All of the smart home tech I’ve been posting about recently rely on WiFi to operate/integrate, therefore it’s essential that your home network is up to the job of handling all of your devices alongside your typical daily usage! The NETGEAR Nighthawk X4 is an incredibly powerful WiFi router, capable of a total throughput of 2.33Gbps (GIGAbits per second)!
- 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- Combined throughput of 2.33Gbps (600+1733 Mbps)
- Wave 2 WiFi (What is Wave 2?)
- Simultaneous dual band 2.4GHz + 5GHz
- 5 x Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbps) Ethernet ports (1 WAN & 4 LAN)
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports + 1 x eSATA port
- ReadySHARE USB to create a basic “NAS”
- Beamforming +
- IPv6 ready
- 4 x detachable antennas
Nighthawk X4 Setup/Install
Setup of the Nighthawk X4 is incredibly simple, however it’s worth noting here that if you’re considering purchasing one of these, make sure you’re happy to use it as an access point only. This device is not a WiFi modem-router, this device is simply a WiFi router. Therefore you will still require a modem. You can use the one typically provided by your ISP, or you can purchase one relatively cheaply via Amazon or eBay. Just make sure that the modem supports your broadband/fibre’s connection type (e.g. BT use VDSL2). I would personally recommend the NETGEAR DM200, which supports most (if not all) of the common DSL types.
Plug the Cat 5e cable into the WAN port on the Nighthawk X4 and plug the other end of the network cable into the LAN port on your modem. Then, take the Nighthawk X4’s power cable, plug it in and turn it on!
At this point, you’ll need to give it a few minutes to complete its boot process. It’s not the fastest device to boot, but when compared to my BT HomeHub… it’s significantly faster to reboot/power up!
Once the boot process has finished, you’ll want to connect a device to the wireless network. Connection details can be found on the box, in the box or on the wireless router itself. I connected my iPhone 7 Plus and I was instantly prompted with a popup asking me to complete the configuration wizard. For me, this was simply a case of leaving everything to auto-configure/auto-detect and pressing next, next, next. Once this process completed, I was able to browse the Internet exactly as expected! NETGEAR’s autodetect functionality is pretty well implemented here. Setup is almost a no-touch process, meaning no matter your level of understanding when it comes to the internet, network devices or just general tech… you can setup and use this incredibly powerful router no matter what!
If you don’t receive a popup asking you to configure the device for the first time, you can simply browse to http://www.routerlogin.net and log in to the router using the default username and password of “admin” and “password” (please make sure you change this after you’ve logged in!!!!).
Wireless network performance
With everything set to default, my iPhone connected to the default 5GHz network and me being sat approximately meters away from the Nighthawk X4 – my wireless strength indicator is showing full signal, which is spectacular! For some reason, my BT HomeHub couldn’t throw this sort of range, despite me having line of sight to the router itself.
I’m able to sit in any corner of my apartment and get my full download and upload speed, which I fully expected from this wireless router. NETGEAR advertise this router as providing excellent throughput for large houses, as long as the device is placed as centrally as possible within the building.
Things only started to improve once I started to fiddle. Immediately I dived into the admin interface and started to poke around. NETGEAR overhauled the admin pages for their routers a couple of years ago, making finding the option you’re looking for really easy whilst also keeping those that don’t know what they’re doing away from dangerous options.
The first thing I did was disable my HomeHub’s broadcasting network – I did this to minimise not only confusion and so that I’m not running two networks side-by-side, but also to prevent the two device’s signals interfering/clogging up precious channel space. The second thing I did was rename the default 2.4GHz and 5GHz broadcasting network names. To keep things simple for everyone in the house, along with every device we have setup on the network – I renamed this to the same broadcast SSID and gave it the same password as the one I’d just disabled on the BT HomeHub. By naming the two bands with the same name, this meant that your device/the router would choose the best band for your device to sit on and utilise. I’ve found this to work out as: closer & newer device = 5GHz, further & older devices = 2.4GHz.
There are an absolute plethora of options to tweak and perfect within the Nighthawk X4’s, such as dynamic QoS which automatically manages your network’s traffic dependent on the type of traffic and your upload/download speed. To list every option within the menus would take an age but if you look at the table of contents from the router’s manual, you’ll get an idea.
One of the features I think will appeal to most in larger houses (generally this will be families) is the ability to set parental controls at the router level. This allows you to protect all devices connected to the router from various types of websites/attacks. The level to which you can protect your network can be tweaked to one of five settings: None, Minimal, Low, Moderate and High.
You also have the ability to block access to your network via Access Control. Enabling this will show you which devices are connected to your network and will give you the option to Allow or Block them. You can also change this setting to automatically “Allow all new to connect” or “Block all new devices from connecting”. You can view and change all blocked/allowed devices via a list and can amend their status on-the-go.
Another key feature for those wary of the Internet’s dark parts is the ability to keyword block websites! This nifty little features allows you to block websites containing keywords, phrases or TLD’s.
Control Access to the Internet
- Specify XXX to block http://www.badstuff.com/xxx.html
- Specify .com if you want to allow only sites with domain suffixes such as .edu or .gov
- Enter a period (.) to block all Internet browsing access
This keyword blocking functionality can also be enabled and disabled either permanently, or on a per schedule basis. Therefore you could configure your network to allow all blocked keywords between the hours of 8pm and 11pm but blocked for the rest of the day.
In the event that someone tries to access one of these blocked websites or services – you can configure email notifications, so that you know who, when and on what device a person tried to access # website.
I won’t go into too much detail in this section either as that could/would require an entire post of its own. ReadySHARE is incredibly powerful, allowing you to turn your WiFi router into a basic NAS. By utilising the USB 3.0 ports and the eSATA port on your device, you can create a full home media setup almost simply by plugging in off-the-shelf external hard drives! Not only that, but you can also plug your USB printer in to the Nighthawk X4, allowing your entire family to print wirelessly – not via the single computer in the garage with the printer plugged in.
The router supports the following file system types for full read/write access (USB hard drives):
- NTFS with compression format enabled
The best part about this is, you could setup all of your laptops/computers to automatically backup to your networked hard drives. In the case of Mac’s, you could utilise “Time Machine” and with Windows machines you can utilise ReadySHARE Vault. By doing this, you can have some peace-of-mind that if your laptop were ever to fail, you have a copy of all of your documents stored on your network.
This wireless router is very powerful. It’s marketed for user for gamers or extreme streamers due to its low latency and high performance, however I truly believe that this router is suited towards a much wider market than just power users. The family controls and ability to fine-tune your network is a welcome sight in any home. The MU-MIMO allows for a multi-device network, which nowadays – everyone and their dog have some form of smartphone or tablet!
Performance and range are suited to a multi-roomed, multi-floored house – however, this shouldn’t prevent those living in apartments from also considering this device. Yes, you may not utilize the range as significantly as others, however, you will experience significantly better performance over the range that you will be using your devices.
The NETGEAR Nighthawk X4 does come in at around £150-£200 on Amazon UK, so is geared more towards the prosumer end of the market, however, do not let this put you off! The features you get, as well as the network capacity you’ll get, should become a considerable factor. The Nighthawk X4 is, however, backwards compatible with all 802.11 standards, as well as utilising Wave 2 802.11ac – meaning extended performance and throughput. It’d be a challenge (even in today’s home-market) to require the ability to push more data through a wireless router than this is offering!
NETGEAR’s website: http://www.netgear.com/
Nighthawk X4 product page: http://www.netgear.co.uk/home/products/networking/wifi-routers/R7500.aspx