We tried Netgear's first gaming router and it's the fastest we've tested

Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 Router

Netgear was our overall choice for the Best Gaming Router back in 2015 with their excellent Nighthawk X4S router. However, their follow up products have not kept pace with the competition, with other manufacturers creating product lineups that are squarely aimed at the gaming market. Netgear changes all that with their introduction at CES 2018 of their Nighthawk Pro Gaming division to directly cater to the high end gaming market. Their initial rollout features two products, the XR500 router, and their SX10 switch.

Gotta look like Transformers to be true gaming

Gotta look like Transformers to be true gaming.

The Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 Router (XR500) is Netgear’s return to gaming routers. It has the appearance of a modern take on the Nighthawk X4S, with a horizontal design, and four antennas with the sharp angles that can be compared to a stealth aircraft, all in black plastic. Hardware wise, it ticks the right boxes with AC2600 speeds (N800/AC1733), a dual core 1.7 GHz processor, dual USB 3.0 ports, Beamforming and MU-MIMO. It also uses Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS), which adds fifteen additional unlicensed channels on the 5 GHz frequency to minimize interference. The only real deficiency here is the router has only four Gigabit LAN ports (with some competing products having eight).

We were expecting an early review model of this router but the plain white box no instruction manual and the yellow label with the code number adorning it indicated that this unit was direct from the Netgear labs and made us realize that we had arrived at the very bleeding edge of new networking technology

We were expecting an early review model of this router, but the plain white box, no instruction manual, and the yellow label with the code number adorning it indicated that this unit was direct from the Netgear labs, and made us realize that we had arrived at the very bleeding edge of new networking technology.

Generally, the hardware on Netgear routers has been decent recently, but the software has arguably been the greater shortcoming. For this XR500, they brought things up to speed in a big way, by using the latest interface from the Netduma folks, better known as Netduma OS. 

When we looked at the first router from the Netduma folks, the Netduma R1 last year, we were quite impressed with the interface, which did a great job at eliminating lag and controlling congestion, although we lamented the “Plain Jane,” 2.4 GHz only router that clearly was a few generations behind the current gear, and left us wondering as to what would happen if the Netduma folks got their software interface into some modern hardware (although even hardware challenged they did garner a recommendation as an alternate pick for a router, and they are also planning on upgrading their original router to the new Netduma OS in April 2018).

The Netduma OS in the XR500 offers a number of innovations, including Geo-filtering, which allows a radius to be set (typically <3000 km), and then the router will preferentially connect to the closest gaming server, as well as Bandwidth Allocation that allows for granular control of prioritization of gaming devices. Finally, there is robust QoS for prioritization of gaming traffic.

The real question is how this all works, and we got an advance engineering sample of this router, and put it through our test suite (although we waited for the latest firmware 2.1.0.4 for final results). The 2.4 GHz speeds are seriously solid at 285.43 Mbps (close) and 224.28 mbps (far), which are the fastest 2.4 GHz speeds seen to date from any router. The 5 GHz speeds however are a mixed bag with the close score of 339.3 Mbps which is again class leading, but at the far range precipitously drops to 119.75 Mbps, the lowest throughput on this test (confirmed with two different firmwares and three different Wi-Fi adapters), which points to a shorter 5 GHz range. The XR500 is also solid on our gaming congestion test, with a FPS of 25.883, while streaming two 4K videos with a combined video frame rate loss of 14.33%, which shows the effectiveness of the NetdumaOS, and the best congestion management we have seen from a Netgear product- ever.

The XR500 is currently available at a price of $299.

Nighthawk Pro Gaming SX10 Switch

The Nighthawk Pro Gaming SX10 Switch is also part of Netgear’s new Pro Gaming lineup, a followup to last year’s S8000 Gaming Switch. This time around, it still has eight ports (which addresses a shortcoming of the XR500 router), but kicks it up a notch as two of them now have 10 Gb speeds, with the remainder Gigabit speed. What makes a switch gaming focused? The SX10 is designed to control latency, and reduce lag with a web based interface that controls the bandwidth to each device. Finally, the hefty, metal device is adorned with adjustable RGB LED’s.

When we went hands on, setup proved fiddly, as the Windows 10 method faltered when the SX10 could not be located in Windows Explorer to initiate setup, but the alternate Netgear Insight app method got the switch onto the network. Other concerns are that the switch does not stack onto the router, and it has 10 Gb ports, but the router does not, limiting overall network throughput. We also have on our “wish list” a single integrated interface to control both the router and switch together.

The Netgear SX10 switch is on the market at $299.