The Netgear R7000 is a new router from Netgear in more ways than one, and is the best Netgear has made for home users, to date.
Indeed, it offers quite a lot for the price. It's powered by a dual-core processor that runs at 1GHz, which makes it the fastest 802.11ac router from Netgear and among the fastest on the market. On top of that, the R7000 also offers a few unique features not available in Netgear home routers before, including a built-in OpenVPN server, the support for Broadcom TurboQAM for a faster Wi-Fi speed cap of up to 600Mbps, and the official support for third-party firmware, such as DD-WRT. And when coupled with an external storage device, the router is also Time Machine backup-ready.
Yet, the biggest caveat here (pun intended) is that the R7000 is the bulkiest Wi-Fi router I've seen. You'll need a lot of space for it -- and a clear wall-socket for its equally large power adapter -- and the Web interface and mobile app aren't as useful as they could be. Still, at the current price of $200, it's a great deal when compared with the similarly configured and recently reviewed Asus RT-AC68U. Some $20 cheaper, it makes a formidable contender to the Asus counterpart, and it's definitely a much better deal than the new AirPort Extreme for Mac users. For more options on 802.11ac routers that are also more affordable, check out this list.
Solid build, extra bulky design, plug-and-play setup
The R7000 is just slightly larger than the R6300 that came out more than a year ago. However, it has much larger footprint because the new design makes it stay flat on the surface instead of standing vertically, and it's much bulkier due to its three detachable external antennas. To make up for that, it's now wall-mountable, which the R6300 isn't. The router is housed in a plastic chassis but it feels solid and sturdy. I also like the fact that its skin doesn't attract fingerprints at all.
Similar to the R6100, the R7000 is very easy to set up. The router comes with a preset Wi-Fi network with its name and password printed on a label on its bottom for the 2.4GHz band. (The 5GHz band network's name is that of the 2.4GHz network plus the "-5G" suffix and shares the same password. Note that these networks' names are visible to Wi-Fi clients). With this information, you just can just plug the router to an internet source using the included network cable, turn it on and you're good to go.
If you lose this label, once everything is plugged in, the first time you run the browser from a connected device, it will take you to the router's Netgear Genie Web interface. After a few seconds, the interface will show you the same information for you to print or write down.
From then on if you want to further customize the router, just go back to its Web interface by pointing the browser of a connected device to www.routerlogin.net or the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1. The default log-in credentials are admin for the username and password for the password. Alternatively, you can also download the Netgear Genie mobile app (available for both Android and iOS) for the same job. I personally prefer the Web interface since it's much more comprehensive than the mobile app, which is convenient but only permits customizing a limited amount of settings.
The R7000 offers everything found in the previous model, the R6300, and a whole lot more. This is a true dual-band router that supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of their Wi-Fi standard. On the 5GHz band, when working with 802.11ac clients, it offers up to 1.3Gbps Wi-Fi speed, which is already what the R6300 offers. But on the 2.4GHz band, the R7000 offers up to 600Mbps of wireless speed, instead of the old 450Mbps.
This is because it's the second on the market (the first being the Asus RT-AC68U) that uses the new Broadcom BCM4709 Wi-Fi chip, which includes the proprietary TurboQAM technology. With TurboQAM, each 2.4GHz spatial stream can deliver up to 200Mbps instead of 150Mbps. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) Needless to say, this chip offers more benefits to the now-aging 2.4GHz Wi-Fi than the newer 5GHz Wi-Fi, though you need a TurboQAM-compatible wireless client to really take advantage of it. In my testing, however, I found that legacy clients also saw better performance, though not as significant.
On top of that the R7000 comes with other impressive hardware components, including dual-core CPU that runs at 1,000MHz, 128GB of flash memory as storage space, and 256MB of DDR RAM. The router also now supports USB 3.0, with one port on the front.
Nice feature set, now with built-in VPN server
The R7000 has all the features available in previous Netgear routers and more.
The common features include two guest networks (one for each frequency band), and a host of customizable settings OpenDNS-based parental controls. All of these have been available in previous Netgear routers.
First introduced with the WNR2000 in 2009, Parental Controls works with a free account of OpenDNS. Once an account has been created, you can download and install the Netgear Live Parental Controls Management Utility (available for both Windows and Mac) to associate the router with the account. The software then can be used to manage this feature. You choose between five overall Web-filtering levels: high, moderate, low, minimum, and none, where high means most traffic will be blocked, and none means nothing will be blocked. You can also sign in from anywhere via the OpenDNS Web site to manage this feature of your home router. Oddly, however, you can't use the router's Web interface itself for this job.
The R7000 now comes with a new Quality of Service (QoS) feature that allows you to manage both the upstream and the downstream (instead of just upstream in the R6100). However, there are a lot more options you can customize for upstream than for downstream, which you basically can just turn on or off. QoS allows for prioritizing the Internet so that real-time applications, such as online gaming, video chat, or HD streaming get the the bandwidth they need to ensure optimal user experience. This is generally a major feature of a home router.
The R7000 has two USB port, one USB 2.0 on the back and one USB 3.0 on the from. This is a little awkward; you'll have something sticking out of the front all the time if you want to take advantage of USB 3.0, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0. You can use these USB ports to host printers and/or USB external hard drives.
In my trial, the router could handle hard drives formatted in FAT32 or NTFS, and the USB ports provided enough juice to power any portable bus-powered external drives. It could also support hard drives of top capacities. Once a drive is plugged in, its contents will be immediately shared across the network with everybody having full access to it. But you can also customize the share folders for security or privacy purposes. The router supports the SMB protocol, meaning any computer in the network can browse the shares using a network browser such as Windows Explorer or Finder. Share folders can also be turned into an FTP site for those who want to access them over the Internet.
The new thing about the R7000's storage capability is the fact that it now supports Time Machine backup, making the router a much better alternative to the new AirPort Extreme, in terms of functionality (and also performance, more below). It also comes with great backup software called ReadyShare Vault for Windows computers.
If you choose to store digital content on the connected hard drive, it can also be streamed to DLNA-compliant network media players, and iTunes with AirPlay support. This feature automatically scans the attached external hard drive for digital content, making it available to devices within the network. The router can also automatically scan for new content when new files are added, or repeatedly over a period of time.