For all intents and purposes, your home network's modem router is the nexus of all of your communications. It handles your 'net connection, as well as all your home devices talking to each other and the outside world . So when you're looking to buy one, you want all the features you can get, right? That's why the new FRITZ!Box 7490 should grab your attention.
What Is It?
The FRITZ!Box 7490 is the most recent iteration of parent company AVM's all-in-one modem routers, which are very popular in Germany but don't have the same name recognition in Australia as a Linksys or Belkin or Netgear. Given their good reputation and my own good experiences with another smaller modem-router brand in Dovado, I approached the FRITZ!Box 7490 with an open mind.
The 7490 is the first FRITZ!Box router with support for 802.11ac super-fast Wi-Fi, supporting 1300Mbps on the 5GHz AC band and 450Mbps over 2.4GHz 802.11n. It has an inbuilt ADSL2+ modem which also supports VDSL (with a theoretical 100Mbps top download speed), four Gigabit Ethernet ports, connections for two ISDN or analog telephones, and a DECT base station that can connect cordless home phones. Two USB 3.0 ports -- one on the rear, one on the left side -- can share a printer or storage drive over the network. Since it takes care of phone, printing and Internet connection, and can handle VoIP at the same time, the 7490 really is an all-in-one communications system.
At 245x175x55mm it's not especially large (nor heavy, for that matter), and its bright and colourful Jetsons spaceship design is actually quite sweet and friendly, especially when compared to the Linksys WRT-1900AC. All of this is backed up by a 5-year warranty in Australia, with PC Range being the official Australian distributor. At $429 its recommended retail price is super-high, but you can find it for around the $300 mark if you do a little online searching -- much more reasonable.
What Is It Good At?
If there's a feature you want, the FRITZ!Box 7490 probably has it. There's honestly not much that you can ask for that it doesn't have a setting for, hidden away somewhere in its deceptively simple interface. The Web-based interface looks a little naff -- a yellow gradient on the background, guys? -- but it gets the job done and splits a multitude of networking settings up into half a dozen main submenus, with another half dozen submenus for other NAS, media server and setup wizard controls.
One of the most fascinating features of the FRITZ!Box 7490 is the minute level of monitoring that you're able to access, watching almost every single aspect of the router's power consumption. You can switch off indiviual phone or Ethernet ports if you're not using them, for example, and there are a lot of things you can do, like setting schedules, that should help you save a few dollars over the course of a year. If you're the kind of person that likes scrimping and saving -- beyond the FRITZ!Box 7490's initial asking price -- then this is the home network router for you.
The ADSL2+/VDSL modem integrated into the FRITZ!Box 7490 means that this modem-router could be the only networking device you use inside your house, which if you're dedicated to using wireless on all your devices (including desktop PCs, newer enthusiast-level motherboards of which support inbuilt 802.11ac) is a godsend for cabling and simplicity of setup. You pay a premium, but past the initial finicky setup process you really can use the 7490 for everything the regular home user could want to do.
The biggest upgrade that AVM's new FRITZ!Box gets over the older 7390 is its 3x3 802.11ac 1300Mbps Wi-Fi. And, as you'd expect, it's super-fast, clocking in at a pretty damn impressive 75MBps transfer rate over a short 2m distance, and metering out to a 45MBps average at the furthest extent of its stable connection range. These results are generally on par with a high-end dedicated 1300Mbps 802.11ac router like the Netgear R7000 Nighthawk, which goes to show the effort that AVM has put into developing the FRITZ!Box.
AVM FRITZ!Box 7490: Performance
Wireless: 802.11ac, 2m: 75MBps 802.11ac, 10m: 59MBps 802.11ac, 15m: 45MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 2m: 38MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 10m: 37MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 15m: 31MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 2m: 34MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 10m: 32MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 15m: 30MBps USB 3.0: 1GB: 26MBps 5GB: 24MBps USB 2.0: 1GB: 14MBps 5GB: 14MBps
It's important to note that there's no 5GHz 802.11n support if you're using AC (obviously), and the 2.4GHz channel is only capable of 450Mbps transfer rates rather than the 600Mbps rates of other modem-router and routers on the market. These caveats aren't particularly important, but they're worth taking into account if you don't have the most absolutely up-to-date 802.11ac-compliant laptop or smartphone or tablet. If you want to use the FRITZ!Box 7490 for an internal network and connect to an external WAN router, you'll need to sacrifice a LAN port for that feature.
Being an all-in-one device, too, the 7490 can run your house's wired or cordless phone network, and it supports DECT for IP or ISDN or cordless analog phones. It has an integrated digital answering machine, can send those voices to your email address, and can take in faxes at the same time as well. I only tested the phone side of the 7490 in passing, but it seems more than powerful enough for any regular house's needs, and supports VoIP if you want to free yourself from Telstra or Optus voice networks altogether.
What Is It Not Good At?
Not having external antennae, the 7490 doesn't have the best possible wireless range, and there's no option to add antennae if you so choose -- you're stuck with whatever performance you get straight out of the box. I found a solid 802.11ac 5GHz Wi-Fi signal out to around 15 metres line-of-sight to the router, and 802.11n 2.4GHz out slightly further, but after around that distance the amount of packet loss meant that the router was effectively unusable.
The number and variety of features inside the FRITZ!Box also mean that it's an extremely expensive device, too. Where the versatility and expandability and even the sturdier design justify the WRT-1900AC's price tag, the 7490 is still essentially a home and small business modem-router, and at $429 it has to be one of the most expensive on the market. If you buy one, you'll be making a significant investment -- and it's one that should stand the test of time, especially if VSDL-based fibre to the node NBN is rolled out to your doorstep -- and it's up to you whether that investment is a worthwhile one.
Because the new FRITZ!Box has so much going on, there's a lot to set up in the initial out-of-the-box experience. The setup process is very involved, and can be daunting even if you've done this plenty of times before. Honestly, I called a CCNA-certified friend to run some jargon past as I was changing settings. Unless you're using everything the 7490 has to offer, though, you can safely skip a lot of the options and save them for later for when and if you want to upgrade.
The 7490's NAS, media serving and storage sharing features are great to see, but you're limited by the overheads of USB 3.0 transfer and the Wi-Fi network, which means that you're going to be waiting a little while for large file transfers unless you're connected over Gigabit Ethernet. In any case, I was able to watch a 7MBps 720p Blu-ray rip on a 802.11n-capable LG TV over Wi-Fi, but a 15MBps 1080p Blu-ray rip was out of the question.
Should You Buy It?
The new FRITZ!Box certainly doesn't lack for features, and it's the little things like the adjustable power consumption and energy tweaking that make me love it. It is expensive, sure, but you're paying for future-proofing, and the tagline "complete high-speed networking in the home" rings absolutely true. If you're in an area that is going to be set up with fibre to the node NBN, for example, this is the modem to get and use for the next five years.
Like any expensive computing or networking peripheral, though, it's a game of diminishing returns above a certain price point. You really have to have the requisite fleet of 802.11ac devices to make the best use of the FRITZ!Box 7490, and be willing to spend the time to integrate your home phone setup into the 7490's Fon system. If you plan to do either of these in the near or foreseeable future, and if you're looking to upgrade your router or purchase anew, the $429 FRITZ!Box 7490 is a great choice.