Our routine test setup includes a desktop PC, the reviewed router, and a laptop to simulate a wireless home network. The desktop system takes on the role of a host machine, while the router acts as a gateway. And lastly, an external Wireless 802.11ac adapter attached to the notebook is used to fulfill the role of a wireless remote client. The router is locked down in N-only mode for the 2.4GHz band, and 802.11ac for the 5GHz band, mainly to prevent the use of varying 802.11 standards. Typically, a channel bandwidth of 40MHz is selected where applicable, while 80MHz is used for the 5GHz AC band.
We'll be using Netgear's A6200 802.11ac USB adapter for our throughput tests to reduce the number of variables involved. The Netgear A6200 USB adapter supports up to two spatial streams for a maximum data transfer rate of 867Mbps - the maximum for USB adapters currently. Hence, if your system has a more advanced wireless chipset that supports three spatial streams, you can expect even higher speeds.
To evaluate the routers we will be using a mix of synthetic benchmarks and real-world testing. The synthetic benchmark we are using is called LAN Speed Test. As for real-world testing, we will be measuring the routers’ speeds in transferring a 1GB zip file. We will do multiple tests at different distances to simulate use around a typical home. For the 5GHz band, we also measured how performance is affected if two clients are connected and uploading and downloading data at the same time. Here are the test distances we used and what they represent.
An important thing to note is that we will be phasing out 2.4GHz testing from our benchmarks. For one, 802.11ac is now being widely supported by most if not all mobile devices. If your device supports 802.11ac, it makes absolutely no sense to connect to the router via the slower and more congested 2.4GHz band. Speaking of congestion, our test environment currently has no less than 19 different 2.4GHz networks being broadcasted. The amount of noise and interference makes it very difficult for us to properly evaluate 2.4GHz performance. As such, we'll only be presenting performance from the 5GHz band.
On LAN Speed Test, we can see that the Netgear Nighthawk X6’s uplink speeds were a little disappointing when compared to the current crop of high-end routers. Although the difference isn’t great, it is clear from the graphs that its uplink speeds were amongst the slowest. The TP-Link Archer C3200’s uplink speeds were a little more encouraging and it’s a little faster than the Nighthawk X6, by about 5% at closer ranges. At longer ranges, the two routers were almost the same. That said, the two routers’ long range uplink performance were amongst the poorer ones, considering routers like the ASUS RT-AC87U and Linksys EA9200 can reach above 100Mbps. Speaking of the Linksys EA9200, it also exhibited very good near range uplink performance.
The Nighthawk X6’s downlink performance was a bit of a mixed bag. Performance at shorter ranges of 2 and 5m was underwhelming, but it held itself well at farther ranges of 13 and 17m. However, the Nighthawk X6 still couldn’t find a way around the Archer C3200 as the latter once again beat it to the punch. That said, the difference between the two is very slight and the greatest margin of difference was just 5%. The Linksys EA9200 excelled at the 2, 5 and 13 meter test ranges where it was faster by around 10% on average, which is certainly significant. However, it could not keep its performance up and was ousted by the Netgear and TP-Link routers at our farthest test range of 17 meters. Surprisngly, even the ASUS RT-AC3200 and RT-AC87U fumbled at the furthest range.
The Nighthawk X6’s file transfer results mirrors that of its earlier numbers in the downlink speed tests. Its performance at shorter ranges were quite underwhelming as it was noticeably slower than the top performing routers. For example, at 5 meters, it managed just 181.82 Mbps, whereas competing routers like the ASUS RT-AC5300, D-Link DIR-890L, Linksys EA9200 could easily manage speeds in excess of 220Mbps. Fortunately it acquitted itself when it came to farther ranges where it managed a very respectable speed of 163.27Mbps even at a range of 17 meters. On the other hand, the TP-Link Archer C3200’s performance mirrors the Nighthawk X6’s quite closely with the exception of its slightly better short range performance. The Linksys' EA9200 performance at the furthest range is disappointing as it managed only 125Mbps, a good 23% less than the Netgear and TP-Link routers. However it fared much better at all other test range scenarios.
