This is the second of a new generation of ‘AC2350’ 802.11ac routers. It follows the Asus RT-AC87 which exaggerated somewhat in describing itself as an ‘AC2400’ device. The AC87 was very fast, but not quite the speed revolutionary that the new generation promised. So has Netgear cracked it?
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The first place to spot that the R7500 is an important router for Netgear is the design. It's only the second router to follow the inspiration of Netgear’s previous flagship, the R7000 and of course Netgear has beefed it up even more.
As such the slick, angular lines of the R7000 remain, but it's now slightly larger and thicker and – in the spirit of one-upmanship reminiscent of the razor market – has moved from three external antennas to four. I’ll speak more about this below, but it gives the router an even more menacing look, like some sort of Decepticon.
At 285 x 184.5 x 50mm it also has one of the largest footprints we've seen, but it's in the middle of the pack when it comes to weight, at 750g. You may have a hard time convincing a less technologically enthused partner to put the R7500 in a prominent place – though the ability to turn off its LEDs at the touch of a button may help – but it's well built, wall mountable and certainly gives off the impression of being a top-of-the-line device.
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But you buy the R7500 for what's inside, not outside. The reason for the four antennas is the support for 4x4 streams in the AC2350 spec, a notable step up from the 3x3 limitation in every previous standard.
Meanwhile the name itself comes from a significant increase in theoretical 802.11ac bandwidth from 1300Mbps to 1733Mbps, and this number is combined with 600Mbps 802.11n 2.4GHz – the same spec as in AC1900 routers. The total is therefore 2333Mbps, which Netgear bumps to a more marketing-friendly ‘AC2350’ and Asus takes major liberties in rounding up to ‘AC2400’.
Like any new Wi-Fi specification, AC2350 is backwards compatible with previous standards, but you’ll need a 4x4-compatible receiver to get the most from it. Currently that leaves you with two options: the yet-to-be-released Asus PCE-AC87 – an upgrade to the PCE-AC68 – or using a pair of R7500 and putting one into bridge mode, which is how we tested.
So if the message wasn’t already clear: this is a router for the speed freaks on the cutting edge.
Elsewhere the R7500 ticks all the boxes and then some. It has a pair of USB 3.0 ports as well as eSATA, WPS and WPA/WPA2 security, QoS support for DLNA and VPN. One downside is that Netgear – like every other router maker in town – still only fits four Gigabit Ethernet ports on this beast, a number I’d like to see increased on top-of-the-range models.
Rivals Asus, D-Link and Linksys have made significant improvements to their router setup processes in recent years, which has left Netgear lagging behind. And this still remains the case.
Setup is by no means complex. You plug in the router, boot it and connect to either of the separate 5GHz and 2.4GHz SSIDs, then it opens a new browser tab to begin the setup wizard. So far, so good, and identical to the latest class-leading routers.
Where the R7500 slips behind, though, is in its UI. Quite simply the company's ‘genie’ interface looks a little long in the tooth, and clicking sub-menus lands you in text-heavy environments with endless dropdown menus. It’s a world away from Linksys’ ‘Smart WiFi’ drag-and-drop environment, and while it won’t intimidate advanced users and it has a ‘Basic’ mode, it could do with an upgrade.
One hardware tip: be sure to connect the correct antenna to the correct point – each is labelled and it is easily missed.