THERE are quite an array of gaming routers on the market lately, and I have to admit I’ve sometimes wondered what they actually do – I mean, haven’t pretty much all modems come with a wireless router included for the past decade or so?
Yes, they have, but they’re not generally designed for high use or gaming.
While my computer is plugged directly into the modem, all the other wireless stuff in the house – the PlayStation, the Xbox, my wife’s iPad, and so on – has to share the wi-fi connection provided by the ISP modem/router. Mostly it’s OK, but when everyone’s trying to use the internet at the same time, it causes all sorts of bottlenecks, particularly on the wireless devices.
Enter the Netgear Nighthawk XR700. With more antennae than a small-scale NASA radio communications array, six gigabit LAN ports on the back and a 10 gigabit connection too (for good measure), along with two USB 3 ports on the side, the Nighthawk XR700 is all about connectivity – which you’d hope, given it has an RRP of $849.
Fortunately there’s a lot of gaming features in it, including the ability to limit connections to a certain geographic distance (meaning you won’t inadvertently find yourself gaming on a server based in a yak herder’s yurt in Outer Mongolia), and to prioritise specific connections.
This can also work against you, though – Australia is so far from anywhere that unless you only want to play on local servers (and many games don’t have them), you’re going to have to set the geofilter to cover a distance so large as to be almost academic, unless you regularly find yourself being connected to servers in St Pierre et Miquelon or somewhere equally remote.
Fortunately, you can create different geofilter profiles – so, for example, if you’re playing a game where the nearest server is in California, you can set the geofilter to connect to servers within a certain distance of there.
Under the bonnet, the unit has quite a bit of processing power, with a quad-core 1.7Ghz processing unit and wi-fi speeds of up to 7.2 gigabits per second, according to Netgear.
There are two ways to control what the XR700 is doing: Via a smartphone app (which requires – Le Sigh – making yet another dedicated account for something) or via the router’s own OS, known as DumaOS.
Some of the features available include viewing a network map, seeing bandwith use, and there’s also the ability to set up “guest” wireless accounts too, along with a VPN – not to mention controlling which programmes, apps or devices can access what available bandwidth, which is extremely useful.
What surprised me was that the XR700 even made a noticeable difference to my desktop PC’s internet speeds – not a huge one, but enough that web pages loaded faster and the overall experience just seemed that small bit smoother.
The real point of a router like this one is for gaming, though – so I put it through its paces.
It’s not a secret that I am not very good at fast-paced online games; Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege being probably the only two I can give not-completely-shameful account of myself in, and even then I’m still not great at them, so from my end having a better ping on my desktop isn’t critical as much as ensuring the kids streaming SpongeBob SquarePants doesn’t interfere with me downloading some massive game update or doing Work Stuff™.
I started with The Division 2, which is a sort of hybrid solo/multiplayer experience, and noticed that server connection times were notably reduced.
I moved onto Rainbow Six Siege (since I already had UPlay open) and was recording a ping of 37 from the local servers – a slight improvement over the 39-41 I was getting with my previous router, but not enough to make much of a difference to my lacklustre performance, especially seeing how outclassed I was by much better players in matches. That is, of course, entirely a PEBCAK issue and not related to the router in any way.
I rounded out the testing with Overwatch, which is probably the online multiplayer FPS I am least terrible at, and had a similar technical experience to Rainbow Six Siege, albeit with marginally less pwnage.
It’s also worth noting that I didn’t encounter any latency spikes while using the Nighthawk XR700, either, which certainly improved my gaming experience too – nothing sucks more than getting taken out by someone at a key moment because your internet glitched out on you for a second.
The latency improvements from the Nighthawk might not have made me any more leet (people still say that, right?) but if you were already a pro gamer or had abilities at that level, it absolutely would make a difference.
The connection and speed improvements were a big help on the Xbox One and PS4 though, both for online gaming and download speeds. I noticed this particularly when everyone else was using the wi-fi.
It’s hard to over-emphasise just how many options there are for managing your internet and gaming experience in this router – it really is very impressive. It’s even wall-mountable if space is an issue, too.
While I was impressed with the XR700, it’s clearly intended for the hardcore gaming enthusiast rather than the casual user who wants to be able to stream TV more effectively on two devices at once.
While it won’t turn your ADSL 2+ connection into a cable one, or make you a world-class FPS gamer, if you’re a gaming enthusiast who wants a router that represents some of the very best on the market – and have the cash to pay for it – it’s hard to look past the Nighthawk XR700 as a top-of-the-range gaming companion.