In our performance load test where we had two devices connected to one of the 5GHz bands each, we only noticed a slight drop in performance in the three routers. This is to be expected from tri-band routers, as such scenarios is where they excel. The Linksys EA9200 continued to impressed and managed 170.21Mbps, which is a respectable result. The Nighthawk X6’s performance on this benchmark was also good as it managed 173.91Mbps and only suffered a 17% in performance, which is amongst the lowest. The Archer C3200, on the other hand, managed 163.27Mbps, which is the lowest of any tri-band router we have tested and also translates to a 25% drop in performance. Even so, this is considerably lesser than dual-band routers, which can lose as much as 60% in performance if the router needs to intensively transmit data simultaneously to two devices.
There are no shortage of high-end tri-band AC3200 routers these days and the Linksys EA9200 is emerging as a strong contender in this space. Its overall performance was very good and only faltered at our farthest test range of 17 meters. It also boasts of Linksys' excellent Smart Wi-Fi setup user interface and software stack, which packs loads of features such as remote router management and cloud storage functionality, and is in our opinion, one of the easiest to setup and use. And while it's asking price of S$365 is high for a router, we think its high price tag is fully justified given its strong performance and feature set.
That said, it is not without its flaws. Like we mentioned, performance at range is an issue and this can be problematic for larger homes which require wider Wi-Fi coverage. Of course, this is largely dependent on home layout and many various factors, but its something worth considering.
TP-Link Archer C3200 is an enticing option for anyone looking to get a tri-band router. The main reason is its combination of decent performance and attractive price.
As our benchmarks show, the Archer C3200 offers very respectable performance across our test ranges, and was easily a match for the other tri-band routers that we have tested. In fact, we found that it was quicker overall than the Netgear Nighthawk X6.
And as for price, the Archer C3200 has a retail price of S$319, which makes it one of, if not the most affordable tri-band router in the market today. The only other router that comes close is D-Link’s DIR-890L router, which is S$349.
That said, our biggest gripe with the Archer C3200 is its lack of compelling features. Though it offers remote router management via the Tether app, we found that the app is basic and doesn’t really offer much functionality. The Archer C3200 also doesn’t offer cloud storage functionality, which is fast becoming a must-have feature for high-end routers.
Overall, the Archer C3200 can best be summed up as a rather no-frills tri-band AC3200 router. For anyone who has many connected devices at home but don’t want to spend too much, the Archer C3200 is well worth a look. However, it’s worth considering the D-Link DIR-890L too, because for about S$30 more, the D-Link DIR-890L offers slightly better performance and greater ease of use and more bells and whistles, like cloud storage functionality.
Netgear has always had a reputation for fast routers, but the Netgear Nighthawk X6 wasn’t the speed demon that we had expected it to be. In terms of performance, the Nighthawk X6’s problem was its lackluster performance at nearer ranges. At 2 and 5 meters, it was outclassed by nearly every other high-end router we have tested. But on the flip side, its performance at farther ranges of 13 and 17 meters was quite good. What this means is that users will find that the Nighthawk X6 offers more consistent performance across all ranges, even if its short range performance isn’t quite up to the standards of other high-end routers.
Unfortunately, the bigger issue with the Nighthawk X6 is its value for money proposition. After announcing four new mobile apps for its routers, ASUS now leads the way when it comes to feature-packed routers with features such as remote router management, cloud storage functionality, hardware-based network protection via AiProtection, Adaptive QoS and more. Rivals Linksys isn’t very far behind either with its excellent Smart Wi-Fi setup user interface and software stack.
As a result of all this, the Nighthawk X6 feels lean in comparison. Plus, its Genie setup interface could use a little updating at this point because some aspects are frustrating and cumbersome to use. For instance, parental controls and ReadySHARE requires additional registration and software to work; and we are certainly not fans of its all or nothing QoS implementation.
At the end of the day then, we don’t think the Netgear Nighthawk X6 is quite worthy of its very high S$399 asking price. For users who want the absolute best AC3200 router, the ASUS RT-AC3200 at S$429 and the Linksys EA9200 at S$365 are much better picks because of their better performance and more well-rounded feature set.
|Router||Linksys EA9200||Netgear Nighthawk X6||TP-Link Archer C3200|
|Remote router management||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|QoS management||Yes (Device-based)||Yes (Dynamic)||Yes (App-based)|
|Smart network prioritization||Yes||Yes||Yes|