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Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 review: The ultimate top-tier, no-compromise home router

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
450
inc VAT

The XR700 sets a new benchmark for routers, but you can get a decent alternative for much less

Pros 
Phenomenal wireless performance
Great networking features that aren’t just for gamers
Lots of wired connectivity options
Cons 
Even more expensive than Netgear’s previous flagship
Some connection options are less useful than they sound
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Netgear is responsible for not one but two of the most noteworthy routers of the past few years. Its Nighthawk X10 R9000 turned heads in 2016 with the fastest Wi-Fi performance we’d ever seen – and then, in 2018, the Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 introduced the specialist DumaOS, delivering gamer-friendly optimisations that other routers couldn’t match.

Now the Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 combines the speed of the X10 with the smarts of DumaOS to create what ought to be a truly exceptional router. It certainly looks the part: like other Nighthawk routers it has something of a stealth-bomber aesthetic, jazzed up with a red go-faster stripe that echoes the distinctive DumaOS colour scheme, an industrial-style mesh panel on the top and no fewer than 17 activity LEDs arranged in a tasteful curve along the front. The question is: does the substance live up to the style?

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Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 review: What you need to know

With its four chunky, illuminated antennae, the XR700 serves up an enormous helping of wireless bandwidth, with quad-stream 802.11ac distributed over two 5GHz radios rated at 1,733Mbits/sec apiece, plus an 800Mbits/sec 2.4GHz channel. For superfast short-range connections, there’s also 802.11ad support (also known as WiGig), rated at up to 4,600Mbits/sec.

Wired networking is well covered, too. Round the back there are seven Gigabit Ethernet sockets – a bit of an odd number, but let it go – with optional 802.1AX link aggregation on ports 1 and 2, so you can combine them into a single 2Gbits/sec connection. To top it off, there’s a single 10GbE port as well.

Software-wise, meanwhile, you get not only the various goodies you’d expect from a high-end router – including USB 3 file sharing, media streaming and print server functions – but also all of DumaOS’ unique gaming features, such as geo-filtering and game-oriented traffic management. It’s an impressive package.

Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 review: Price and competition

Make no mistake, £450 is a lot of money – you can buy an entire computer for less. But you won’t find another router out there that offers such an uncompromising combination of speed and features, and we suspect that the serious gaming enthusiasts at whom the XR700 is primarily aimed will be happy to pay the price.

If you’re not so bothered about the gaming features, Netgear’s own Nighthawk X10 features the same super-high-speed networking capabilities, complete with 802.11ad, Ethernet link aggregation and a matching 10GbE port. You can now get it online for £350. That’s still steep by router standards, but it’s £100 less than the XR700.

Or, if you’re on a tighter budget, consider the Linksys EA9500 Max-Stream. This more functional router doesn’t have all the aspirational bells and whistles of the X10, but it offers great Wi-Fi performance and eight Gigabit Ethernet sockets for a more affordable £250.

Dedicated gamers, meanwhile, can get all the benefits of DumaOS from Netgear’s older Pro Gaming XR500 router. We found that the wireless performance of this model didn’t quite match the X10’s, and there are only four Ethernet sockets, but at £233 it’s barely more than half the price of the XR700.

Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 review: Performance

The XR700’s spec sheet ticks off all the right Wi-Fi buzzwords, but what sort of performance can you expect to see in practice? To find out, I put the XR700 through my usual domestic Wi-Fi testing routine, which involves setting up the router in the corner of my living room (next to the fibre box), then wandering around with my Microsoft Surface Laptop measuring how quickly I can copy large files to and from a local NAS appliance connected to the router over Gigabit Ethernet.

This simple test is more challenging than it might sound. My home has thick stone walls, a kitchen full of interference-generating appliances and plenty of neighbouring networks clogging up the airwaves. Plenty of routers and even mesh systems struggle to deliver a stable connection at the far end of the house, or in the upstairs bathroom, where an inconveniently located radiator tends to play havoc with the signal.

As we’d hoped, however, the Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 had no problem at all. It projected a strong, fast signal straight through all physical and electrical obstacles, providing excellent download speeds even at the furthest extents of my home:

Upload (MB/sec)Download (MB/sec)
Living room10.932.6
Rear terrace3.919.4
Bedroom4.219.3
Bathroom2.418.4

To be clear, these numbers are in megabytes per second, not megabits, and they make the XR700 the fastest router I’ve ever tested. It’s fast enough to deliver the full speed of my 100Mbits/sec fibre connection to every part of the house, with considerable headroom to spare: in the bathroom, it gave me the equivalent of 147.2Mbits/sec, and at close range it hit an amazing 260.8Mbits/sec. For comparison, in the same tests, the Nighthawk X10 gave me a maximum download rate of 24MB/sec at close range, falling to 14MB/sec in the bathroom. The cheaper Linksys EA9500 managed a slightly faster 28MB/sec in the living room, but only 13MB/sec in the bathroom.

Upload speeds were nowhere near as fast, but that isn’t the router’s fault – it has more do with the relatively puny Wi-Fi radio built into the Surface Laptop, which can’t match the penetrative power of the XR700. Even so, the lowest upstream data rate I saw (2.4MB/sec, in the bathroom) is absolutely fine for casual web browsing and the like, and I didn’t experience any of the stalling and hiccupping that can plague weak connections.

