Tech Review: Netgear Nighthawk X10 R9000 WiFi Router (2017)

The first thing I thought after pulling the Netgear Nighthawk X10 R9000 WiFi Router from its packaging was “where in the hell am I going to bench space big enough for you?” The second thing I thought was “… is that an intake fan?”

There’s a lot about this particular WiFi router that isn’t immediately apparent when you pull it out of the box. As a regular benchtop router, it will deliver fast wireless access over a large area. It will provide superfast LAN connectivity. It’ll work as a network hub for your media if you attach a USB drive to it. All of that, at least, should be obvious. What isn’t as clear is that, to make the most of this powerful lump of networking tech, you actually want to have a computer that can handle 802.11ad wireless and/or a 100gbps server to latch onto.

And, annoyingly, even if your laptop does possess the magical 802.11ad connectivity, you’ll very nearly need to place the laptop on top of the Nighthawk to get it to work properly. As soon as you move the laptop away from the router, you’ll find the connection drops back to something more in line with a quad-stream 802.11ad router Though this is nothing to sniff at as far as router’s go, its disappointing that one of the X10’s most highly promoted features is so weak in the knees in practice.

Speaking of quad-stream, this will be the X10’s default state for most. Beyond the aforementioned supercharged speeds, it will act as a regular 802.11ac WiFi access point capable of pumping out 4,600Mbps, 1,733Mbps, and 800Mbps Wi-Fi speeds across its 60GHz, 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequency bands.

So why even have the 802.11ad? The only way the inclusion of that particular tech begins to clarify is when you attach something like a gigabit NAS or high-end laptop to it. The X10 has six Gigabit LAN ports strapped to the back, two of which can actually be combined into a single 2gbps port. It’s when you start stringing these network-hungry things together that you start to see where the Nighthawk X10 really comes into its own.

Here’s the thing though — I don’t own a NAS sever and there’s a pretty good chance you don’t either. I was able to connect my laptop to the 4.6Gbps 60Ghz band, but the connection would waver from 4.6Gbps down to around 3Gbps. To get this to happen at all, I had to place the laptop quite literally next to the router. Moving the laptop even a metre away would result in a drop to between 3.5Gbps and 1Gbps. The connection would drop out if I moved more than three metres away or into another room.

On the other hand, using the 802.11ac bands never gave me a any real problems at all. Sticking to the 5Ghz band offered a solid 533Mbps at reasonably close range.

I’d like to own up to something at this point, if I may. I wasn’t able to optimise the X10’s wireless performance to a degree I was happy with because the web-based interface for setting the router up is a seven-storey high garbage fire. It’s bloated, ugly, and buries its sub-menus several layers deep making finding any particular setting you may be looking for incredibly hard to find. It also runs as slowly as a wet week, sometimes taking up to ten seconds to generate the next page when moving from menu to menu.

Then there’s the apparent lack of customisation. When monkeying around with your WiFi settings, you can see each WiFi band in the menu, but can’t set them to anything other than their maximum speed or a managed, lower output. Unless you’re kind of a prick and looking to take internet-based revenge on your housemates for some domestic slight, I can’t think of a good reason to want to throttle any of these signals. It’s a bizarre design choice and I’m not sure why it’s there. “No, guests in my home, you can only have THIS much internet. It is vitally important that your Facebookery does not impinge upon the rapid flow of data to my devices.”

This is all to say that, at AU$679.00, the Netgear Nighthawk X10 is a tough sell. As an 802.11ac router, it is a fast and efficient device that will ensure relatively smooth, stable ping in any game you might choose to play. Whether that is worth the hefty price tag the device carries, I will leave entirely up to you. As an 802.11ad router, unless you are one very specific kind of power user, it leaves an awful lot to be desired. For this reviewer, if Netgear were to rebuild their user interface to include clearer or at least more sensible functionality, it would solve a lot of the device’s problems.

Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: 802.11ad is crazy fast when you can get it to work; Lots of LAN ports
Lowlights: It’s gigantic; 802.11ad has a range that can be measured in centimetres
Manufacturer: Netgear
Price: AU$679.00 RRP
Available: Now