The Nighthawk X10 WiFi router is by far and away the most technically advanced home Wi-Fi router I’ve had the pleasure of testing, with a future-proof feature set and capabilities normally reserved for enterprise-grade equipment.
Let’s start with the design. This is a behemoth of a router, with piano black panels and a grilled façade that lets you see the cooling fan within. This thing looks reminiscent of a high-end graphics card with four antennas attached to it.
Those antennas – although non-removable – all have subtle blue LED edge lighting, further adding to the router’s space age sensibilities. These LEDs can be switched off with a toggle switch at the back, should you not want an ambient blue glow in the room.
On the left are two USB 3.0 ports for plugging in storage or printers. If you choose to use the router as a Plex server, you’ll need one of those ports to install the app on a USB stick or similar.
Around the back are six Gigabit Ethernet ports, with ports 1 and 2 serving as aggregation ports. This is great if you have a NAS or a network switch that can take advantage of the technology, feeding the network even more throughput than is usually possible with a single LAN port.
For real speed-hungry users, a bit of enterprise-grade technology has made its way to the Nighthawk X10 in the form of a 10Gbps SFP+ port. This is the first time this connection has made its way into the home networking world.
If you’ve got the equipment to use it, such as a high-end NAS, then you’ll have absolutely no issues pushing content through at speed. For 95 percent of the home user population, however, it’ll probably just sit there unused.
Which leads me nicely into the X10’s wireless capabilities. Wireless N and AC are available, as you’d expect, and both provide solid – if not spectacular – speeds.
Using quad-stream (4×4) and MU-MIMO, the router is more than capable of servicing multiple connections to multiple devices at multiple speeds with aplomb. I ran Netflix on a 12in iPad Pro, a Google Pixel XL streaming Stan, and Samsung Galaxy S7 streaming Extreme quality tracks on Spotify all on the 5GHz network, and all started and played without a hitch. Pretty impressive considering I’m encumbered with an ADSL2+ home internet connection that tops out at 14Mbps.
Wireless-N connectivity was also OK, with reliable connectivity achieved from one end of my three-bedroom house to the other, through several walls and a kitchen – an area notoriously difficult for Wi-Fi signals to penetrate in any home. One thing its wireless-N wasn’t though was fast – if you’re looking for speed, you’re best jumping onto one of the higher-frequency bands.
Speaking of which, the X10’s party trick is the inclusion of 802.11ad, which promises theoretical throughput speeds of 4600Mbps on the 60GHz network. This would be just the thing to complement a dual-Gigabit or 10Gbps-connected NAS for streaming 4K content to a Wireless-AD capable device. Sadly, there is a catch, and it comes in the form of the laws of physics. You see, when it comes to radio frequencies, you can have long-range or you can have high-throughput, but not both. This is already evident when you compare wireless-N and wireless-AC. Wireless-N is a lower frequency, which makes it more capable of penetrating through walls and giving you greater range. Wireless-AC, at more than double the frequency of wireless-N, gives you much higher throughput but sacrifices range.
Wireless-AD operates at a frequency five times that of wireless-AC, so as you’d expect, throughput is blisteringly fast when you’re up close and personal with the router. However, walk several metres away from the X10, and your connection drops off severely. Move into the next room, and connectivity is just about non-existent. This technology then is purely reserved for same-room network connectivity. When smart TVs and digital hubs eventually start adopting wireless-AD componentry, you’ll be one step closer to 4K video streaming nirvana.
Sadly, wireless-AD capable devices are few and far between at this stage. What’s worse, 802.11ad is not backwards-compatible like its predecessor 802.11ac, but the recently announced 802.11ax by Qualcomm will be, and that standard promises not only multi-Gigabit connectivity but energy efficiency as well.
So where does this leave the Nighthawk X10? If you have to be on the absolute bleeding edge of home networking technology – and have the latest and greatest high-end equipment to go with it – then it’s a great buy. If you want to future-proof your home Wi-Fi, then the X10 will gladly step up to the plate and knock it out of the park – provided 802.11ad becomes widely adopted.
However, $390 is a lot to ask for functionality you either won’t use or can’t use yet, making it a difficult recommendation for anyone except the earliest of early adopters.