Netgear is on the cutting-edge of pioneering new generation Wi-Fi standard that would transfigure high-end Wi-Fi routers. Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 a Smart Wi-Fi Router received its final consent from IEEE standards for 802.11ac wireless networking, creating a benchmark for delivering prodigious features and performance leaving miles away the 802.11n gear. Isn’t this really gripping?
Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 comes with a sturdy base and sharp external antennas that resembles its name, it is powered by Broadcom’s BCM4709 SoC and is priced at $200. The new 802.11ac is featured with 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and higher link rates than usual thus, adding up to its price. Let’s have an in-depth look at this giant.
Out of the box
- On unboxing the package, you’ll get the following things – Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router, Three (3) detachable antennas, Ethernet cable, Quick install guide and Power adapter.
- The three antennas equipped with the router needs to be screwed down with the router. Inclusion of three antennas has really increased the range, and it makes Nighthawk suitable for very large homes.
- The Ethernet cable needs to be connected with your modem unless you have cable Internet access. The power adapter does the usual work of powering the router.
- Design-wise, Nighthawk stands apart from all the routers in the Netgear family. It has an extraordinary and beefy design and that makes it a Nighthawk. Netgear revamped its router designs from the release of Centria and the R6300 router.
- Both Centria and R6300 have similar form-factor, i.e. both stand upright with a base at the bottom. Nighthawk does not keep this form-factor even if it was a part of the redesign process.
- It boasts a trapezoidal design and flared sides that tend to remind us of the ‘Nighthawk’ fighter jet. And, this is how Netgear wanted to dress it.
- To relate the name ‘Nighthawk’, Netgear seems to have worked hard on the exteriors and ended up making a vigorously looking router. One will definitely refrain to accept it as a router after looking at it for the first time and until the antennas are connected.
- Unlike the other two routers, Nighthawk resides on a horizontal base and that provides it a large surface to stabilize its large build. The wide base has rubber feet that offer stability and sturdiness.
- It comes in rich black color, which resides with fine glossy finish all over the body. Even though it has a fine glossy finish, the gloss is not too reflective.
- The top of the router has ‘Netgear’ printed at the center and has few white LEDs at the extreme top end. The LEDs do their usual work of notifying the activity status wireless, Internet, USB device, LANs and others.
At the front, there is a USB 3.0 port and this ugly-looking port is surely a turn down. The reason behind placing this port at the front was to prevent it with 2.4GHz signal interference. Then, Netgear shouldn’t have placed this port at the front, instead somewhere at the side or should have with provided a shutter to hide it.
On the back panel, there are many ports; they are – Gigabit WAN port, four Gigabit LAN ports, a USB 2.0 port and a power port. These ports are followed by Power and reset buttons. The back panel comes with provisions to connect three antennas. These three antennas once connected add more sturdiness to its look.
On the side there are ventilators for proper air circulation. If you look at the specifications of this device, you’ll come to know how hot this device must be running. These ventilators contribute greatly for keeping the device at low temperature while running.
Dimension wise it measures 13.7 x 10.1 x 3.1 inches and weighs 750 grams. Looking at the dimensions one can make out how big this unit is. The weight is too much for a router; also it needs really large space to reside so consider this before making a purchase.
Nighthawk is not just dressed to impressed. Along with the mind-boggling looks it also has really powerful specifications. They contribute to the robust performance offered by it. As the name says, Nighthawk is based upon the latest ‘IEEE 802.11ac’ standard that provides high-throughput 5GHz band. And, this makes it a dual-band router supporting 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
Inside the hefty looking body resides a dual-core 1GHz processor; alongside with a 256MB RAM and a 128MB flash memory storage chip. It supports bandwidth of 600Mbps at 2.4GHz band and up to 1300 Mbps at 5GHz band.
The 600Mbps bandwidth on 2.4GHz band is higher than usual. Normally, most usual routers provide data link rate up to 450Mbps. This gradual bump in the data link rate in Nighthawk is made possible by the use of 256-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation). Where, most usual routers use 64-QAM. The Broadcom BCM4709A SoC (1GHz dual-core CPU) inside the router is reported to boost wireless, wired and WAN-to-LAN performance. Have a quick look at the tech specs.
Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router
- Wi-Fi Technology: 802.11ac Dual Band Gigabit
- Wi-Fi Performance: AC1900 Wi-Fi (600 + 1300 Mbps)
- Wi-Fi Band: Simultaneous dual band 2.4 & 5GHz
- Ethernet Ports: Five (5) 10/100/1000 Mbps – (1 x WAN & 4 x LAN) Gigabit Ethernet
- USB Ports: 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0 port
- Processor: 1GHz dual-core
- RAM: 256 MB
- Memory: 128 MB flash
- Dimensions: 285 x 184.5 x 50 mm
- Weight: 750 grams
- Setting up routers is not a big deal these days as most modern routers are easy to set up. The quick install guide will help you with the necessary steps.
- Firstly, you will have to connect the antennas provided with the router. The antennas reside on the back panel, which needs to be screw-down on the threaded antenna posts.
- It is recommended to position them in such a way that they provide maximum signal coverage. The center antenna needs to be vertically positioned whereas the left and right antenna to be positioned 45-degree outwards.
