Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500 review

This is a nippy 802.11ac router, but it's far from cheap

Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500
Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500

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In order to see any benefit from the 4x4 antenna configuration in the Nighthawk X4, you need a client device that also supports four 802.11ac streams. As of writing the number of laptops that support the faster 802.11ac speed is zero, and likewise, there are no USB adaptors. No doubt, in time new laptops will appear that support quad-channel 802.11ac, but right now most laptops can only transfer at 3x3 speeds, or lower.

In order to test the faster speed, Netgear sent me a pair of Nighthawk X4 routers. With one connected via Ethernet to my server, a second router configured as a bridge, and a client connected to that via Ethernet, I could create a 4x4 802.11ac wireless network, and test the speed accurately by moving the routers different distances from one another.

Given the lack of any quad-capable client hardware, I also tested the Nighthawk X4 with a standard 3x3 receiver, as well as the 2.4GHz 802.11n speed.

I used a pair of Macs for testing, mainly because of some great software called Wi-Fi Perf. This program runs on both computers, sending data directly between the two over a network. With this tool, there's no chance the speed of the storage device could bottleneck the performance level, as with a standard file transfer.

Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500 front

Netgear has produced a very fast piece of kit

Wireless performance

The results are encouraging for 4x4 802.11ac wireless, with a clear performance advantage over 3x3 speeds. This is most noticeable at medium distance, where many 802.11ac routers slow down from the fast speeds you get at short range. Even at long range, there's a speed improvement.

Netgear Nighthawk X4 802.11ac Wireless Performance (Client to server, 4x4)

  • 1 metre - 764 Mb/sec
  • 5 metres - 603 Mb/sec
  • 10 metres - 183 Mb/sec

Netgear Nighthawk X4 802.11ac Wireless Performance (Server to client, 4x4)

  • 1 metre - 738 Mb/sec
  • 5 metres - 669 Mb/sec
  • 10 metres - 364 Mb/sec

But even when using a standard 3x3 receiver, performance is very good, beating many other 802.11ac routers, although it does drop off slightly at long range when sending data from the client to the server.

Netgear Nighthawk X4 802.11ac Wireless Performance (Client to server, 3x3)

  • 1 metre - 731 Mb/sec
  • 5 metres - 286 Mb/sec
  • 10 metres - 78 Mb/sec

Netgear Nighthawk X4 802.11ac Wireless Performance (Server to client, 3x3)

  • 1 metre - 711 Mb/sec
  • 5 metres - 426 Mb/sec
  • 10 metres - 395 Mb/sec

Although the Nighthawk X4 fully supports 5GHz 802.11n wireless networking, it doesn't allow you to specifically create a 5GHz 802.11n wireless network. Due to that, these results are only on the slower 2.4GHz frequency, which from observing results of previous routers, seems to work better at long range than 5GHz 802.11n. The Nighthawk X4 performs fairly well here, but it isn't quite as impressive as the 802.11ac results.

Netgear Nighthawk X4 802.11n 2.4GHz Wireless Performance (Client to server)

  • 1 metre - 138 Mb/sec
  • 5 metres - 110 Mb/sec
  • 10 metres - 62 Mb/sec

Netgear Nighthawk X4 802.11n 2.4GHz Wireless Performance (Server to client)

  • 1 metre - 138 Mb/sec
  • 5 metres - 98 Mb/sec
  • 10 metres - 48 Mb/sec

Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500 ports

There is a switch to turn the LEDs on or off

These results show that quad-stream offers a performance boost over triple-stream 802.11ac, albeit one that's relatively slim. In fact, the 4x4 speeds are the best wireless transfer rates I've ever recorded, by a small margin.

In fact, even when using the Nighthawk X4 with a 3x3 receiver, the performance is better than many other routers. That could be down to the faster processor handling packets better. The real gain from the extra channel and antenna seems to be at mid and long range.

But the overall gain isn't huge. Generally, after testing dozens of 802.11ac routers, I usually expect to see real-world performance of (very roughly) 600Mb/sec from triple-stream 802.11ac. The Nighthawk X4 is excellent then, at short range. However, I can't ignore the fact that right now, nothing can take advantage of 4x4 802.11ac, unless you're using two routers, as I have for testing.

Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500 close side

It's nippy when it comes to USB transfers, too

USB speeds

Moving on to the performance from the USB ports, I connected a 2.5-inch hard disk to a USB 3.0 port on the Nighthawk X4 and ran Blackmagic Design Disk Speed Test, as well as transferred a 5GB folder of large files.

The speeds seemed to vary slightly in Disk Speed Test, starting around 15MB/sec both reading and writing, although after a while this leapt up to 32.3MB/sec write and 89.3MB/sec read. The folder transfer completed in less than a minute. It took a lot longer with a folder of smaller files though, which puts the processor under heavier load. But these are very good results, given that until recently, many USB ports on older 802.11n routers couldn't even manage speeds beyond 5MB/sec.

As one final test I measured the Nighthawk X4's power consumption when idle, then when transferring files via USB. At idle, the router consumed 5.2W of power, but with the bus-powered drive connected it jumped to 24.3W. These results are what I expected to see.