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Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart Wi-Fi Router review: A powerful Wi-Fi solution for a large home

The new Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart Wi-Fi Router might just be the best router Netgear has had to offer to date.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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6 min read

The Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart Wi-Fi Router (model R7800) is an updated version of the X4 R7500 and not only is it much faster, its Wi-Fi signal reach much farther. What's more, the new router now supports MIMO, an increasing popular feature that helps boosts the speed for supported Wi-Fi clients in a crowded home. (Note: Netgear has also released a D7800 version of the X4S that includes a built-in DSL modem.)

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7.6

Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart Wi-Fi Router

The Good

The Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart Wi-Fi Router is fast and can reach pretty much anywhere in my house.

The Bad

The router's software interface is confusing and slow and its network storage performance can't match the competition. It's pricey.

The Bottom Line

If you need a powerful Wi-Fi solution for a large home, the X4S is a great choice.

It's not perfect, however, and shares the same bloated Web interface as previous Netgear routers and having relatively slow network storage performance when coupled with an external hard drive. Nonetheless, if you're looking to cover a large home (of 4,000 square feet or less) and you have a dozen or so Wi-Fi-connected devices, the X4S is a great choice. For more options, check out this list of top 802.11ac wireless routers on the market.

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The Nighthawk X4S share the same bulky design as the X4 that came out in 2014.

Josh Miller/CNET

Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know about this router:

  • The X4S is fast: Local tasks such as sharing files or backing up your storage over the network don't take long, and if you have super-fast Internet, the X4S will accommodate that speed. The X4S has a long range and a stable signal to give you better Wi-Fi coverage in your home. Depending on the number of walls, a home of some 4,000 square feet will likely have coverage in every corner if the router is in the middle of the home.
  • MU-MIMO: If you have Wi-Fi devices of different Wi-Fi tiers (and we all do), all of them will work at their best without interfering with one another. The router works best with less than a dozen or so Wi-Fi devices at a time, though it can technically support a lot more.
  • Peripheral ports: With two USB 3.0 ports and one eSATA port, the X4S can also work as a printer and storage server when connected to a USB printer and and an external hard drive, respectively. Its storage performance is not the best, however.
  • Bloated interface with redundant menu items and sections: If you're a novice, you will have trouble trying to customize your network with the X4S. Pro-users will find it a bit lacking in customization options.
  • Pricing: Its suggested retail price -- $270, £230 or AU$549 -- is expensive, but you can likely find it on the street for less.

Bulky design, powerful hardware

The X4S shares the same bulky design as the X4, with four detachable antennae, five network ports (four LAN ports and one WAN/Internet port) and three peripheral ports (two USB 3.0, one eSATA). It also has quad-stream support (4x4) with a top speed of 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 800Mbps on 2.4GHz, compared to 600Mbps of the X4. Combining the two bands, the router has a top Wi-Fi bandwidth of 2,553Mbps, meaning it earns the AC2600 designation. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards and designations here.)

The router sports the most powerful hardware on the market, running a dual-core 1.7GHz processor with 256MB of RAM and 512MB of flash memory. In my experience, powerful hardware doesn't always translate into fast performance, which was the case with the X4. But the X4S, for the most part, delivered in my testing. More on this below.

Easy setup, confusing Web interface

Similar to most Netgear routers, the R7800 is basically ready to use right out of the box. It's preconfigured with a Wi-Fi network the information for which (that is, its name and password) is printed on the underside of the device. Using this information, all you have to do is plug the router into power and connect its WAN (Internet) port to a broadband modem, and you're done.

(Overall, like all routers with a Web interface, the setup process of the X4S is rather standard. More information on how to set up a home router can be found here.)

But if you want to customize your network (for example, changing the name of the Wi-Fi network and choosing a new password) that's a different story. The router has a sluggish and confusing Web interface, called Netgear Genie, with too many menu items. Some settings were difficult to find and some common settings weren't even available. For example, by default the 5GHz band is set to work for both 802.11ac and 802.11n Wi-Fi standards. If you want it to work for just one of those standards, there's no way to do that.

Apart from the Web interface, you can also use the free downloadable Netgear Genie app for the job. The app is slightly easier to use but you can't access all of the router's settings and features with it. Frankly, it's disappointing how little the Netgear Genie firmware platform has improved given how many years it's been around.

Familiar features, now with MU-MIMO

Overall, the X4S basically has the same feature set as that of the X4. It has all the basic common settings for a home routers, such as firewall, dynamic DNS, port forwarding and so on. It also includes a OpenVPN server, and dynamic quality of service (QoS) control, which prioritizes Internet traffic for different online applications.

