Netgear’s latest router makes impressive performance claims, but it’s simply too early to buy into Wi-Fi 7
- Excellent speeds for existing clients
- Ready for the next generation of Wi-Fi
- 10GbE for both LAN and WAN connections
- Extremely expensive
- Client hardware isn’t yet available
- Many software features cost extra
Netgear’s towering Nighthawk RS700S is the first standalone Wi-Fi 7 router we’ve tested – and it sets out an impressive store, with excellent performance for existing Wi-Fi 6 and 6E devices and the promise of even faster speeds for the coming generation of Wi-Fi 7 clients.
Even so, we can’t recommend you buy it, at least not right now. You won’t get the best from the RS700S until Wi-Fi 7 support is widespread – and even then, this top-shelf router could well be overkill for most homes. Make no mistake, it’s a superb piece of hardware, but at its current price and at this point in time even the most eager early adopters would be well advised to hold off.
Netgear Nighthawk RS700S Wi-Fi 7 router review: What you need to know
The RS700S is a standalone wireless router, with a claimed coverage area of 325 square metres. It’s designed to plug into your internet modem and broadcast an ultra-fast Wi-Fi network all around your home or office; you can also switch it into AP mode and use it as a wireless transmitter for an existing network.
When we say ultra-fast Wi-Fi, we mean it. Previously, the very fastest routers have claimed maximum connection speeds of 4.8Gbits/sec, but the RS700S smashes that to pieces, thanks to a combination of Wi-Fi 7 technology and 4×4 MU-MIMO on all bands. Link speeds can go as high as 11.5Gbits/sec on the 6GHz radio band, with 5.8Gbits/sec on the 5GHz radio and 1.4Gbits/sec over 2.4GHz.
As if that weren’t enough, Wi-Fi 7’s new MLO (multi-link operation) feature allows compatible devices to transfer data across all three radio bands at once, which in this case would yield a preposterous aggregated bandwidth of 18.7Gbits/sec. However, MLO isn’t currently enabled on the RS700S – support is slated for a future firmware update.
Needless to say, current Wi-Fi 6 and 6E clients can also connect to the RS700S, as indeed can older devices using Wi-Fi 4 and 5. As we’ll see below, legacy devices still get very good speeds, though they naturally won’t be as fast as Wi-Fi 7.
The Nighthawk RS700S can also serve as the hub of a high-speed wired network, as it offers a pair of 10GbE-capable ports, one for LAN duties and another for a multi-gigabit WAN connection.
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Netgear Nighthawk RS700S Wi-Fi 7 router review: Price and competition
At £800, the Nighthawk RS700S is the most expensive router we’ve ever seen. However, it’s also the only standalone Wi-Fi 7 router that’s so far reached the UK, so if you want to be the first on your street with the new technology, you don’t have a lot of options.
There is one alternative: while we reviewed the Amazon Eero Max 7 system as a two-unit mesh, you can buy a single Eero station and use it as a regular Wi-Fi 7 router. This is substantially cheaper, at £600, but the Eero isn’t as fast as the Nighthawk – Amazon advertises a top wireless speed of 4.3Gbits/sec – and it also claims a smaller coverage footprint of 232 square metres.
Aside from that, your fastest options are Netgear’s own Nighthawk RAXE500 and RAXE300 routers. These models are now around a year old, and don’t support Wi-Fi 7, but they still provide the fastest downloads we’ve seen over Wi-Fi 6E. They’re also somewhat more affordable, costing £550 and £350 respectively.
If you’re looking for strong whole-home coverage, you could also consider some Wi-Fi 6 and 6E mesh systems. The Linksys Velop Pro 6E does a fine job for a very reasonable £342, while the more upmarket TP-Link Deco XE200 offers great download speeds over a wide area, giving you two mesh stations for the same price as a single Nighthawk RS700S unit.
Needless to say, though, these older systems won’t support the massive top speeds of Wi-Fi 7. That may be moot right now, but in a few years their last-generation infrastructure might hold you back from the best online experiences.
Netgear Nighthawk RS700S Wi-Fi 7 router review: Design and features
I’ve previously remarked that Nighthawk routers have looked like stealth bombers. I guess it’s time to retire that comparison, as the new design is more of a forbidding obelisk. It’s very black and (by router standards) very big, standing 282mm tall, with a footprint that measures 124 x 142mm across its diagonals.
Still, it’s not exactly ugly. The design has enough curves, grilles and chamfers to provide some visual flair, and when it’s powered on a column of indicators lights up down the front panel, indicating things such as wireless, LAN and USB activity; a pair of buttons at the bottom let you activate WPS and turn the LEDs on and off.
The arrangement is mirrored at the rear by a stack of Ethernet ports. Here, the 10GbE LAN and WAN sockets flank a column of regular gigabit connectors and a single USB 3.2 Gen 1 socket. It’s a decent provision, but for the price I really would have liked a few more embedded multi-gig Ethernet ports, as a separate 10GbE switch will add at least £100 to the total cost.
I’m also disappointed by the management interface. The web console is the exact same one Netgear has been using for years, and it’s just as ugly and badly laid out as ever, with too many pages and too much white space, so that finding the setting you want involves a frustrating amount of hunting and scrolling.
Still, all the key controls are there. You can set up IP address reservation and port forwarding, customise your DHCP settings and optionally split the three Wi-Fi bands into separate networks with individual SSIDs – handy if you want to force your primary devices onto the fastest networks while pushing low-priority gadgets onto 2.4GHz.
There’s also an inbound VPN server and dynamic DNS support, for convenient access to your home network over the internet. As ever, though, there’s no support for outbound services, so you can’t easily route all your home traffic through a remote server.
