Thanks for stopping by and checking out this gaming router review. Netgear hooked me up with one of their latest and greatest routers — the Nighthawk XR500 Gaming Router which was launched in January of 2018. Up until this point, I was using the Netgear C3700 modem/router combo.
Read on for my experience with the XR500 and if it’s worth the $300 bones.
4/2/18 Update **One manufacturing issue has been brought to my attention from a fellow gamer. It appears that some units of the XR500 have printed the 1234 incorrectly on the back of the Ethernet Ports. For example, if you were to plug a cable into No. 1 slot, the No. 4 LED light in the front lights up. Hard to say how widespread this issue is (seems to be more prominent in the UK and EU units). Not a dealbreaker by any means but something to keep in mind.
Zoom In: Specs
- 5 GHz 4×4 up to 1733Mbps
- 2.4 GHz 4×4 256 QAM, up to 800Mbps
- Dual-Core 1.7GHz processor
- 256MB Flash, 512MB RAM
- 4 external high range antennas
- 4 LAN Ports (10/100/1000Mbps)
- 1 WAN Port
- Two USB 3.0 ports
- DFS channels (15 more) in 5GHz – prevents network interference
- 1.77 lbs (801g) in weight
- Dimensions of 12.7 x 8.6 x 2.2 inches (322 x 244 x 55 mm)
Here’s the package contents:
- Netgear Nighthawk XR500 Router
- Four Antennas
- Power Adapter
- Ethernet Cable
- Quick Start Guide
- Promotional Materials
Many moons ago I purchased the Netgear N600 Cable Modem Router Model C3700 (looking at my Amazon order history indeed it was May of 2015). I didn’t have the cash for a performance or ‘gaming’ style router and my main intent at the time was doing away with the equipment rental fee Comcast charges on a monthly basis. I think it’s something like $10? At any rate, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the modem/router combo paid for itself. And frankly speaking I didn’t want to give Comcast a cent more than I had to.
Initially I thought I may have to purchase a modem unit since the Nighthawk Pro Gaming Router is a router only. But I went into the router settings on my old Netgear N600 @ routerlogin.net > Advanced tab > Administration > Router Mode and set it from ‘Yes’ to ‘No’. That disabled the WiFi. Essentially, that made my old Netgear N600 function like a standalone cable modem aka a ‘bridge’. I didn’t need to buy a new modem after all. Once I set the old unit to bridge mode, I hooked the ethernet cable that came with the Nighthawk XR500 from my old unit to the Nighthawk XR500. Blip, boppity, bloop, lights started blinking on the Nighthawk and I was ready for action.
I must admit, it does look quite fearsome. Depending on your preferences the appearance could either be considered overdone or formidable. I imagine it may lift off at any moment and start blasting lasers out of its antennas and do other Nighthawkish things. I suppose for now it will satisfy itself with blasting wireless signal throughout my house.
I plopped down at my desktop and selected the Wifi name and entered the password that was located on the sticker on top of the router. When I opened Chrome and tried to navigate to a website it automatically sent me through the WiFi set up process: detecting the connection, checking my speed, naming my new WiFi network (I do wish they added Guest Network setup after this step), setting up my password, updating firmware, and then forwarding me to the DumaOS dashboard.
Casting the Net
The DumaOS is an impressive, powerful operating system. I think it is an excellent precursor of more cool things to come in the new IoT world we now live in. Upon logging into www.routerlogin.net, you will find a dashboard and a slew of other tabs to navigate to such as the ‘Geo-Filter’, ‘QoS’, ‘Device Manager’, ‘Network Manager’, and more. These modules are given the name ‘R-Apps’, and you can disable and enable which ones you want to run on startup. It appears there will be a R-App store down the road, where more R-Apps will be made available (I saw the R-App Store on the main dashboard, but couldn’t click through to it). DumaOS automatically launches a tour which guides you through each of the features and gives you some quick tips to get started on the right foot. In addition, each R-App has a help button in the top right. When clicked, it givens you more information and a set up guide if applicable. It is all very intuitive anyway, but the tour and help buttons are nice touches.
I like the device monitor R-App, where it gives me an overview of all the devices that are currently connected to my network as well as those that are offline. It permits you to rename each device and classify it as a phone, computer, laptop, Xbox, etc. After renaming each of my devices ex: Ben’s iPhone, Sharayah’s Laptop, Xbox One, I was able to get a good overview of my network (both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz) and which devices were hogging bandwidth.