What sets the X4S different from the X4, however, is the fact that it now supports the new Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) technology. This feature enables the router to send out multiple simultaneous transmissions of different Wi-Fi tiers to different Wi-Fi clients at the same time, allowing each of them to connect at the top speed they can handle. This results in a more efficient connection to each client, since a slow client can't interfere with the performance of a faster one.

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Even though it has two USB 3.0 ports (and one eSATA port), the router seems able to host just one storage device at a time.

Josh Miller/CNET

Performance

As an 802.11ac Wi-Fi router, the Netgear X4S excelled in my testing. On the 5GHz band, at a close range of 15 feet, it registered a sustained real-world speed of 786Mbps, the fastest I've seen ever. When I increased the distance to 100 feet (with one wall in between) it still scored 538Mbps, also the fastest.

CNET Labs's 802.11ac (5GHz) Wi-Fi performance

Netgear NightHawk X4S 785.2 538.3Asus RT-AC88U 643.6 335.2Netgear Nighthawk X8 632 329.6D-Link DIR-890L/R 601.7 160.9Linksys EA9200 577.8 242.7Linksys WRT1900ACS 536.1 349.21Asus RT-AC3200 513.7 289Linksys E8350 511.1 304.6Asus RT-AC87U 504.4 278.6Netgear Nighthawk X6 482.2 241.6Linksys EA8500 437.8 272.4Netgear R7000 432.1 295.4Netgear Nighthawk X4 381.7 242.4
  • Close range
  • Long range
Note: Measured in megabits per second

Generally, performance on the 2.4GHz band is not the reason to buy a 802.11ac router, since that standard is only available on the 5GHz band. And this is the case with the X4S. In the 2.4GHz band, at close range, it scored 125Mbps; at long range, it averaged 83Mbps. Both were far from the best I've seen but more than fast enough to share Internet access.

CNET Labs's 2.4GHz Wi-Fi performance

Asus RT-AC3200 235.7 66.4Asus RT-AC88U 228.6 101.7Linksys EA9200 226.2 40.9Netgear Nighthawk X4 188.8 119.3Netgear Nighthawk X8 179.4 66.6Asus RT-AC87U 170.7 56Linksys WRT1900ACS 170.3 58.6D-Link DIR-880L 160.8 89.5Linksys EA8500 138.7 57.1Netgear Nighthawk X6 134.4 57.6Netgear NightHawk X4S 124.6 82.8D-Link DIR-890L/R 121.8 34.4
  • Close range
  • Long range
Note: Measured in megabits per second

Speaking of range, the X4S can send its signal impressively far. In my testing, with three walls (each about 1 foot thick) in between, I was still able to connect to it from some 200 feet away. If there are more walls in your home the range will be a bit shorter, but in an open space, you can expect the range to be even farther.

The router also passed my 48-hour stress test with no problems at all. During this time, it was set to transfer data constantly between three devices, both wired and wireless devices of different Wi-Fi standards, and none of the clients disconnected even once.

CNET Labs' router network storage performance

Linksys WRT1900ACS 97.0 87.72Linksys EA8500 90.8 105.52Linksys WRT1900AC 75.9 105.24Netgear Nighthawk X8 43.5 59.9Netgear Nighthawk X6 42.6 71.76Linksys E8350 37.8 85.47D-Link DIR-890L/R 35.5 65.23Netgear Nighthawk X4 33.9 65.86Netgear NightHawk X4S 33.0 32.61Asus RT-AC88U 29.7 33.99Asus RT-AC3200 27.5 28.79Asus RT-AC87U 27.2 32.31
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Measured in megabytes per second

Unfortunately, the X4S didn't do very well when hosting a storage device. Via a Gigabit connection, it scored a sustained speed of 33MBps for both writing and reading. Though quite fast, that was just about a third of what some other routers can achieve. Still if you only need to do light local file sharing and media streaming, it will get the job done.

Conclusion

Of all the Nighthawk routers I've reviewed, all things considered, the X4S is the best. The new router is super fast, has a long range with stable signals. If you have around 10 or so active Wi-Fi clients in a large home with a fast Internet connection, this router is a great choice. If you have even more concurrent wireless devices, a tri-band routers, such as the Netgear X8 (R8000) or the Asus RT-AC5300 will suit your needs better.

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7.6

Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart Wi-Fi Router

Score Breakdown

Setup 6Features 8Performance 9Support 7
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