As the headline indicates, this is a review of Netgear's new mid-range 802.11ac router, the R6400. But the most interesting discovery I made during benchmarking is how much TP-Link's Archer C8 802.11ac router has improved--at least at close and medium range. I updated the firmware in all four of the routers before benchmarking them, and the TP-Link's close-range TCP throughput with an 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi adapter jumped from 262Mbps to a very strong 411Mbps.
Netgear's R6400 turned in a disappointing performance of just 240Mbps at close range (with the client laptop located in the same room as the router, nine feet away). That put it in last place in this group. The R6400 performed much better at a distance, delivering TCP throughput of 309Mbps when the client was in my great room, 35 feet from the router with one insulated wall and a number of appliances in between. That was good enough for a second-place finish, but it was still 1Mbps slower than the TP-Link.
I retested the four routers represented in the charts because I've simplified my benchmark methodology. Previously, I would test each router by placing the client PC in four different rooms in my home. But four test locations meant performing a dozen benchmark runs on each router, because I'm evaluating 2.4GHz 802.11n performance, 5GHz 802.11n performance, and 5GHz 802.11ac performance with a USB Wi-Fi adapter. Scenarios where the router manufacturer sends a second router that I can configure as a wireless bridge increases the number of benchmark runs to 16 per router.
I've decided that's not a sustainable practice, so I've reduced the benchmark locations to two: When the client is in the same room as the router, and when the client is in my great room, 33 feet from the router and separated by one wall and a number of kitchen appliances. That's still six benchmark runs per router (eight if I'm testing a bridge), so it still takes a full day to run those benchmarks and the file-transfer tests, which I've also changed: I now measure NAS performance by timing how long it takes to move a single 10GB file from an SSD partition on a locally networked desktop PC to a portable SSD with a USB 3.0 interface attached to the router (a write test), and then back from the portable drive to the desktop's SSD (a read test).
Netgear R6400 feature set
The R6400 replaces Netgear's original 802.11ac router, the three-year-old R6300 . The new router's enclosure is nearly identical to Netgear's Nighthawk X4 and it has many of the same features, including a USB 2.0 port in the rear and a USB 3.0 port in front so you can share both a printer and a USB storage device over the network. Unlike the Nighthawk X4, however, the R6400's antennas are permanently affixed to the enclosure and are therefore not upgradeable.
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