- If you have a modem that needs to be connected with the router, then you need to switch it off first. After that, connect the modem with Nighthawk using the provided Ethernet cable. The Ethernet cable coming from the modem must be hooked to the WAN port of the Nighthawk.
- Connect the modem to the power outlet and power on the router by pressing the power button that resides at the back. Connect your computer with the router using an Ethernet cable (not provided in the box). This Ethernet cable needs to be hooked up to any one of the LAN port(s).
- Alternatively, you can also use Wi-Fi is you don’t have Ethernet port on your laptop. The Wi-Fi is pre-configured with a factory SSID and a password. The SSID and password is mentioned at the bottom of the router.
- Note: Make sure you note it down before setting up the router, otherwise it will be frustrating to obtain this information after everything is hooked up.
These are the necessary steps you need to do before running the setup. Once you are done with this launch your browser and Netgear genie will display. The Netgear genie will guide you through all the necessary steps required to connect to the Internet.
- Netgear Nighthawk is equipped with various extra-ordinary features that make it stand apart from all other routers. These features are the vital part of its ‘Nighthawk’ identity.
- Netgear is boasting about these features and that’s why we decided to test them one by one and see how they perform. Let’s have a look at it.
Quality of Service (QoS)
- Quality of Service (QoS) is an advanced feature offered on the Netgear router that can be used to prioritize some Internet applications and online services to minimize the impact when the bandwidth is busy.
- Netgear offers this feature in most of its modern routers. However, in the Nighthawk this feature is taken to a whole new level. Netgear claims to offer advanced QoS functionality in the Nighthawk.
- In advanced QoS downstream and upstream QoS automatically recognizes and prioritizes streaming and gaming applications. We decided to test this feature and were really surprised by the way it worked.
- Configuring some settings from the router’s dashboard can enable QoS. This router uses Wi-Fi MultiMedia (WMM) notation to represent QoS. WMM can be turned on for either of 2.4GHz band, 5GHz band or both.
- WMM will prioritize multimedia data, such as video or audio stream. The router can be configured to use the 2.4GHz band for video streaming and 5GHz band for gaming traffic.
- Giving it a try, I played a 1080p video on YouTube with QoS turned off. From the moment I clicked on the video link, it took nearly 10 seconds for video to start. Next time, I decided to turn on the QoS and give it a try.
- For the same video with QoS turned on, it took only two seconds for video to start playing after I clicked on the link. This is a massive improvement in the performance that is easily noticeable.
I tried some other routers from the Netgear family to test QoS. Yes, the QoS added up to the performance but it was not so noticeable. The bandwidth management and allocation is done inside the router with some pre-defined rules for the QoS. These rules set the upstream traffic from the services such as VPN, popular games, XBOX applications and others to ‘high’ priority.
The priority downstream traffic from the services such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube are also set to ‘high’. The priority for many such services that a typical home user will use are already predefined into the router. Although these rules are pre-defined they can be easily edited. If you are an advanced user you can set your own rules for the QoS.
Another interesting feature packed inside the Nighthawk is the Netgear’s Beamforming+. If you are unaware of what Beamforming is, let’s make it clear first.
Beamforming is a radio wave technology that is written into the next generation IEEE Wi-Fi 802.11ac standard. This technology allows the router to transmit Wi-Fi signal in the direction of the client, thus creating a stronger, faster and more reliable wireless communication.
Beamforming extends Wi-Fi coverage and helps reduce dead spots. Alongside, it delivers stable Wi-Fi connection and for voice calls and HD video streaming. It offers better Wi-Fi throughput and reduces unnecessary radio frequency interference.
This is all about beamforming in general. Nighthawk features an advanced Beamforming solution called as ‘Beamforming+’. This is the same Beamforming concept that Netgear has tweaked for its router lineup.
Netgear’s Beamforming+ includes standard based Beamforming implementation as defined by the current 802.11ac standard, the + refers to Netgear’s implementation of driver level improvements done for improved Wi-Fi performance and range. While for beamforming it requires an 11ac client that support beamforming, the + benefit provides improved performance especially on the 5GHz frequency band.
To test the Beamfroming+ feature we used a MacBook Air (mid-2013) as our client. The laptop is equipped with the latest IEEE 802.11ac chip. The test was done for the 5GHz band first then followed by 2.4GHz. We placed the laptop at a distance of 5 meters from the router; this ended up with a surprising throughput results. The data rate achieved between the router and the client was 179Mbps. This was amazing as compared to the router-client distance and number of obstacles in between them.
The results for 2.4GHz band were not so satisfying. We used the same setup with same distance (5 meters) between the router and the client. The data rate achieved between the router and the client was just 72Mbps. The throughput obtained in this test was more than enough for the usual tasks like web-browsing, social networking and checking emails. Netgear is expected to push a firmware update that will add enhanced Beamforming to 2.4GHz band in near future. This update will contribute to better data rate on the 2.4GHz band.
