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You get what you pay for with the Netgear R6100. While it offers decent performance, its performance clearly pales in comparison with Netgear's flagship router, the R6300.
And while the lack of Gigabit Ethernet is a bummer, the router is compact and easy to use.
If you're looking for an 802.11ac (AC) router that costs $100 or less, at the current price of about $99.99 the R6100 is the only choice and a good one. But for about the same price, I'd recommend the N600
Very compact design, plug-n-play setup
The Netgear R6100 WiFi Router is an exciting networking device that, for the first time, brings the price of 802.11ac down to $100. This is a true dual-band dual-stream router, meaning it supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market. When used with 802.11ac-enabled clients, it offers up to 867Mbps of Wi-Fi speed. With 802.11n (Wireless-N) clients, which are the majority on the market, its Wi-Fi speed caps at 300Mbps. Other three-stream 802.11ac routers, such as the R6300, offer up to 1,300Mbps and 450Mbps when used with AC and N clients, respectively.
The R6100 is much more compact than the previous model, just about half the size of the R6300. Its design is the same, however, with vertical placement, internal antenna, and no wall-mount option.
The new, much smaller, footprint is great but I'm not exactly a fan of this design because all of the network ports are located on the router's back, inside a rather deep groove, making them hard to access, especially for those with fat fingers. This is not a big problem for most users, however, since generally you don't need to do that very often after the initial setup. In addition to the network ports, there's also a USB port and a power on/off button. On the side the router has a Wi-Fi on/off button and a WPS button. On the front, there are just three little indicator lights for power, Internet, and Wi-Fi.
I found the router easy to set up. You just plug the router in to power and connect the router's WAN port to an Internet source (such as a cable modem) using the included network cable. This cable, by the way, comes with labels that say specifically which end of it should go in to the router and which one should go into the modem, but if you use it the other way around, that works too.
The router comes with two encrypted preset Wi-Fi networks, one on the 2.4GHz and one on the 5GHz frequency band, that share the same name and passkey. Information for these is printed on a label stick on the router's bottom. That's all you need to start using it. If you want to further customize the router, you will need to access its Netgear Genie interface. There are two ways to do this, either via a mobile app (available for both Android and iOS) or a Web browser. In the latter case, from a connected computer, just navigate your browser to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1. The default username and password are "admin" and "password." I find the Web interface much more comprehensive than the mobile app, which is convenient but only permits customizing a limited amount of settings.
Good set of features, limited mobile app
Like the R6300, the R6100 has a robust Web interface. Using the interface, you can customize all the router's settings, such as changing settings for its Wi-Fi networks -- two main networks and two guest networks (one for each frequency band). There are a lot of customizable settings and features but the biggest one is the OpenDNS-based Parental Controls.
First introduced with the
Another odd thing about the R6100 is its QoS feature, which generally means you can set the prioritization of the Internet bandwidth for certain clients or application in your home network. This feature of the R6100 can only manage the upstream and not the downstream, which is more prone to bandwidth congestion.
The R6100 has one USB 2.0 port that can host an external hard drive for data sharing and media streaming. I found the router could handle hard drives formatted in FAT32 or NTFS, and its USB ports provide enough juice to power any portable bus-powered external drives. 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.
If you choose to store digital content on the connected hard drive, it can also be streamed to DLNA-compliant network media players. 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 R6100 can be controlled with the same Netgear Genie mobile app used with the R6300. 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. Netgear Genie also has a feature called Network Map, which shows an illustration of connected clients and their information, and one called Traffic Meter, which allows you to control the router's Internet connection. While I like the app, I find it rather limited; for example it only works on devices connected to the router directly within the router's local network. It would be much better if the app could work via the Internet when you're out and about. Also, using the app you can manage both regular networks, but it can only be used to manage the guest network on the 2.4GHz band.
The R6100 also offers other common router features such as port forwarding, IPv6, VPN pass-through, and support for Dynamic DNS.
Good performance stunted by the lack of Gigabit support
For an 802.11ac router, or even a high-end 802.11n router, support for Gigabit Ethernet is a must. This is because with these routers, the actual real-world Wi-Fi speeds, though much lower than the ceiling speed, are generally higher than 100Mbps. With support for Gigabit Ethernet, you know that wireless clients will get the best possible speed to the Internet as well as to a home server, which generally connects to the router using a network cable. (This is also how we set up the testing for any router: the server hosting data is connected to the router using a cable.)
For this reason, in the case of R6100, despite 802.11ac, the speed of the test is limited by that of the router's LAN port, which is 100Mbps. And as expected, the R6100's Wi-Fi speeds on the 5GHz band for both 802.11ac and 802.11n were about the same, hovering around 89Mbps over a short distance (15 feet). When I increased the range to 100 feet, this dropped to about 80Mbps.
On the 2.4GHz band, the router registered 60Mbps and 22Mbps for short and long range, respectively.
In all, despite the support for 802.11ac, the R6100's Wi-Fi speeds were about as good as those of a good 802.11n dual-stream (N600) router, such as the
The R6100's range wasn't exactly short, but was much shorter than that of the R6300. In my trials, its effective range was about 130 feet for 2.4GHz and about 110 feet for the 5GHz band. For most homes, this is good enough if you put the router somewhere central. The good news is the router offered a very stable Wi-Fi signal on both of its bands, passing my 48 hour stress test without any hiccups.
A bit of a disclaimer: 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.
The R6100's network storage performance when coupled with a portable drive wasn't impressive either, and this is not because of the lack of Gigabit Ethernet support. In my testing, via a wired network connection, it averaged about 6MBps for writing and 4MB for reading, well below the speed of regular Ethernet. At this speed, you can use the router for light data sharing, and not much else.
The R6100 is Netgear's first effort to bring 802.11ac to the masses, and for the most part this works thanks to the low pricing. The router offers stable Wi-Fi performance and is much more compact than its predecessor.
However, the lack of Gigabit Ethernet means it's not suitable for those with a superfast broadband connection or wanting to have a robust wired network at home. In many cases, such as media streaming or data sharing from a wired NAS server, this also means you will not see the benefit of 802.11ac at all.
The device is not at all a bad router, it's just that what it has to offer is an odd mix. If your network consists only of Wi-Fi devices, this router will work out well; otherwise, look for an alternative that supports Gigabit Ethernet.