The R6200 wireless router and A6200 wireless USB adapter make for a sweet combination, providing connection speeds well in excess of 800Mbps for netbooks/notebooks. Should you be interested in upgrading to this latest wireless standard? Read on for a detailed look.
PROS: Fast/solid/reliable connection, easy setup, stylish exterior, runs cool, storage flexibility
CONS: Price, limited SSID configuration, size, no USB3.0 connectivity
Long-time readers may recall my review of Netgear's DGND3300 modem-router and WNDA3100 wireless USB adapter. I remember being exceedingly impressed with the 300Mbps connection speeds available on the 5GHz band, alongside the ability to connect any external USB hard drive to create an inexpensive NAS solution.
But that combination also suffered from some notable drawbacks, namely the lack of Gigabit Ethernet ports on the router, while a funky blue light show made having the unit on at night a challenge. Netgear's latest offering not only gets around these issues, but goes beyond the limits of 802.11n by jumping on board the newest and fastest 802.11ac standard.
Obviously, the biggest benefit will be faster transfer speeds. While 802.11n can top out around 450Mbps depending on your device, 802.11ac effectively doubles that to 900Mbps and higher. Such an improvement in speed won't matter much for internet activities such as online streaming or file downloading, but that's not where the R6200/A6200 shows it's strength.
No. The biggest benefit of going with 802.11ac will be when you cannot deploy a traditional Gigabit Ethernet setup. One example would be where you need near-1000Mbps speeds to access your NAS but are unable to install a physical cable between the server and your device. Another scenario may involve extended range, since 802.11ac can far outperform 802.11n, and work where many wireless-N radios would fall off the grid.
In my particular case, however, I wanted a way to stream video from my NAS while performing a backup job simultaneously to the same device. That meant I needed the bandwidth to complete the full-system backup in a timely manner, yet still allow VOB files to stream over the top smoothly.
As it turned out, the bottleneck in my system is now no longer my wireless network, but the actual read/write performance of the Buffalo LinkStation NAS I'm using to do the backup and streaming! I could certainly tweak the Jumbo frames settings to improve read performance. The point I'm trying to make here is the R6200/A6200 combination will let you do multiple bandwidth-intensive tasks on the network at the same time. This is especially critical if you have multiple PC's connected to the network accessing a central media hub such as a NAS or a network TV tuner.
The design of the hardware has also changed significantly, with far better ventilation offered along the top, sides, back and even bottom of the enclosure. It's important to note how warm these devices in the past have been, so I'm happy Netgear has addressed this issue. The front is bare gloss black with an illuminated Netgear logo in the center and four illuminated icons near the bottom that show power, wifi, internet and USB connectivity. The same ventilation is present on the A6200 and both the A6200 and R6200 remain cool even under heavy wifi use. Overheating is now a thing of the past.
Setting up the R6200/A6200 is simple, especially if you are already familiar with Netgear products or have an existing network. I have been able to obtain actual link speeds of 866Mbps, but that was only after changing from the default channel. Do make sure to experiment with channel settings in order to obtain optimal performance.
|Easy for both beginners and experts|
I have noticed link speeds drop below 866Mbps regularly, so I'm not quite sure if it's an issue related to my particular wireless footprint or if it is due to surrounding interference. The good news is that even when speeds drop, I can still maintain a connection above 500Mbps. Unfortunately, I don't have at the moment any uncompressed 1080p HD content around to stream and test for performance. I'm pretty sure 720p/1080p MP4 H.264 files won't have any issues.
Chances are that if you are considering moving to 802.11ac you will already have a decent media server or HTPC in your equipment ensemble. I would definitely not skimp on NAS performance here, as a budget NAS solution such as mine will most certainly become a bottleneck. You NEED fast hard drives coupled with a fast storage interface to get the most out of devices such as the R6200 and A6200.
Unfortunately, you cannot get around a slower NAS by plugging in a faster external hard drive to the R6200's USB port because it is only a USB2.0 port. Had Netgear chosen USB3.0, any modern external hard drive would have easily been able to take advantage of the 500Mbps-plus wireless bandwidth for storage and streaming activities.
The same argument holds true with the A6200 wireless USB adapter - it's a USB2.0 product. So even if your notebook SAYS you're connected at 866Mbps, the hardware will still limit you to 480Mbps (this is true even if the port you plug the A6200 into is USB3.0). Again, I think Netgear would do well to embrace USB3.0 with their line of 802.11ac products.
|Forget using that 2nd USB port :-(|
On the plus side, I noticed no audio interference when using headphones with the A6200, something that the WNDA3100 did have trouble with.
Depending on your network layout, you also may be limited by the R6200's SSID assignments. You get only two for each band, with one each being a guest network. I would have much preferred the arrangement shown with the DGND3700 that offered four SSID's for each band that I could set up any way I want, but that's only being picky on my part. For many of you this may not be an issue at all.
The $169 + $69 price of the R6200 and A6200 does sting a little, especially as that has now come down to $149 for the R6200. Since 802.11ac is still fairly new technology, you may be more forgiving when it comes to the price premium. The R6250 with USB3.0 connectivity is definitely the better purchase.
Many of you already with an existing wireless-N network will be asking the question of whether or not it's worth the upgrade to 802.11ac. The extended range offered may already have answered that question for you. If the tasks you do on your network benefit from 500Mbps speeds and faster, then the answer is yes. If, on the other hand, you have a slow NAS that's becoming a bottleneck in your streaming and backup tasks, then the R6200/A6200 won't help much, if at all.
Keep in mind as well that USB2.0 will limit what you can do with the A6200 when it comes to transfer speeds, so until Broadcom supplies Netgear with a true USB3.0 802.11ac radio, that 866Mbps link speed you see won't be fully utilized, much less saturated. For those with a speedy NAS box, the R6200 will let you get around it's USB2.0 port limitation, or you can pay a few bucks more and get the R6250 with USB3.0 standard.
Until we see 802.11ac wifi being offered in mSata form-factors, however, the R6200/A6200 combination remains a solid solution. Not all existing notebooks can benefit from faster hardware such as Intel's 6235 and 6300 2x2 and 3x3 internal cards, either due to compatibility or internal design. I attempted to install an Intel 6235 inside my HP 210 Mini, but the card's BT4.0 radio did not play well with my BIOS. In these circumstances in particular, a USB dongle will be the only way you will improve wireless speeds on your notebook or netbook.
My best advice is to wait for either a USB3.0 dongle or buy your notebook with 802.11ac installed once manufacturers begin to offer the newer radios. Other than that, however, Netgear's R6200 and R6250 hardware will let you get beyond wireless-N's speeds and range very easily.