Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router (R7000) review: A solid network and storage powerhouse

The new router now has a built-in OpenVPN server, a very useful feature for business users.
The new router now has a built-in OpenVPN server, a very useful feature for business users. Dong Ngo/CNET

In my trial, the router could handle hard drives formatted in FAT32 or NTFS, and the USB ports provided enough juice to power any portable bus-powered external drives. It could also support hard drives of top capacities. Once a drive is plugged in, its contents will be immediately shared across the network with everybody having full access to it. But you can also customize the share folders for security or privacy purposes. The router supports the SMB protocol, meaning any computer in the network can browse the shares using a network browser such as Windows Explorer or Finder. Share folders can also be turned into an FTP site for those who want to access them over the Internet.

The new thing about the R7000's storage capability is the fact that it now supports Time Machine backup, making the router a much better alternative to the new AirPort Extreme, in terms of functionality (and also performance, more below). It also comes with great backup software called ReadyShare Vault for Windows computers.

If you choose to store digital content on the connected hard drive, it can also be streamed to DLNA-compliant network media players, and iTunes with AirPlay support. This feature automatically scans the attached external hard drive for digital content, making it available to devices within the network. The router can also automatically scan for new content when new files are added, or repeatedly over a period of time.

The R7000 shares the same Netgear Genie mobile app as that previous models. In addition to managing the router's settings, you can use this app to stream digital content to a mobile device, such as an iPad. However, you can only do that when the mobile device is within the local network powered by the router. When you're out and about, or if the device connects to different Wi-Fi network, the Netgear Genie app will not work at. Overall, I found this app rather limited though it has a lot of potential.

To sum up, if you have used Netgear router before, you can expect the R7000 to offer all the features and settings you're familiar with, plus a better QoS, Time Machine backup support, and a built-in OpenVPN server. The router also officially supports third-party firmware, such as DD-WRT.

Stellar performance (almost) throughout
If I hadn't reviewed the Asus RT-AC68U, I would have been totally blown away by the R7000's performance. I had, however, and still I was very impressed by it.

Overall, despite higher specs, the R7000 (powered by a 1GHz processor) is slightly slower than its Asus counterpart (powered by a 800MHz processor), but only within the margin of error. The two routers are by far the fastest on the market.

For 802.11ac, which is only available on the 5GHz band, the R7000 offered the sustained real-world speed of 431Mbps (or some 54MBps) at a close distance of 15 feet away. This is a very fast speed, about seven times the speed of a regular Ethernet connection. When I increased the range to 100 feet, the speed was reduced to 295Mbps, still one of the fastest. For this test, the Asus offered 521Mbps and 336Mbps for short and long ranges, respectively.

CNET Labs 802.11ac performance score (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range
Throughput
Asus RT-AC68U
336
521.4
Netgear R7000
295
431
Asus RT-AC66U
178.5
339.2
Netgear R6300
208
331.32
D-Link DIR-868L
221
271
Amp Wireless RTA15
165.5
205.5
D-Link DIR-865L
135.2
199.2
D-Link DGL-5500
113.8
157.8

For 802.11n, on the 5GHz band, the R7000 also did very well with 188Mbps and 181Mbps for short and long distance, respectively. Its long range score was actually faster than that of the Asus, which scored just 176Mbps.

And finally on the 2.4GHz, where I expected to see the most improvement because this is where the TurboQAM technology is supposed to boost the performance, the R7000 didn't impress much. It scored 117Mbps for short range and 64Mbps for long range, still much faster than most existing routers, but much slower than the Asus. In the Netgear's defense, I used a second R7000 router working in bridge mode as the client for this test, and Netgear doesn't offer many options to make sure that the first and second unit are connected using the fastest standard possible.

CNET Labs 5GHz Wireless-N performance score (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range
Throughput
Netgear R7000
181
188
Asus RT-AC68U
176
202.8
Asus RT-AC66U
166.6
208.2
D-Link DIR-868L
161.5
178
Netgear R6300
144.8
178.8
D-Link DIR-865L
121.6
147.6
Cisco Linksys EA6500
105.7
124.6
D-Link DGL-5500
97.6
156

CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance score (in megabits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range
Throughput

Similar to the Asus RT-AC68U, the Netgear R7000 passed the 48-hour stress test without any hiccups and offered exceptionally long range, with the effective range being some 200 feet away. I was able to pick up its signal much further than that -- up to 300 feet away -- but at over 200 feet, the signal was not strong enough for a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Note that I tested the router at CNET's offices, where there are walls and many Wi-Fi devices that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.

CNET Labs NAS performance scores via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection (in megabytes per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read
Write
Seagate Central
74.4
39.5
Netgear R7000
60.41
38.6
Asus RT-AC68U
53.86
41.2
Belkin N900 DB
17.6
9.1
D-Link DIR-827
15.8
8.5
Asus RT-N56U
13
11.9
D-Link DIR-868L
12.81
12.5
Asus RT-N66U
11
16.5
Asus RT-AC66U
9.6
16.7
Belkin N750 DB
6.9
2.7

And finally, when coupled with an external hard drive plugged to its USB 3.0 port, the R7000 offered excellent network storage performance. Via a Gigabit Ethernet connection, it registered 39MBps for writing, slightly slower than 41MBps of the Asus, and 60MBps for reading, slightly faster than the Asus' 54MBps. These were very fast, and are in fact, faster than many dedicated NAS servers. This means all you need is a sizable USB 3.0 external hard drive and the R7000 will make your home network storage solution complete.

Conclusion
The Netgear R7000 is not just a Wi-Fi router but also a capable NAS server when coupled with a USB 3.0 external hard drive. It's another testament to the success of the Broadcom BCM4709 Wi-Fi chip, which helps bring great Wi-Fi experience to both new and older Wi-Fi clients.

Together with the Asus RT-AC68U, the Netgear R7000 brings home networking to a new level of performance and capabilities. As to which one you'll want to get, it depends. If you want support for Time Machine backups, the Netgear is definitely the way to go, but the Asus comes with Dual-WAN and a few other nifty unique features of its own. For me personally, the clearly faster performance of the Asus on the 2.4Ghz band is worth the $20 extra cost.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 1, 2013
  • Weight 26.5 oz
  • Connectivity Technology wired
    wireless
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