One really cool thing about the Nighthawk XR500 is that in effect it merges both the 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz bands, so all I had to do was connect the router to the one Wifi network that I created a name and password for in the set up stage. Of course, I found it in the list of nearby networks as I reconnected everything. Once connected, the router took care of the rest. There’s no choosing between the 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz bands and fretting over which is going to be best for every device. The idea is that it can automate the management of all your devices, allocating bandwidth to the chosen ones (and your chosen ones are probably going to be your gaming rigs / consoles). This omnipotent higher being is able to switch each device on-the-fly between three states: offline, 2.4Ghz, and 5Ghz. This capability of being able to juggle devices instantaneously based on their need keeps your network humming along at maximum efficiency.
If you decide the higher being isn’t doing the best job and want to intervene you can navigate to the QoS R-App, which enables you to manually set the bandwidth allocation per each device. This is why it was doubly helpful to going through the process of giving each of my devices a custom name instead of accepting the defaults such as “IPHONE-792B0[insert very long list of characters here]”. Sometimes it would recognize the device as it did with my cellphone, but with my Nest thermostat it just labeled it generically. For larger families with a ton of devices, I could see things getting pretty chaotic unless each device was renamed as it was connected. Fortunately, it does pass you the MAC Address of each device too. Of course, you could just hand all duties over to the Nighthawk God, but if you want to get serious about managing your network and/or love seeing the network stats, it’ll be worth your time to rename and select a device type for each of your devices. Another thing I noticed is that as guests started coming over and asking for the WiFi, this started to quickly clutter the Device Manager page with a bunch of generically named devices. It’s not a big deal, but I’m wondering if down the road an update to DumaOS will allow me to recategorize those in some way.
I’ve only touched the surface of what DumaOS is capable of. There’s a settings R-App where six tabs are found: setup, monitoring, content filtering, administration, USB storage, and advanced settings. Clicking one expands it into a list of customizable options. Furthermore, I found under the advanced settings section a slew of extras such as port forwarding, VPN Service, VPN client, dynamic DNS, remote management, and LED control settings to name a few. I imagine, this will be enough to please most network wizards and performance junkies.
The Net Results?
Just out of curiosity I ran some speed tests on my desktop and phones using both Google’s internet speed test module they built right into their search as well as Netgear’s speed test as part of the XR500 setup process. For example, on my desktop the old modem/router tested at (145.2 mbps download / 5.52 upload) and then on the new router (168.75 mbps download / 6.13 upload). I saw a 10-30 megabits bump on the before and afters on my phone and desktop.
Whether the Nighthawk was responsible for the speed bump is unknown to me as I don’t know the intricacies of networking. Logically, my brain says I shouldn’t be getting anymore speed because my ISP (Comcast) is pumping just the same amount of bandwidth down the tubes (or lack thereof) and won’t pump anymore to me unless I upgrade my internet package. Plus, I’ve also heard cable internet is getting split up amongst all users in an area, so that would impact my speeds as well. So perhaps when I did the first speed test on my old unit more bandwidth was being used by people around me and by the time I got the new one hooked up there were a bunch of rage quits in my area and hence the reason I was getting more juice. I think the headline here is that although the bandwidth I get from Comcast on a daily basis is probably about the same, the XR500 is doing more with that bandwidth than my old modem/router ever could.
One thing that was very clear to me is a solid improvement in signal strength. When using the WiFi upstairs we at best got 1-2 bars of signal strength on our phones and sometimes it would even drop and kick us onto Verizon’s 4G which would eat into our precious data. These woes are no longer, we get a strong signal upstairs and for that matter every room in our home. Our house is about 1800ish square feet and we get perfect coverage now without the need for WiFi extenders. Those four antennas are blasting WiFi rays around my house but hopefully not into my brain. Furthermore, and I realize this is absolutely a subjective comment everything seems a bit snappier and better now, from browsing the web, to streaming quality on Netflix, refreshing apps, downloading larger files, gaming, etc. It has been a big upgrade from our old router. Our quality of internet life has certainly improved.
Geo-Filter is one of the highlight features of the XR500. As most of us know, one leading cause of lag in online gaming is the distance between our computer (or console) and the host of the game (the server). Geo-Filter is a way to combat this problem. It works by guaranteeing a nearby host/server which significantly lowers your ping, of course resulting in smoother gaming experience. It filters potential hosts, enabling you to only connect to those within a certain radius that you get to specify. Ultimately having a better ping makes you more competitive too, artificially improving your reflexes. You’ll get the information you need to react sooner than someone with a higher ping.
