It’s easy to overlook a device that sits quietly in the corner doing all the networking heavy lifting in our increasingly connected world. That is, until a medium sized family with video, gaming, mobile phone, laptop, tablet and browsing needs comes along -- all fighting for a share of the data stream. Added together, the amount of data being carefully doled out to various devices is huge and it is this future that the Netgear Nighthawk X6 is designed to work in.
Being tri-band means the Nighthawk X6 gives essentially 3 Wi-Fi networks each with their own dedicated bandwidth to play around in. There is a relatively low speed 2.4GHz range, which is where older devices will sit, taking them away from the faster channels. The high speed 5GHz range has two separate channels, allowing a larger number of devices connected at once. The Nighthawk X6 AC3200 router can dynamically assign a high demand device to a channel with only low demand devices on it, or even out the data demand over 3 different channels. It also means that devices which allow faster throughput such as modern 802.11ac smartphones, aren’t being slowed by older devices with more limited capabilities.
Sleekly styled, the router has six antennas which can be laid flat across the top, or set upright for better range. The range itself is excellent, with an upstairs/downstairs (around 15m with up to two walls and a floor) and even upstairs/outside (up to 25m with up to three walls and a floor) presenting little difficulty. Speed drop was reasonably low (around 40%) at the outer points and it held signal remarkably well.
Connections are fairly standard, but very easily accessible, with 4 wired Ethernet ports, 1 WAN port and 2 USB ports – one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 – which allows for connection of both a printer and a media storage device turning the router into a media hub quickly and simply. The 1GHz dual core processor with three offload processors means that the router, even under full load, should have enough capacity to manage with cycles to spare.
Setting up the router is refreshingly simple. Once attached to the modem, it automatically checks for a network already in place. If it finds one, it asks whether to put the router into access point mode rather than using the routing features. Once told to use router mode, the admin panel is displayed. The usual settings are all here such as VPN support, separate guest networks, SPI and NAT in a nicely intuitive and simple Netgear layout.
The option of setting either the same SSID or different SSIDs for the three different channels is here as well. For those who want more control over which devices are assigned to which channel, the ability to set either one, two or three SSIDs means that you can physically assign a device to a channel rather than letting the router choose. Should you have the same SSID set across all three (or any combination), the router is allowed free reign to decide where to put different devices. This also allows you to set a guest SSID on the slower channel keeping the faster connections for yourself and without messing around with guest networks feature.
The test Nighthawk came configured with three different SSIDs out of the box, and once changed across to a single SSID happily placed a laptop (using wireless G) onto the lower speed channel and a HTC M8 and iPad Air onto the same high speed channel, leaving one completely free. Throughput over these channels was excellent, even when multiple devices were streaming simultaneously. When adding more devices it kept loading up the second high speed channel, leaving the first free which was unexpected and somewhat disappointing. Transfer speed remained high even after the addition of a reasonable number of devices, however it started to slow before the router decided to put devices onto the free channel.
While there is no doubt that the Nighthawk X6 is an excellent solution for keeping our increasing numbers of devices connected to the net efficiently, those who already have a good router may be dissuaded by the price, however for those who are suffering the pain of device dropouts and ‘too much data in too few pipes’ could do a great deal worse than Netgear’s latest offering.