Advanced router that is ahead of its time

In terms of hardware, the Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart WiFi router is ahead of the pack. But not so its software. The Web-based user interface looks dated and was also slow.
In terms of hardware, the Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart WiFi router is ahead of the pack. But not so its software. The Web-based user interface looks dated and was also slow.PHOTO: NETGEAR

The new Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Smart WiFi router suffers from the same predicament as other high-end routers - it is too forward-looking, with advanced features that are not mainstream yet.

On the other hand, if you can stomach its relatively high price - the X4S costs $399 compared with around $200 for a more basic model - it should probably last you several years.

This Wave 2 router supports a number of Wi-Fi features that did not make it into the first wave of 802.11ac routers that came out a few years ago.

One is a 160MHz channel width that doubles the channel width of other routers. Netgear says a compatible client device will get twice the data transfer rate compared with a router without it.

But there are currently no client devices capable of using the 160MHz channel. Hence, it is disabled on the Nighthawk.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $399

  • ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN

  • STANDARDS: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

  • SECURITY: WPA/WPA2, WEP

  • ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT and SPI, DoS protection

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

  • DESIGN: 4/5

  • PERFORMANCE: 2/5

  • VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

  • OVERALL: 3/5

Thankfully, the Nighthawk's other major Wave 2 feature MU-MIMO (or Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output) is enabled.

This technology lets the router stream data to multiple compatible clients at the same time, unlike older routers that serve only one client at a time. This leads to a faster data transfer rate.

Certain Qualcomm-powered smartphones, like the Xiaomi Mi 4c, already support MU-MIMO. More importantly, we will see a dramatic increase in client devices this year as MU-MIMO is supported on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip that will be in practically every upcoming flagship smartphone.

With its four adjustable antennae, the Nighthawk supports four spatial streams for an aggregate data transfer rate of 2,533 Mbps - hence, its AC2600 branding.

It has two USB 3.0 ports, which can be used to share a connected printer or external hard drive on the home network. It also has an eSATA port, which usually connects to a network-attached storage or NAS device. A useful button at the back lets you turn off the LED status indicators, which can get pretty bright.

In terms of hardware, the Nighthawk is ahead of the pack. But not so its software. The Web-based user interface looks dated and could do with a fresh coat of paint. It was also terribly slow, taking a minute to save changes made to the router's settings.

Netgear's Genie app (Android and iOS) is modern and more responsive. I like that you can use it to easily transfer files to another device on the same network. It also has a built-in Wi-Fi analytics tool to measure Wi-Fi signal strength. Pity the app cannot entirely replace the sluggish Web interface.

Despite its cutting-edge hardware, the Nighthawk produced an average download speed of 302Mbps, compared with 490Mbps for the more affordable Synology Router.

This mediocre performance, though, could be because of the early firmware on my review unit.

• Its advanced features are far from mainstream adoption. It also needs a better interface.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Advanced router that is ahead of its time'. Print Edition | Subscribe