USB support is a little limited, too. You can share files over the network or stream them to a DLNA-compliant server, but the port only runs at 5Gbits/sec, so you won’t be able to enjoy the full speed of a fast external SSD over 10GbE or a fast Wi-Fi 7 connection. And things like printer sharing or 5G failover aren’t supported at all.
The router can also be administered via the Nighthawk mobile app. This is much nicer to use than the web console, but it’s quite differently organised and doesn’t offer the full set of network or Wi-Fi management controls.
On the plus side, it does include Netgear’s useful Wi-Fi Analytics module, which lets you scan the airwaves for interference and measure your own connection speeds in different locations.
The app is also your gateway to Netgear’s Smart Parental controls, which provide category-based web filtering, activity monitoring and time limits. Be warned, though, that this is an optional extra: the first year comes at an introductory price of £24, after which it goes up to £50 a year.
If you don’t pay for the service, you can still set up blocks and time limits, but they apply globally rather than on a per-profile or per-device basis.
It’s a similar story with the network security component, dubbed Netgear Armor. The RS700S comes with a year of Armor protection included in the price (the “S” suffix stands for “security”), but after that it’s a steep £85 a year to keep it going.
The service itself is quite wide-ranging, with automatic detection of malware, dodgy connections and dangerous websites courtesy of Bitdefender. Armor will also scan your network for possible vulnerabilities and track stolen devices, and it even includes a limited subscription to Bitdefender VPN – though this is capped at 200MB of traffic per device per day, so it won’t do for file sharing or streaming video.
With both the parental controls and Armor add-ons enabled, the RS700S is a pretty well-featured router, but it’s also a very sizeable investment, working out to more than £1,400 over five years.
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Netgear Nighthawk RS700S Wi-Fi 7 router review: Performance
Assessing the Nighthawk RS700S’s performance is problematic, because Wi-Fi 7 is so new that we’ve yet to see a single laptop that supports the standard. Strictly speaking, the standard itself hasn’t even been finalised yet, though the RS700S should require only a firmware update to bring it into formal compliance.
Chipset manufacturers don’t expect to be producing Wi-Fi 7 chips in bulk until mid-2024, and it could easily be another year after that before the new technology is truly mainstream.
There is, however, one area where Wi-Fi 7 is already making an appearance, and that’s the smartphone market. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset includes support for Wi-Fi 7, and various manufacturers including Asus, OnePlus, Samsung and Xiaomi have chosen to enable it in their Snapdragon-powered handsets.
There’s a catch, though: mobile devices normally use compact antenna designs, which limits their wireless performance. What’s more, the chipset itself only supports a maximum link speed of 5.8Gbits/sec, so it’s never going to be able to take full advantage of this router’s 6GHz capabilities.
I confirmed this for myself using two recent phones – the OnePlus 11 5G and the Xiaomi 13T Pro. Both seamlessly established a Wi-Fi 7 connection to the RS700S on the 6GHz band, but close-range downloads from a local NAS appliance averaged only around 40MB/sec. That’s fast enough for anything you’re currently likely to want to do on a phone, but we’re not exactly talking next-generation levels of performance.
Indeed, I got much faster results using my regular test laptop, which is equipped with an Intel AX210 2×2 Wi-Fi 6E card. As usual, for these tests I set up the Nighthawk RS700S in the study at the front of my home, with my Asustor Drivestor AS3304T NAS appliance connected to it via the 10GbE socket (which automatically dropped down to the NAS’s fastest supported rate data of 2.5Gbits/sec).
I then took the laptop around different rooms in my home, copied a selection of test files to and from the NAS, and recorded the average upload and download speeds on the 5GHz and 6GHz networks. Here are the results I saw, along with figures from other comparable routers and meshes:
It was a little surprising that the Nighthawk RS700S didn’t match the top speeds of the older RAXE300 and RAXE500 routers. I would guess that Wi-Fi 6E performance is no longer the main focus of its design, and the first-generation RS700S firmware probably still has scope for optimisations.
The biggest drop-off was in the living room on the 6GHz band, where download speeds were about half of what I would expect to see, suggesting that the Nighthawk RS700S wasn’t able to establish a 2×2 MIMO connection.
Even so, the RS700S is fast enough that it’s hard to think of a scenario where these speeds won’t be more than satisfactory. Its range is impressive, too: while a standalone router naturally won’t provide the same sort of whole-home performance you’ll get from a mesh, coverage was as good as you could ask for, delivering a solid 22MB/sec downstream in the bathroom at the far end of the building and more than twice as fast everywhere else.
Netgear Nighthawk RS700S Wi-Fi 7 router review: Verdict
The Netgear Nighthawk RS700S is one of the fastest routers you can buy today, and once paired with Wi-Fi 7 client hardware it will doubtless race ahead of all current models that rely on Wi-Fi 6 and 6E.
That might be half a year away, however. Until then it’s impossible to say exactly how fast the RS700S can go, especially since MLO functionality hasn’t yet materialised. It also remains to be seen how much value for money this router will turn out to be against forthcoming rival Wi-Fi 7 systems: Nighthawk routers tend to sit at the upper end of their price bracket, so we won’t be surprised if something comes along that’s nearly as fast for a lot less money.
For all these reasons, we would advise a wait-and-see approach. There’s very little to be lost by waiting until summer (or whenever it may be) to buy a Wi-Fi 7 router alongside your first Wi-Fi 7 laptop.
For sure, this router is a very impressive piece of kit, and it may well prove to be the best of the first wave of Wi-Fi 7 hardware: our verdict certainly isn’t a “no”. It is, however, too early to give the Nighthawk RS700S an unqualified “yes”.