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Netgear Nighthawk X4 review: This 802.11ac Wi-Fi router is a disappointing 'Wave 2' effort

Michael Brown | Sept. 10, 2014
I won't beat around the bush: Netgear's Nighthawk X4 Wi-Fi router is a major disappointment. It's not just slower than the first 802.11ac Wave 2 router to reach the market, the Asus RT-AC87U, it's considerably slower than its competitor--on every benchmark.

Feature set

The Nighthawk X4's enclosure is nearly identical to the original Nighthawk's (the R7000), with a few key differences. Most importantly, it has four detachable antennas and supports four spatial streams each for transmit and receive. I was about to peel the shrink-wrap off the router when I noticed numbered yellow labels next to each of the four antenna mounts and on the antennas themselves. I almost dismissed these as the kind of Captain Obvious instructions that manufacturers so often provide. You know, edicts such as "Plug in power supply before attempting to use this device."

Then I looked closer and noticed that while there are four mounts, these and the antennas were numbered "1" through "3," with the two antennas and two mounts in the back each labeled "1." There's a logical reason for this: Each blade-shaped antenna has an articulated joint, and the numbered labels ensure that they are all properly oriented — with the thinner edge of the blades in front — when they're attached. The labels on the router will be gone once you've peeled the shrink-wrap off, but it's easy enough to figure out the correct orientations should you ever remove and re-attach them.

Where the original Nighthawk is equipped with one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port, the Nighthawk X4 boasts two USB 3.0 ports plus an eSATA port. That's the best port configuration of any consumer router on the market today. The Nighthawk X4 comes with DLNA and iTunes servers, and Netgear bundles free backup software in the form of its ReadyShare Vault. Apple's Time Machine technology is also supported.

NAS performance

Prior to shipping the router, Netgear's director of product marketing Sandeep Harpalani told me to expect to see read speeds as high as 80MBps and write speeds up to 40MBps when using the router's USB ports. And CNET's Dong Ngo reported getting numbers at least close to that (although he doesn't report whether he tested one of the router's USB ports or its eSATA port).

I had a much different experience while copying files to and from a 500GB, USB 3.0 WD My Passport drive, which I attached to the router using a desktop PC hardwired to the router. The Nighthawk X4 read a 10GB collection of files from the drive at a plodding 26.8MBps, and it wrote that collection at just 22MBps. Its performance with a single 10GB file was equally underwhelming, reading that file at 23.7MBps and writing it at 21.2MBps.

The differences in performance bothered me, so I repeated my test using a different USB 3.0 drive (a brand-new 2TB WD My Passport Ultra), and then I tried a different client computer. I also defragged the portable hard drive as well as the partition on the client PC, and I scanned both drives for errors. My results didn't change.

 

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