Netgear Nighthawk XR700 review: Overkill
- Gaming-specific software features
- High-performance specs
- Coverage isn't quite as good as mesh
The Netgear Nighthawk XR700 is incredibly expensive for a niche consumer product - but it’s comprehensive, powerful and specialised enough to stand out.
Realistically, not everyone needs a router like the Netgear Nighthawk XR700.
By design and (at seemingly) every turn, the XR700 opts for overkill where it have stopped at excellent. Short of the Wi-Fi 6 connectivity found in the Nighthawk AX8, Netgear's latest gaming router has pretty much everything you’d a high-performance, highly-specific router like it to have.
If you are the person who wants just that, you’ll probably come away happy with it. The argument for why isn’t hard to make. The argument for why you specifically need that extra-powerful hardware is less apparent. It's one thing to point and the sky and string together buzzwords like "8K cloud-based online VR gaming experiences" and quite another to point out a situation where those demands actually exist.
Still, sometimes, you want the best - and the Netgear XR700 makes a good case for itself as just that.
Router type: AD7200
Dimensions: 21.9 x 243.7 x 64.5 mm
Processor: 1.7GHz quad-core processor
Memory: 512MB NAND Flash + 1GB DDR3 SDRAM
Antennas: Enhanced Active Antennas with high powered amplifiers
Ports: Two USB 3.0 ports + Seven Gigabit Ethernet ports + 10G LAN SFP
Design & Performance
Design-wise, I don’t see how this review can really stray that far from the obvious.
The NIghthawk XR700 looks like a Nighthawk router. It’s got big, tall and imposing antennae. It’s got a sleek, winged look to it. It's got a steel mesh grill covering the top of the unit. And, under the hood, the Nighthawk XR700’s hardware sheet boasts a similarly fearsome reputation.
The monolithic machine is equipped with a hefty quad-core CPU (clocked at 1.7Ghz) and a grand total of seven gigabit ethernet ports and a single 10GB ethernet one. You can even you can combine them into a single 2Gbits/sec connection via 802.1AX link aggregation.
In addition to the top-of-the-line specs here, the Nighthawk is also equipped with a bunch of gaming-focused perks to try and ensure you have the best experience.
Like other recent Nighthawk products, it runs on a specialised operating system called DumaOS. Developed externally and later adopted by Netgear, DumaOS has several key features - for example, geo-filtering and game-oriented traffic management - that promise to make it a more appropriate foundation for those who want the best gaming experiences possible on their wireless network.
It can’t necessarily make your ADSL connection as good as an NBN one. But it can make it a little bit more reliable than a lesser router might.
DumaOS uses anti-buffer bloat tech to sort through your networking and prioritize gaming traffic over other sources. Obviously, this will negatively affect other users in your household - so enable it wisely.
The second weapon that the Nighthawk XR700 has in its arsenal is a form of geo-filtering. And if you’re the kind of person who absolutely hates accidentally being connected to an American client when playing online games, you’ll probably dig the end-result.
After all, when you’re playing any game online - be it a first person shooter like Overwatch or a MOBA like League of Legends - you’re always going to have some delay on your inputs. Sometimes this disparity is small enough that it doesn’t matter. Other times, it can wreak havoc on your ability to play competitively and ruin any chance of victory.
Regardless, your physical proximity to the server you are connected to can greatly affect your in-game ping and input lag. The further away you are from the client server, the further your connection has to travel.
This underlying dynamic might be nothing new. However, the ability to actually do something about it is. And the Nighthawk XR700’s geo-filtering helps you optimize your online game experience by letting you restrict how far your connection can reach. Sick of being pulled into US-based servers and forced to play at a disadvantage? Designate America as a no-fly zone within DumaOS and the Nighthawk XR700 will avoid it like I’m going to avoid the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog film. Once setup and enabled, you’ll only ever connect to servers that fall within a predetermined range.
Of course, this might not always work out in your favor. If you’re looking to play a game online that doesn’t have an active gaming community within the region or one that doesn’t have any sort of oceanic servers, the XR700’s geo-filtering could easily backfire and leave you in a matchmaking queue that goes on forever.
Last but not least, DumaOS also boasts a dedicated VPN app that lets you route specific traffic types from certain devices through an OpenVPN-compatible service, whilst letting everything else go directly through your ISP. Safe to say, if you’re the kind of person who uses VPNs regularly, this is a neat advantage that you might not get out of many other routers.
Though the XR700 generates plenty of heat when under load, I was pleasantly surprised with how quietly it ran overall. It’s by no means silent but I’ve definitely used noisier routers. I can’t necessarily claim to have used many other routers that are as powerful and quiet as this one is.
Still, like any router, whether or not the XR700 will delivers a good and lag-free gaming experience on an individual basis is absolutely going to depend on a ton of other outside factors and circumstances: from the game you’re playing, the structure of your network, the time of day it is and, of course, the status of your own internet connection.
Living in Australia and still stuck with an ADSL connection, there’s literally no way I could properly push the Nighthawk XR700 to its limits.
However, that being said, the pitch for the XR700 isn’t that it ensures or guarantees a lag-free experience. Like Linksys’ similarly-minded gaming router, the promise being made here is one of lag-reduction. And, in most situations, the optimizations made possible by DuraOS do a decent job of helping realise and achieve that goal.
If there’s any weakness to be found here, it’s in the XR700’s antennae. Sure, they’re big and high-performance. But, if you’re living in a multi-story house, they’re no substitute for a Mesh Wi-Fi system. You might get faster speeds but, sometimes, coverage is more important.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, I’ve got nothing but praise for this router. The Netgear Nighthawk XR700 is incredibly expensive for a niche consumer product - but it’s comprehensive, powerful and specialised enough to stand out.
It can’t compete with mesh solutions on coverage or flexibility but if I was looking for a dedicated gaming router to cover a small-to-medium-sized space, I’m convinced enough that I'd want to put the Nighthawk XR700 towards the top of my list.
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