802.11ac: what you need to know
The second 802.11ac draft router we've had to review, after the Buffalo AirStation 1750, is the Netgear R6300. And it's something of a behemoth. Just as with the Buffalo AirStation 1750, this Netgear R6300 represents the cutting edge of existing wireless technology - Draft 2 of the 802.11ac standard.
Both, it turns out, are using the same Broadcom 4360 chipset, the same Draft 2 release, and this results in Netgear putting the delightful small-print disclaimer on the back of the box stating "NETGEAR makes no express or implied representations or warranties about this product's compatibility with future standards."
It's this type of thing that makes it hard to recommend any draft router solely based on its performance. Buyer beware, perhaps?
That's not to say we can't comment on the rest of its performance. The other big issue that currently exists mid-2012 for 802.11ac is that no laptop adaptors exist yet, but these are expected towards the end of 2012.
This not only hinders testing, it would restrict use at home or in a professional environment, too. In fact, the only way of using these is to buy two of the Netgear R6300 routers and bridge one to the other.
Before unpacking the Netgear the R6300, we were also rightly amused by its packaging. Claims such as 1750Mbps total speed show how hilariously unhinged the marketing behind all of this is, which is somewhat reflected by the gaudy gold spot colour splashed all over the box.
If you missed the original draft releases of 802.11n then you'll be missing the comforting feeling of deja vu the rest of us are experiencing. But the proof is in the pudding, so let's tuck into this huge dish of wireless technology and see if we're sick or not.
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The Netgear R6300 is a pretty striking router for all the wrong reasons. First it's huge, way bigger than anything we've seen previously. At 10 inches wide by 8 inches high, that's bigger than an iPad. On top of that, it's had a cheap-looking gold half-tone gradient effect applied to the huge front-side, which neither looks good nor adds anything useful.
At least it comes with a decent stand, unlike the Buffalo AirStation 1750.
Another issue related to the size and design is that it's awkward to reach the rear-positioned ports and power button, because they're recessed into the huge case and you have to reach around to find them. The side-mounted WPS and Wi-Fi toggle buttons are thankfully more accessible.
Negatives aside, the router does come with four Gigabit LAN ports, two USB 2.0 ports and a WLAN port. But then we wouldn't expect less. The USB ports support the usual NAS, printer and DNLA media sharing. The NAS supports FAT16/32, NTFS and EXT2/3, which covers the main file systems you'd want.
Installation is a breeze, thanks to the new web-based interface. This can automatically pick up any WAN configuration for you or you can opt for a manual approach.
The Netgear R6300's front-end takes a friendly, colour-coded approach and offers a quick status overview of the internet, wireless, parental and security settings.
Delving deeper, the settings are logically split into Basic and Advanced sections, while the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands can be configured separately.
There is a bridge and repeater mode that can handle up to four repeaters, along with a main base station. The bridge mode isn't obvious, and is tricky to initialise. Netgear really should improve this area. For example, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands have different MAC addresses, though only the 2.4GHz one is shown on the MAC sticker.
A Guest network mode has already been added, which provides internet access but no local network access to wireless users. Netgear also provides decent Parental Filtering that can be provided on an automatic and keyword basis, making use of the OpenDNS system.
There are also comprehensive logging, scheduled power and access times, plus a bandwidth monitor. Netgear now also offers iOS and Android apps to provide local control and access.
We've always found Netgear interfaces to be fast and easy to navigate. So this newer interface on the Netgear R6300, while not as flash as the Fritz!Box or Asus router offerings, is a pleasant update that provides comprehensive features.