Not too long ago, I’d have written a “gaming router” down as a gimmick. But now, having 20 or more devices connected to an access point, all thirsty for bandwidth, I’ve concluded that maybe there’s something behind the concept after all. The Netgear Nighthawk XR500 (Official Website) is billed as a pro gaming router, and it’s not just a marketing moniker. In fact, during my review, I found that it has plenty of features that avid gamers and power users will appreciate.
Netgear Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming Router | Design
The Netgear Nighthawk XR500 shares the same design as the rest of the Nighthawk line. It looks like if an aerial TV antenna and a stealth bomber had a baby; not that it’s a bad thing. It’s about as sleek as you can make a router look, and it has a premium, not tacky, feel.
The XR500 is a hoss. At 12.7 inches by 9.6 inches by 2.2 inches, this router takes up some space. I own the Linksys WRT3200ACM, which I think is a pretty hefty router, but the XR500 is even longer and wider, albeit a little shorter.
Unfortunately, there’s no provision for mounting the XR500 to a wall, so you’re stuck leaving it out. I like the design enough that this isn’t an issue, but this could be a deal-breaker for some.
There’s no active cooling solution here, like most routers. Even without a fan I never noticed it got hot to the touch, unlike some routers I’ve used in the past.
The LEDs on the front show system status for power, internet connectivity, ethernet status, the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, guest network, and two USB ports. I always get a kick out of seeing the lights twinkling on my router, but realistically these are grouped too close together to be that useful at any distance. If you’re so inclined, you can turn them off via a switch on the rear of the router.
Netgear Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming Router | Connectivity
The XR500 supports Wireless ac as well as legacy b, g, and n connections. For wired connections, it has one dedicated internet ethernet port and four gigabit ethernet ports. Additionally, you can use the USB 3.0 ports on the side to connect storage devices and the like.
File transfer over Wi-Fi was quick and beat out my WRT3200ACM by a hair. At 10 feet on the 2.4GHz band, the XR500 measured at an average of 105Mbps and the 3200ACM hit 98Mbps. For 5GHz at the same distance, the XR500 transferred at an average of 488Mbps while the 3200ACM hovered at 455Mbps. Of course, your results may vary, but you can expect to experience speeds around this level.
For wired performance, I found the XR500 to be on par with any other gigabit port equipped router. Most of the perks on this router are geared towards wireless connectivity, so this is to be expected. The MU-MIMO, 160MHz channel width and beamforming won’t affect wired connectivity, but they are exciting for gamers who primarily use Wi-Fi.
Netgear Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming Router | OS
Netgear partnered with NetDuma to bring DumaOS to the Nighthawk XR500, and it is a few steps above what you usually see onboard a router. For one, it just looks good. Its primary color is an attractive dark red, and it has a premium feel.
However, it’s the substance behind DumaOS that will excite gamers. The two most significant features are geofencing and individual device Quality of Service settings. Geofencing enables you to set a radius around your location that should keep you from getting paired with someone too far away. This is something that will always keep your ping down but is especially important these days. With more and more games using peer-to-peer hosting instead of dedicated servers, getting paired with someone on the other side of the world may make for a laggy, miserable gaming experience.
The Quality of Service settings are the most robust I’ve seen on stock firmware, and let you control the upload and download bandwidth allocation for each device connected to your network. You can either make these settings permanent or only have them active when you’re gaming. As someone with a NAS that runs frequent backups, I found this incredibly useful. I could set my NAS’s QoS to limit the upload speed while I was gaming, and didn’t have to mess with logging into my NAS and either pausing or limiting uploads manually.
Usually, when I get a router, the first thing I do is install OpenWRT, but I never really felt like I had to with the XR500. The stock DumaOS firmware is feature-packed enough that I could do every basic task I wanted to right there. Setup was straightforward as well, and I think that both power users and people who just want a good router they can set up and forget can benefit equally here.
Netgear Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming Router | Is it worth it?
The XR500 retails at $299.99, but I think it’s worth every penny. It has a quality build, looks sleek, and DumaOS is an excellent operating system that outclasses any stock firmware I’ve seen. If you’re adamant about controlling every aspect of your network, you’ll probably still want to go with an OpenWRT or DD-WRT compatible router.
It may carry a higher price tag than most mid-range routers, but the added functionality is worth the premium. There are more advanced routers out there with higher specs, but the XR500 should meet or exceed the needs of the majority of gamers.