We crosschecked these results with a Windows laptop plugged-in with Netgear A6100 802.11ac USB adapter. Keeping the same distance between the router and the client, the result was bit different from what we observed in the earlier situation. The data-rate on the 5GHz band was observed to be 169Mbps, and on the 2.4GHz it was 65Mbps. This decreased throughput was a surprising turn in our tests. The reason behind the decreased throughput must be the USB adapter. The USB adapters slow downed the throughput because of the limitations of USB speed.
We were totally satisfied with what the Nighthawk offered on the 5GHz band. The high throughput is necessary for heavy-duty tasks, which are done on the 5GHz band, and that’s where the Nighthawk is operating high.
In addition to these major to features, Netgear offers some more interesting features in the Nighthawk. As said earlier, there are two USB ports provided on the router. One of them is USB 2.0 and the other is USB 3.0 port. Both ports do the same job, but latter provides more bandwidth. The USB ports support a USB printer and a USB storage drive.
You can assign any device to any port, but we will recommend that you to connect the printer to the USB 2.0 port and the external hard drive to the USB 3.0 port. The reason is obvious; hard drive will always perform better on the USB 3.0 port because of more bandwidth, and printers usually don’t require the extra bandwidth offered by USB 3.0 port.
We tested USB 3.0 performance by connecting a Western Digital My Passport portable hard disk drive (USB 3.0) to it. To explore its full potential we did two tests; one for wired transfer speed and other for wireless transfer speed.
For wired connection, copying a 5GB file from the hard disk was accomplished with a transfer speed of 395 Mbps. Copying the same file onto the hard disk drive was accomplished with a transfer speed of 300 Mbps. For wireless connection, copying the same file from the hard disk drive offered transfer speed of 88Mbps. We were impressed with the transfer speed offered with by the drive in both cases. The wireless transfer speed is too less as compared to wired. But, that is the normal wireless transfer speed offered by any router. We will definitely recommend you to use the router connected with a hard disk drive as a dedicated NAS solution.
Under the control panel (or the dashboard) of the router you will be able to configure the attached storage drive to support HTTP/HTTPS or FTP access. This is one of the neat features provided by Nighthawk. It has an ability to provide personal FTP server with dynamic DNS support. This makes the hard disk drive connected to the router to be accessible from the Internet.
Netgear offers a free service to setup a personal ftp address (such as ftp://youraddress.mynetgear.com). This address can be used with any browser to access the contents from your hard disk drive. The Nighthawk can act as a media server as well. It comes with a support for DLNA and iTunes Music server. So any DLNA compatible device like HDTV can discover the hard disk drive connected to the router and use it as one of the input to play media files stored on it.
Nighthawk can be used as a backup solution. ReadyShare Vault is backup software provided by Netgear for Windows that can take a backup of your system at a particular time. Mac systems are already integrated with ‘Time Machine’ (backup software) into their operating system. Nighthawk is also made compatible with this technology.
Netgear plans to add two new features in the near future via firmware upgrade. One of them is Airtime Fairness that will prevent single-stream clients from interfering with faster client. This will ensure lag free performance for faster clients even if a single-stream client joins the network. The other feature that will be added is – Smart Connect. This feature will force dual-band devices to connect automatically to the less-crowded 5GHz band when they join the network.
Among the not discussed features are the 128MB flash storage and 256MB RAM. This onboard storage will be beneficial to the open-source DD-WRT community to develop custom firmware enriched with more interesting features.
It can act as a printer server with another software ‘ReadyShare’ provided with it. In addition to these there are some more features that other premium dual-band routers provide as well. We will not be discussing them in-depth here.
After the tests we were convinced that, Nighthawk is definitely a performance powerhouse. The build, look and the performance have turned the tables of the premium router category. We tested every possible feature of this router with every possible aspect, and we admit it was fun doing so. Many times this router impressed us with its performance figures after the tests and sometimes high-expectations turned us down.
Although the results didn’t beat the competitor products from other manufacturers lying in the category, it still can be regarded as one high-performance router. It is packed with interesting and powerful features, but they are futile for a normal home user. The performance and some extra features offered by this router is not at all useful for a normal home user who does the usual tasks of browsing the internet, social networking and checking emails.
Playing videos on YouTube or Netflix can be easily handled with a single-band 2.4GHz standalone router. In case if you need bandwidth management, there are cheaper routers that offer it.
As the name says this router supports IEEE 802.11ac standard. Being newest in the category not many devices still have support for this chip. Although it does have 802.11a/b/g/n support, to get the most out of this router you need an additional 802.11ac supported USB adapter for your computer (if it does not support 802.11ac standard).
Its true potential is explored only if you are a power user. If you live in a place where users have to compete for bandwidth, then Netgear Nighthawk can help you with it. Its QoS feature will perfectly allocate only the necessary amount of bandwidth required for performing that particular task for each user.
The USB 3.0 port will let you connect an external hard disk drive to make your own NAS solution. This is cheaper and flexible as compared to other NAS boxes. Also, the Beamforming+ technology will enhance your multi-player gaming experience.
So, if you are a normal home user, then purchasing Netgear Nighthawk is a no-brainer. If you are a power user who needs these features and is ready to invest a hefty amount then, we will say that the Netgear Nighthawk is the right choice for you.