Netgear R6300 £199
3rd Sep 2012 | 16:01
One of the first 802.11ac draft routers
802.11ac: what you need to know
The second 802.11ac draft router we've had to review, after the Buffalo AirStation 1750, is the Netgear R6300. And it's something of a behemoth. Just as with the Buffalo AirStation 1750, this Netgear R6300 represents the cutting edge of existing wireless technology - Draft 2 of the 802.11ac standard.
Both, it turns out, are using the same Broadcom 4360 chipset, the same Draft 2 release, and this results in Netgear putting the delightful small-print disclaimer on the back of the box stating "NETGEAR makes no express or implied representations or warranties about this product's compatibility with future standards."
It's this type of thing that makes it hard to recommend any draft router solely based on its performance. Buyer beware, perhaps?
That's not to say we can't comment on the rest of its performance. The other big issue that currently exists mid-2012 for 802.11ac is that no laptop adaptors exist yet, but these are expected towards the end of 2012.
This not only hinders testing, it would restrict use at home or in a professional environment, too. In fact, the only way of using these is to buy two of the Netgear R6300 routers and bridge one to the other.
Before unpacking the Netgear the R6300, we were also rightly amused by its packaging. Claims such as 1750Mbps total speed show how hilariously unhinged the marketing behind all of this is, which is somewhat reflected by the gaudy gold spot colour splashed all over the box.
If you missed the original draft releases of 802.11n then you'll be missing the comforting feeling of deja vu the rest of us are experiencing. But the proof is in the pudding, so let's tuck into this huge dish of wireless technology and see if we're sick or not.
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The Netgear R6300 is a pretty striking router for all the wrong reasons. First it's huge, way bigger than anything we've seen previously. At 10 inches wide by 8 inches high, that's bigger than an iPad. On top of that, it's had a cheap-looking gold half-tone gradient effect applied to the huge front-side, which neither looks good nor adds anything useful.
At least it comes with a decent stand, unlike the Buffalo AirStation 1750.
Another issue related to the size and design is that it's awkward to reach the rear-positioned ports and power button, because they're recessed into the huge case and you have to reach around to find them. The side-mounted WPS and Wi-Fi toggle buttons are thankfully more accessible.
Negatives aside, the router does come with four Gigabit LAN ports, two USB 2.0 ports and a WLAN port. But then we wouldn't expect less. The USB ports support the usual NAS, printer and DNLA media sharing. The NAS supports FAT16/32, NTFS and EXT2/3, which covers the main file systems you'd want.
Installation is a breeze, thanks to the new web-based interface. This can automatically pick up any WAN configuration for you or you can opt for a manual approach.
The Netgear R6300's front-end takes a friendly, colour-coded approach and offers a quick status overview of the internet, wireless, parental and security settings.
Delving deeper, the settings are logically split into Basic and Advanced sections, while the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands can be configured separately.
There is a bridge and repeater mode that can handle up to four repeaters, along with a main base station. The bridge mode isn't obvious, and is tricky to initialise. Netgear really should improve this area. For example, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands have different MAC addresses, though only the 2.4GHz one is shown on the MAC sticker.
A Guest network mode has already been added, which provides internet access but no local network access to wireless users. Netgear also provides decent Parental Filtering that can be provided on an automatic and keyword basis, making use of the OpenDNS system.
There are also comprehensive logging, scheduled power and access times, plus a bandwidth monitor. Netgear now also offers iOS and Android apps to provide local control and access.
We've always found Netgear interfaces to be fast and easy to navigate. So this newer interface on the Netgear R6300, while not as flash as the Fritz!Box or Asus router offerings, is a pleasant update that provides comprehensive features.
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As we said in the introduction, testing the Netgear R6300 had the same restrictions as testing the Buffalo AirStation 1750 with the Buffalo AirStation D1300 Media Bridge did. This meant that our usual test scenarios couldn't be reproduced, but like for like with the Buffalo routers, we've kept these the same.
The main issue with being forced to use two routers for connection testing is the lack of diagnostics, so it seems impossible to check connection speed between the two and optimise the installation.
After the poor effort of the Buffalo AirStation 1750, and considering the fact that the Netgear R6300 uses the same chipset, we weren't expecting too much from its performance.
The good news is that off the bat same-room performance was off the scale, with uploads peaking at 54MB/s and averaging 47.8MB/s, and downstream averaging along at 33.5MB/s.
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These transfer speeds are more what we were expecting from 802.11ac. It not only powers past the lacklustre performance of the Buffalo AirStation 1750 by as much as 20MB/s at its peak, but the average was a good 40 per cent ahead too. More importantl,y it's a similar amount ahead of the speedy Western Digital N900 Central, which uses existing 5GHz 450Mbps 802.11n technology.
Moving to a room away that includes a solid brick wall in between to help block that 5GHz band, the speeds dropped very little to an average of 33.9MB/s downstream and 45MB/s upstream.
Compare that to the 27MB/s download and upload speeds of the Buffalo AirStation 1750 or the 23MB/s and 31.5MB/s of the Western Digital N900 Central. While still not close to the three-fold increase over the best existing 5GHz technologies, it is providing a good doubling over even the better 2.4GHz routers, and more than a three fold increase over poorer performers at this band, ironically such as itself.
Not surprisingly, the Netgear R6300 is also an excellent 5GHz 450Mbps 802.11n router. The same-room downstream speed of 34.4MB/s was actually faster than the 802.11ac result, but the similar 31.7MB/s upstream, however, wasn't.
This pack-leading speed extended to the long-distance test too, although the WD N900 Central still wins at our mid-range test involving solid walls.
As a 2.4GHz router, the Netgear R6300 is average at best. We struggled to connect above 300Mbps for no obvious reason. Even taking this into account, the performance at middle and distance were poor, even against other 300Mbps models.
The Buffalo AirStation 1750 was easy to dismiss, with its uninspiring 802.11ac performance. This Netgear R6300 is an entirely different beast, since it's actually delivering much of the speed you'd expect from a next-gen wireless standard.
Upstream peaks of 54MB/s are nearing half those of wired Gigabit LAN, and more impressive is that at the middle distance with a solid wall to contend with, these speeds remain high.
The issues remain, though, that downstream speeds still aren't as high as we'd expect or like. The issue is compounded by the price of the Netgear R6300 - the RRP of £200 in the UK or $200 in the US makes it one of the most expensive routers we've ever seen, plus you'll need two just to use the 802.11ac. Is £400/$400 worth the outlay for a draft standard? We say no.
The turn of speed 802.11ac is starting to raise eyebrows. Of more use and even better is the 5GHz performance the Netgear R6300 puts in - it's among the fastest we've tested, and at distance is only out-performed by the Netgear DGND 3700.
We also think Netgear has done a sterling job redesigning the web-based interface - while it's not as flash as others, the feature set is excellent. It's easy to use, is fast, but doesn't compromise on information. The same goes for the included ports - we wouldn't expect less than the four Gigabit LANs, two USB ports and the WAN.
The physical design does nothing for us, and its size is a actually restrictive, while port positioning is rather poor because of this. Despite its 5GHz performance, at 2.4GHz the Netgear R6300 does little to impress, not going beyond a mediocre performance, which at this price isn't what we'd expect at all.
Despite our praise for the interface, it could still do with some refining in the looks department, and it's not entirely clear where some settings are to be found, since they're split between Basic and Advanced sections.
As a 5GHz router, the Netgear R6300 excels. It provides a comprehensive feature set and easy installation. Problematically, it's very expensive, and frankly, even if it's compatible with future 802.11ac hardware, we wouldn't recommend investing in any such hardware at this time just on the back of that.