both the 2.4 and 5GHz networks active, as current-model smartphones, tablets and laptops are unlikely to support 802.11ac. Those will need to live on the standard 2.4GHz 802.11n network, while any super-high-speed gear (such as PCs or smart TVs connected to an 802.11ac adapter) can use the 5GHz network.
To test the maximum wireless speed between two devices, we created a 5GHz 802.11ac bridge between the R6300 and one of Netgear’s D6300 ADSL routers, each connected to one of our test PCs via gigabit Ethernet.
Maximum speed measured by network benchmark tool Iperf was a paltry 48.3Mbit/sec for a single TCP connection – 13% of the 368Mbit/sec we got over Ethernet. Throughput over multiple TCP connections maxed out at 376Mbit/sec, just over a third of the Ethernet connection’s 939Mbit/sec. Over UDP, the protocol used by some streaming video implementations, we were able to reach 956Mbit/sec, maxing out the gigabit Ethernet interface.
So, yes, it’s literally ‘gigabit Wi-Fi’. With caveats, however. Performance for a single connection – such as a specific download or file transfer – can’t match up to gigabit Ethernet. Maximum bandwidth over the TCP protocol used by most of the internet is also limited. However, the router is physically able to shift at least a gigabit of data per second in total.
Factor in multiple internet-connected devices in the home, all streaming HD video from a NAS device or UFB connection, and the 802.11ac Wi-Fi is valuable indeed. However, in situations where you need to maximise bandwidth between two specific machines for massive file transfers – say, a graphics workstation to a NAS device – Ethernet is still the way to go. Fortunately, the R6300 is itself a highly-capable Ethernet router for just such niche cases.
Overall, we were extremely impressed by the R6300’s functionality and performance. Despite the limited availability of 802.11ac gear right now, it’s a great, future-proof investment if you’re replacing a router, or buying one to add high-speed Wi-Fi to your new UFB connection.
This review was first published in the June issue of New Zealand PC World.