The average consumer equipment's wired ports have been stuck at 1 Gbps for quite some time. On the other hand, 802.11ac enables router manufacturers to market multi-gigabit Wi-Fi. Power users have tried to use prosumer and business switches to take advantage of multiple ports on devices and obtain multi-gigabit throughput. Netgear recently introduced its AC5300-class router, the Nighthawk X8 R8500. One of the interesting features was the availability of 802.3ad LACP in the official firmware. In the marketing material, they also pointed out that it was simple enough for the average user to utilize when combined with a Netgear ReadyNAS unit.

Introduction

The Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500 was launched in October 2015. It is an AC5300-class tri-band router. This implies the presence of two 5 GHz SSIDs (4x4 for 1733 Mbps with Broadcom's 1024 QAM extensions to get 2165 Mbps  on each SSID) and one 2.4 GHz SSID (4x4 for 800 Mbps, with Broadcom's 1024-QAM again bringing it to 1000 Mbps). We covered the full details in our launch piece, and will not delve much into the details here. Link aggregation is made necessary in these flagship products because of the presence of multiple SSIDs capable of gigabit throughput. Since each wired port is limited to 1 Gbps, it becomes impossible for any one client to actually make full use of the wireless capabilities.

There are different ways to aggregate two network ports together. These include round-robin, active backup, balance-xor, fault tolerance, adaptive load balancing etc. Multiple modes tend to create confusion for the average user. Hence, Netgear has chosen to keep things simple by making 802.3ad Dynamic Link Aggregation (LACP) as the only available teaming mode.

Netgear assumes that most of the consumers would be connecting a NAS unit to the LACP ports. They have separate guides for ReadyNAS, QNAP and Synology units on their website.

Ideally, the configuration should be a couple of clicks at the most in the web UI. While that is true on the router side, the NAS side has a few issues. The fact that the setup will utilize 802.3ad LACP is drilled down quite a bit, but the changing of the hash type to Layer 2 + 3 needs to be done explicitly (it is Layer 2 by default). Note that choosing Layer 2 will still keep the UI status on both the NAS and the router side happy. The NAS is also accessible via the LACP ports irrespective of the hash type chosen.

This review will start off with a description of a realistic test setup to bring out the benefits of link aggregation. In the initial configuration, we will take a look at a pure wired setup. In the second experiment, we will check if the benefits of link aggregation translate to practical gigabit Wi-Fi.

Benchmarking Setup

It is important to remember that a single PC or a single transfer stream will not benefit from 802.3ad LACP. For example, a client with bonded ports can't get multi-link throughput from a server with bonded ports for any given transfer (unless one is using SMB multi-channel, for example). In any case, this is a moot point since the R8500 supports only two ports for link aggregation.

Our test setup consists of the Netgear ReadyNAS RN214 connected to the link aggregation ports of a R8500 and configured with a bonded link as described in the previous subsection. The NAS is configured with a RAID-5 volume using 4x 4TB Seagate NAS HDDs. On the clients side, we have three PCs running Windows 8.1 Pro connected to ports 3, 4 and 5 of the same R8500. Two of the PCs had an integrated RealTek Semiconductor RTL8168/8111 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet NIC while one had a Intel Ethernet Connection I218-V Gigabit Ethernet NIC. The performance difference between the Realtek and Intel NICs is not a big factor in the benchmarks today.

In the second experiment, we configured another R8500 in bridge mode to connect to the first 5 GHz SSID on the main R8500. The three wired clients used in the first experiment were connected to the bridged R8500's LAN ports numbered 1,2 and 3. Link aggregation was disabled on the bridged R8500, but the ReadyNAS RN214 continued to remain connected via LACP on the primary R8500.

The gallery above shows some of the configuration pages on the R8500 units and the RN214 relevant to the above discussion.

The actual benchmark consisted of transferring a 10.7 GB Blu-ray folder structure from the NAS to the PC and vice-versa in a synchronized manner. A Blu-ray folder allows us to mimic a good mix of files of different sizes. Synchronizing the operations allows us to identify how the setup behaves when multiple clients are trying to simultaneously access the link-aggregated target (ReadyNAS RN214, in this case). This is the typical scenario when multiple machines are attempting to backup or restore from a backup.

