by Craig J. Mathias
No doubt about it: the new (and still unfinished) IEEE 802.11ac standard is already making big waves in the world of wireless LANs. 802.11ac extends, in current implementations, Wi-Fi performance to raw, Layer-1 speeds of 1.3 gigabits per second. While the standard itself will include throughput possibilities all the way to almost 7 Gbps, that 1.3 Gbps is about three times the 450 Mbps that is today quite common in 802.11n implementations. And the Netgear R6300 is the very first product on the market to offer that kind of throughput. So we were very pleased to have the opportunity to put this product through its paces.
1000+ Megabit wireless networking?
Let's begin, though, with a little realism. In general, we expect to get between one-third and one-half of the rated performance of any given Wi-Fi device, assuming equal capability on both ends of a given link, and a relatively short distance between the endpoints over spectrum that is free of interference. So, for example, that 1.3 Gbps is the theoretical upper bound on the rate at which bits can be exchanged between two endpoints that are both capable of that speed.
Regrettably, once we take into account some distance between those endpoints (radio waves fade exponentially with distance, and weaker signals are less reliable and thus inherently embody less than peak performance), 802.11 and network protocol overhead, potential interference, and other issues related to the propagation of the signal from one endpoint to another, there's not too much concern that a 1.3 Gbps Wi-Fi device will exceed the capabilities of a gigabit-Ethernet jack like the one on the R6300.
But, and more to the point, how much better than the roughly 200 Mbps application-layer performance that we've seen with three-stream (450 Mbps) 802.11n systems could we expect? The arrival of the Netgear product in our labs was, well, exciting.
Before we get to performance, the R6300 will be familiar in concept and features to anyone using a residential-class Wi-Fi router today. It uses dual radios/dual bands (2.4 and 5 GHz), and supports the push-button WPS security technique that I must confess we never use (but which is convenient for many residential users nonetheless). It also includes parental controls, guest access, a DLNA media server, and USB peripheral and printer sharing.
There are four gigabit-Ethernet ports for your wired devices, and a gigabit port for connecting to a WAN. The device has a contemporary, monolithic style, and even lights up with Netgear's logo displayed on the front. Still, it will likely be placed where no one will see it - isn't that always the way with routers? ("Oh June, come and look at this delightful new router we just got!")
But note this about the two radios: 802.11ac is specified only in the 5 GHz bands, so the 2.4 GHz radio is limited to three-stream (450 Mbps) 802.11n, and that's in a 40 MHz channel, which may or may not be desirable in that band in your venue - just so you know.
A quick-start Installation Guide comes in the box, but the downloadable (.pdf) User Manual continues Netgear's tradition of comprehensive and informative documentation. There is a wide array of user-configurable parameters, most of which, as usual, should be left alone or to professionals. But if you want to configure low-level filters and such, a very complete implementation of router functionality awaits.
Additionally, Netgear has a couple of very slick mobile apps that make setting up the R6300 as easy as it's ever going to be.
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