When I received the Nighthawk XR500 product sample along with it I was sent a Reviewer Testing Guide PDF. In it is a list of recommended games to test out the Geo-Filter feature. Netgear listed the most popular titles such as Madden 18, Destiny 2, Overwatch, Halo 5, Cod, etc not only because they are Geo-Filter compatible but also probably because these titles have the most servers so you still get into game quickly. Netgear highly recommended playing Call of Duty: WWII to ‘experience the full potential of the Geo-Filter’. So that’s exactly what I did.
Over the course of about 10 matches, each time I checked my stats in DumaOS my ping never got over 25ms. Most the time it was around 17-23. That’s a great result as a ping below 50ms is considered good for gaming. I think this feature is mainly aimed at console gamers as most PC games (CS:GO comes to mind here) allow you to sort and filter hosts by ping. In the event a PC game doesn’t have such features, it could be a potent advantage if the game is Geo-Filter compatible. It doesn’t seem like there are many titles overall that have this feature available yet. Hopefully more will be added down the road.
Here’s a video from Netgear that does a great job explaining it:
The nuts and bolts of this router are more than sufficient for home networks. 4 LAN ports and two USB ports for media / printers offers plenty of connectivity. I have seen competing routers in this price range with 6 LAN ports or more, but I imagine most gamers hardwire their PC or gaming console and run the rest of everything on WiFi. However in an office type setting I could see this being a deficiency. The 4-transmit / 4 receive antennas is where some of the real magic lies. Netgear claims this router is capable of reaching 5000 square feet, the widest-ever coverage of any of their models yet. 5000 feet is a humongous house and I can vouch that it works beautifully in my house that is less than half that size, but I’ll need to come back and update this review if I ever reach baller status.
This unit has one of the beefiest processors I’ve seen in a router with a dual-core 1.7GHz processor. This must be what it takes to run the DumaOS and keep a network transferring plenty of data running at peak efficiency. The XR500 is capable of up to 2.6Gbps wireless speeds (N800/AC1733) which in terms of sheer numbers, is slightly lower than some of the competing routers at that price range. Nevertheless, most folks won’t be using a high percentage of that capability. One would need the ultimate fiber package to get that sort of bandwidth. The 2.6Gbps capability is bolstered by the multi-user MIMO, quad-stream, and 160MHz technologies.
I don’t think a quality connection can be overvalued. I have no doubt this router will shave off minutes of wait time everyday from the plethora of devices we use connected services and apps on. Over longer time horizons, that’s hours of my life I’m getting back and it kind of makes me happy to think about. Indeed, beyond the basic daily interactions of web browsing and the like and in terms of gaming, this superior performance is clearly more important. Particularly in the competitive gaming arena, milliseconds can make a difference.
Is great performance worth the $300 cost of the Nighthawk Gaming Router? I think if you’re a competitive gamer who plays exclusively online, absolutely. In terms of your connection’s performance there’s really only two things you can control: your internet package and your router. You want to get the best of both if at all possible. For those that need some extra convincing, there’s another compelling argument in that not only will you benefit from an optimized connection but your whole family (and visitors) will reap the rewards of a better connection. On the other hand, if you’re a casual gamer and/or already have a decent router the case becomes much harder to make.
No doubt about it, the Nighthawk Pro Gaming Router (Model XR500) is built for heavy-duty, uninterrupted gameplay. Furthermore, it empowers gamers with powerful features like QoS and Geo-Filter. Netgear provides both the browser accessed DumaOS and the Netgear Genie app for smartphones. Between the two, users get a comprehensive suite of tools to manage and optimize their network.
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Zoom Out: Verdict
Set Up - 9/10
Software - 10/10
Performance - 9.5/10
Specs - 9/10
Value - 7/10
Netgear’s swooping, stylish return to gaming routers is a success. The intuitive DumaOS software enables gamers to manage and optimize their network. Through powerful features such as Geo-Filtering, gamers can gain an edge over their online adversaries.
- Speeds up to 1733 Mbps
- Intuitive DumaOS Software
- Merges 2.4 + 5 GHz frequencies
- Router only
- Highly expensive
- QC issues w/ misprint errors