What about those ultra-fast WiGig capabilities? Sadly, I wasn’t able to test these because I couldn’t locate a client device that supports the technology. Although it’s been knocking around since 2016, the 802.11ad standard really hasn’t caught on in the consumer market, and I doubt it ever will. That’s because it works best at very short range (less than 10m), and struggles to connect through walls and other obstructions, which severely limits its usefulness.

The XR700’s wired performance is subject to some practical limitations, too. The seven Gigabit Ethernet ports, of course, are as speedy as you’d expect. But since there’s only a single 10GbE socket, you’ll need a separate 10GbE switch to connect devices together at the maximum speed – not to mention an SFP+ module, since despite the price the XR700 ships with an unpopulated slot.

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Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 review: Features

The XR700 isn’t the first router we’ve seen that runs the DumaOS firmware: Netgear’s older XR500 router uses it too, and in the US you can also buy the OS developer’s own-brand router, the Netduma R1. Still, it’s fair to say that DumaOS sets the XR700 apart from the crowd.

And it’s certainly a platform with it’s a personality of its own. The web portal is permeated with a striking blood-red colour scheme, and opens with the sort of information-heavy dashboard that’s more reminiscent of enterprise kit than home networking gear. The default view shows live graphs of network activity and load across the router’s four CPU cores, along with internet and wireless status – although you can customise these to focus on whatever’s important to you.

Perhaps the most important pane is the one listing the installed “R-Apps” (which is what DumaOS calls apps). These are the modules that provide the XR700’s gaming-specific features – although several of them can equally be used for more general network management. Currently everyone gets a standard set of R-Apps, but there are future plans to open a store and offer additional modules for download.

The most gamer-specific R-App is the geo-filter, which blocks connections to servers more than a certain distance away. This would be a big hindrance to everyday surfing, but it’s great for gaming, as it ensures you’ll only connect to a nearby server, keeping lag to a minimum. Cleverly, it works on a per-device basis, so you can apply geo-filtering to your console or gaming PC while leaving your laptop unaffected.

Then there’s the quality of service (QoS) app, which ensures that other devices on the network don’t gobble up all the bandwidth and leave your gaming PC struggling. Built-in filters let you prioritise specific games with a single click, but you’re free to privilege whatever clients, ports and protocols you choose. If that sounds too boringly technical, you can also use a super-simple traffic management tool called “anti-bufferbloat”, which automatically prevents any single device from consuming more than a specified proportion of your available internet bandwidth.

The network monitor and device manager meanwhile expose a detailed, per-client breakdown of your bandwidth usage, again aimed at helping you spot when someone’s wasting network capacity on Netflix when it could be saved for Fortnite. You can see what sort of traffic each device is sending and receiving – be it social media, game traffic or other – and further drill down by service and protocol.

Lastly, the VPN module lets you route specific traffic types from certain devices over an OpenVPN-compatible service, while letting everything else go directly through your ISP. This is nominally aimed at gamers wanting to spoof their location, but the potential applications are much broader: for example, with a few clicks you can route all web browsing activity from your laptop over the VPN, while leaving other connections untouched.

If all of that sounds a bit overwhelming, fear not. Every module has its own help button, which gives a clear, concise explanation of what it does and how to configure it. The regular network settings haven’t been forgotten, either: clicking the Settings link opens the standard Netgear router configuration interface. Aside from the red paint job, it’s identical to the Nighthawk X10 web portal, with options to tweak your Wi-Fi settings, enable the guest network and so forth.

A few advanced features are worth mentioning: the XR700’s parental controls aren’t the most advanced around, but you can blacklist websites by address or by keyword, and enforce an access schedule. The two USB 3 ports at the back open up media server and print server support, plus some quite advanced file sharing features: folders can be shared over SMB, HTTP and FTP, and you can make files available over the internet, too.

You can also take advantage of one of the X10’s signature features: native support for Plex Media Server. Plug in a USB hard disk containing video files, or point the router at a library location on your network, and the XR700 will handle all the cataloguing and sharing features you could ask for, including streaming to smart TVs and over the web. If your clients don’t natively support your file formats then the router is even just about powerful enough to transcode video on the fly – although the output resolution may be limited to 480p.

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Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 review: Verdict

The Pro Gaming XR700 redefines the notion of a do-it-all router. It’s amazingly fast and amazingly configurable, yet you don’t need to be a networking genius to take advantage of its features.

Then again, for the asking price it really needs to be something special. And while we understand that quality costs money, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that you’re paying for a few rather superfluous features: 802.11ad and 10GbE support may look good on paper, but we sincerely doubt that even the most ardent technophiles will get much benefit from them.

And so, while we love the Netgear Pro Gaming XR700, we can’t really call it a sensible purchase. Great wireless performance and a similar feature set can be had elsewhere for a whole lot less. If you’re a dedicated gamer wanting to treat yourself to the very fastest and best domestic router money can buy, however, you need look no further – this is it.