Link Aggregation in Action
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  • MrX8503 - Saturday, January 2, 2016 - link

    The iPad Pro's lighting connector is USB3 and the storage is PCIe and NVMe. Reply
  • dsumanik - Sunday, January 3, 2016 - link

    Whoop de doo...go onto your ipad pro, right now. USB3 and pcie storage dont do anything to solve the fundamental problem: IOS is content consumption and delivery platform, end of story.

    Pic your favorite photo editing app, id recommend Pixelmator, enlight, vsco, or snapseed. Great apps... all of em. Now export those files to ready to print 300DPI 4x6, 5x7, 10x8 jpegs.

    See you in an hour.

    OK done?

    Now send them to the printer (easy, just email etc). Now Go pick em up

    ...hey wait....

    why dont these pictures look like they do on my ipad Pro.

    Cuz you didn't use the correct color space, and didnt retouch the photos using your local printers profile, so the colors just dont match bruh.

    Apple forgot the pros, when they made the ipad pro.

    Right now all the apple lovers are saying:

    "god that dsumanik is so dumb my ipad pro is the best tablet ever its amazing....oh damn new update on angry bird lets check it out...OMG its so amazing on this big screen"

    ...2 hrs later posts on anandtech:

    "dsumanik you are just dumb, dont you have a life, you just are an apple hater and a stupid ninny boo boo head and the apple pencil is amazing and beats the surface pro any day"

    Actually let's be honest:

    you're all still exporting!

    BAHAHAHAH
    Reply
  • sor - Thursday, December 31, 2015 - link

    To be fair, most of his rant is true, but degrades into an Apple hate diatribe at the end. The "OMG QUAD SLI!" Motherboard review, with no trace of SLI test was roundly criticized. The excuse was "well, we don't have four video cards", fair enough I guess, but something you'd expect from an amateur blogger. Why even bother reviewing a $500 motherboard that only justifies its existence by having quad SLI if you can't test it? If the manufacturer wants you to review it, demand the necessary equipment to make it worth doing. Reply
  • melgross - Thursday, December 31, 2015 - link

    No, that's not the review. Maybe you should have read what it said before jumping to conclusions so that you could try to refute me. Reply
  • Makaveli - Thursday, December 31, 2015 - link

    Here's an idea keep your off topic apple crap out of a netgear router review please and thank you! Reply
  • VictorBd - Friday, January 1, 2016 - link

    Rude. Reply
  • dave_the_nerd - Thursday, December 31, 2015 - link

    The guy who does the NAS and Networking reviews isn't the same guy(s) who do the mobile device reviews. Or the GPU reviews, for that matter.

    Anandtech reviews are usually worth waiting for, regardless.
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Monday, January 11, 2016 - link

    @dave_the_nerd: "The guy who does the NAS and Networking reviews isn't the same guy(s) who do the mobile device reviews. Or the GPU reviews, for that matter."

    Nor would you want them to be. Now what you should be asking is what legitimate reason could exist that would delay the review. Could be the author was sick. Perhaps there were issues with the test selection. Also, it could very well be that their initial results didn't match up the larger tech community and rather than just post as is, they set out to find out why.

    @dave_the_nerd: "Anandtech reviews are usually worth waiting for, regardless."
    Only the ones that you actually wait for. ;')
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, December 31, 2015 - link

    "I've been seeing, and reading, a lot of reviews here during December, and I'm still waiting for the review of the ipad Pro, which came out some time ago now, and was promised for December. Well, here we are, and it's the last day in December, and where is it?"

    And that is a perfectly reasonable critique to make; we haven't been able to get it out nearly as quickly as we had hoped. Suffice it to say, we had planned to have the iPad Pro review out this week. However things didn't work out like Josh and I wanted, and as a result it wasn't possible to complete it in time.

    At this point it's a matter of days. If we can't get it out the Monday before CES then you'll see it the week afterwards. But either way you'll see it. We've put a lot of work into this one, and I want to give you guys a review worth waiting for.
    Reply
  • c0y0te - Thursday, December 31, 2015 - link

    Thanks Ryan. I have been waiting for the iPad Pro review as well. Reply

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