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Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 review: This router gives gamers complete control

These are just a few of the settings you can customize. There are many others that allow you to manually add games and devices to ensure you have the best gaming experience possible.

Netgear isn't the first manufacturer to team up with another company to create a high-end gaming router. Linksys did the same with Killer and Asus with WTFast, but the level of customization and real-time analytics NetDuma provides is more impressive. You can spend as much time as you want getting your router exactly the way you need it. And best of all, you don't have to pay an additional subscription charge like you do with WTFast.

High-end features give you incredible control

The XR500 router has lots of top-end features that give it great speed, range and usability. The AC2600 rating means 800 megabits per second (Mbps) on 2.4GHz and 1,733Mbps on 5GHz. It's only dual-band so you don't have an extra 5GHz network to help alleviate network congestion, but tri-band is still rare these days. It does have MU-MIMO for fast simultaneous connections and beamforming for a stronger signal on each device though. The XR500 also has 4x4 external antennas, each with four streams to give you a faster, more reliable signal.

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High-end hardware means lots of great features on the XR500, like MU-MIMO, beamforming and band-steering.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can also use the XR500 in access point (AP) mode by wiring it to your current router to extend your current network. The functionality in this mode is limited. The Netgear apps won't work and the gaming software will be moot, but you can still take advantage of network storage.

The router has smart connect, so it will automatically choose the best Wi-Fi band for your devices to connect to. The menu even gives you more control over the LED lights, letting you disable blinking but leave them on. You can also enable a guest Wi-Fi network, but beware that the router leaves it open by default. Make sure to check the box for the security setting WPA2-PSK [AES] and set a password.

Netgear doesn't have extra antimalware software or services with this router, but it does have robust content filtering, virtual private network (VPN) support and parental controls. You can block by keyword, domain, device or service. On the flip side, you can also give unrestricted access to one device on your network to act as a master device. 

One of the best bonus features of this router is that it supports wide 160MHz channels and Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) channels on 5GHz. This helps you avoid interference from the more crowded standard channels. If you want to enable the wider channels, it's a little hard to find. Go to Settings, then Advanced Settings, then Advanced Wireless and check the box for "Enable HT160." With 160MHz, you should also use either channel 50 or 114. 

DFS means you have 15 more channels available to help find the most reliable signal. In an odd twist, Netgear set the default 5GHz channel to 153 (a non-DFS channel), as opposed to auto. It said the reasoning is because 153 provides the best performance while meeting FCC requirements for power transmission. If you happen to run into any issues while using 5GHz, you may want to start with changing the channel to auto when troubleshooting. If you leave the setup as is, you'll never take advantage of the extra DFS channels.

Gamers will not be disappointed 

The XR500 is made for gamers, so I tested it out using League of Legends on a PC. It did exactly what it promised, keeping my game lag-free and running smoothly.

I turned off QoS and starting playing the game. I then saturated my network with four devices streaming HD video and one device downloading large files as well as streaming HD video. My in-game ping went from 40 to 70 and then erratically jumped around, disrupting my game. In the router menu, I set Anti-Bufferbloat to "always" and both slider bars (download and upload) to 70 percent.

Nothing changed, so I then enabled "DumaOS Classified Games," which automatically prioritizes online gaming over other types of data. Within seconds, my ping went back to 40 and stayed there. Netgear also recommends changing the bandwidth allocation for the gaming device to 20 percent or more, but I didn't need to do this to get the game back on track. Some combination of these three settings should work for you, depending on your setup and how many devices are using up bandwidth.

The speed tests on the XR500 were pretty good, but not the fastest I've seen. On 2.4GHz, I saw great performance, with a top speed of 166 Mbps from close range. Up to 50 feet, the XR500 only dropped off slightly, staying above 150Mbps. That means it should provide good coverage throughout your medium to large home.

2.4GHz Wi-Fi Performance

Legend:

7 feet
25 feet
50 feet

Note:

All speeds in megabits per second (Mbps)

I was a little disappointed by the close range speed on 5GHz, but it's still fast enough for any size home. The XR500 topped out at 772Mbps and only dropped to 224Mbps at two rooms and 50 feet away. Some routers like the TP-Link Archer C3150 V2 performed at around 900Mbps at close range. Here's how the XR500 compares to other routers I've tested.

5GHz Wi-Fi Performance

Legend:

7 feet
25 feet
50 feet

Note:

All speeds in megabits per second (Mbps)

The final testing I put the XR500 through was network storage and it passed with flying colors. On 2.4GHz, I was able to wirelessly download at nearly 19 megabytes per second (MBps) and upload at nearly 15MBps. On 5GHz, I saw downloads of almost 50MBps and uploads of more than 30MBps. Compared to other routers I've recently tested, these speeds are overall the best so far, especially on 5GHz.

Network Storage Performance

TP-Link Archer C3150 V2 AC3150
9.73
11.10
17.57
15.28
Netgear XR500 AC2600
14.66
18.96
49.34
30.80

Legend:

2.4GHz Download
2.4GHz Upload
5GHz Download
5GHz Upload

Note:

All speeds in megabytes per second (MBps)

Netgear said that the biggest USB hard drive it tested was 8GB and it passed all of its tests, but ran into some issues when enclosures with multiple hard drives were used.

Should you buy one?

The Netgear Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming router is great for console gamers due to its DumaOS software. Some PC and console game can't take full advantage of its features, but the router will definitely help reduce lag and stabilize your ping. The menu is super complex with monitoring and analytics, but the tutorial and help icons make sense of everything for you. Someone with any level of router knowledge can quickly become comfortable navigating the web interface.

Gamers need this router and software if they want full control of their gaming experience. Regular folks can save $100 and get the Netgear R7800, which has almost identical hardware specs.

Netgear XR500 Specs

Brand Netgear Model XR500
IEEE 802.11 Standard a/b/g/n/ac Class AC2600
Speed (Mbps) 2,533 (800+1,733) CPU Processor Dual core 1.7GHz
Frequency Dual band (2.4GHz+5GHz) RAM Memory 512MB
Ethernet Ports 1 Gigabit WAN; 4 Gigabit LAN Flash Memory 256MB
USB Ports 2 USB 3.0 Guest Wi-Fi Yes
Antennas 4x4 external (detachable) Parental Controls Yes
Spatial Streams 4 (2.4GHz); 4 (5GHz) MU-MIMO Yes
Modulation 256-QAM 5/6 Beamforming Yes
Security WPA/WPA2-PSK, WPS support Setup App or Browser
Size (in) 12.7 by 9.6 by 2.2 Weight (lbs) 1.8

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