Netgear Nighthawk Wi-Fi 6 mesh router review: This mesh is a mess

    Netgear’s Nighthawk model is a mainstay of the router aisle. This 12 months, the corporate added a brand new Nighthawk-branded mesh system into the combo, full with help for Wi-Fi 6 — the latest, quickest model of Wi-Fi. Most intriguing of all: The 2-piece Nighthawk mesh system solely prices $230. That’s lower than you may spend for Nest Wifi, a well-reviewed 2-piece mesh system that does not help Wi-Fi 6 in any respect.

    LikeImpressive prime speedsAppealing, understated designGreat worth amongst Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers

    Don’t LikePoor mesh efficiency in our real-world pace testsNo multi-gig WAN portFew options of notes within the Nighthawk app

    Devices that do help Wi-Fi 6 are able to sending and receiving knowledge quicker and extra effectively than previous-gen Wi-Fi gadgets. That’s doubtlessly a fairly large deal for mesh routers, as a result of the range-extending satellites that pair with the router have to cross a whole lot of knowledge forwards and backwards as you join. That implies that Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers can provide noticeably higher efficiency to your residence even should you do not use another Wi-Fi 6 devices simply but. Sure sufficient, the Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers we have examined up to now have been among the many quickest mesh routers we have ever examined — and at $230, the Netgear Nighthawk is essentially the most reasonably priced one but.I used to be excited to check the system out for myself — however ultimately, I got here away disillusioned.

    Yes, the Nighthawk mesh router was lots quick in our lab-based prime pace assessments — it truly notched the quickest close-range switch pace that we have seen from any of the mesh routers we have examined so far, together with just a few fashions that price twice as a lot. But once I took it residence to conduct my real-world pace assessments, issues have been loads completely different. At a number of factors throughout my assessments, the place I transfer from room to room operating pace assessments from varied spots round my home, my speeds would plummet, forcing me to disconnect after which reconnect with a view to get my speeds again up the place they need to be. It wasn’t a problem with my community — it was the Nighthawk router getting confused by a non-stationary shopper machine.Basically, the Nighthawk mesh router is brawny sufficient to hit spectacular prime speeds, however not brainy sufficient to keep up a gentle connection as you progress all through your house. Other mesh routers I’ve examined have all accomplished a a lot better job of optimizing my speeds — and different surprisingly reasonably priced Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers are coming quickly, so you have acquired alternate options value ready for. All of that makes Netgear’s mesh entry to the Nighthawk model a tricky system for me to suggest.
    Tyler Lizenby/CNET
    The energy of the darkish aspectIf the Nighthawk mesh router seems to be a bit acquainted, that is as a result of it is the identical fundamental design because the current dual-band, budget-priced model of the Netgear Orbi mesh system, which I reviewed just a few months in the past. The Nighthawk takes that very same boxy construct with cheese grater-like warmth vents on prime, then paints it black, slaps a Nighthawk label on the entrance, and provides in help for Wi-Fi 6.

    Both the router and the satellite tv for pc embrace one spare gigabit Ethernet jack, which helps you to wire the 2 collectively for quicker system efficiency.
    Tyler Lizenby/CNET
    I favored the small, unassuming design fairly a bit again once I reviewed the Orbi, and I feel it really works nicely right here, too. It’s nice-looking with out drawing an excessive amount of consideration to itself, and does a adequate job of mixing in that you just will not really feel embarrassed about conserving each gadgets out within the open, the place they will carry out their greatest.One different design improve of word: the Nighthawk mesh system provides a spare Ethernet jack to the again of the satellite tv for pc, one thing that the dual-band Orbi mesh system lacks. That’s good to have in case you desire a wired connection between the router and the satellite tv for pc for quicker system efficiency, or if you wish to wire one thing like a media streamer on to the satellite tv for pc.The Nighthawk does not have the whole lot, although — which is not stunning provided that this can be a Wi-Fi 6 system on a funds. You do not get a multi-gig WAN port on the router such as you do with Netgear Orbi 6, for example, so your incoming web pace might be capped at 1Gbps. You will not discover many additional bells or whistles within the app, both. And do not even consider getting a 3rd band to make use of as a devoted backhaul for transmissions between the router and the satellites at this worth.As for specs, the Nighthawk is a dual-band AX1800 router, with the “AX” indicating that it helps Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and the “1800” indicating the mixed prime speeds of the 2 bands. As all the time, mixed pace rankings like these are a bit deceptive since you’ll be able to solely join to at least one band at a time. Netgear claims that the two.4 GHz band can hit speeds of as much as 600 Mbps, and that the 5 GHz band is able to hitting speeds as excessive as 1,200 Mbps.Expensive, tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers like Netgear Orbi 6, the AmpliFi Alien and the Arris Surfboard Max Pro all averaged quicker prime speeds throughout all distances — however at a distance of 5 toes (blue), the Netgear Nighthawk was truly the quickest mesh router we have examined but.
    Ry Crist/CNET
    Near-gigabit speedsThat 1,200 Mbps pace declare would certainly be fairly spectacular, however take into accout these rankings come from the producer’s personal lab, the place circumstances are designed to be as optimum as potential (and once more, the WAN port caps your incoming wired pace at a single gig, or 1,000 Mbps). In a real-world setting, with vary to fret about, partitions in the way in which and interference from close by networks, your speeds might be all the time be decrease.Still, the Nighthawk router did loads higher than I anticipated after we ran our personal lab-based prime pace assessments. With the router wired to a MacBook appearing as an area server, we related to the Nighthawk’s community utilizing a second laptop computer that helps Wi-Fi 6. Then, we downloaded information from the MacBook at varied distances and measured the switch speeds. At a distance of simply 5 toes, our common pace rang in at 901 Mbps. That’s a terrific consequence, and higher than another mesh router I’ve examined, together with fancy tri-band mesh routers just like the AmpliFi Alien, the Arris Surfboarf Max Pro, and Netgear’s personal Wi-Fi 6 model of the Orbi mesh system. Each of these prices greater than twice as a lot because the Nighthawk.That stated, the Nighthawk noticed greater pace drops than these programs as we elevated the space. At 75 toes, its speeds had fallen by about 40% to 520 Mbps. Most mesh programs I check are in a position to maintain that drop-off to 30% or much less.Among Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers, the Netgear Nighthawk averaged the slowest obtain speeds all through my residence — however the actual concern was the unreliable connection as I moved from room to room.
    Ry Crist/CNET
    Real-world pace assessments have been an actual acheWith our lab assessments completed, it was time to take the Nighthawk residence and check it out in a real-world surroundings — particularly, my 1,300 sq. ft. shotgun home in Louisville, KY. It’s a comparatively small house for a mesh system, nevertheless it offers me probability to see how these programs truly carry out in a house surroundings.In this case, it is the place issues form of fell aside.Speeds under 100 Mbps on a 300 Mbps connection? That’s the router within the background, just a few toes away…
    Ry Crist/CNET
    At first, the whole lot appeared positive. Netgear’s Nighthawk app walked me via the setup course of and my community was up and operating inside a couple of minutes. My first few pace assessments, carried out from the consolation of my lounge sofa with the router sitting only a few toes away, have been simply as quick as you’d count on, basically maxing out my residence’s 300 Mbps fiber web plan.But then I picked up my laptop computer and moved to a brand new spot — the kitchen. It’s a bit farther from the router, nevertheless it’s an open idea floorplan that connects with the lounge, so there are no partitions in the way in which. All the identical, my speeds plummeted to nicely under 100 Mbps.Needless to say, this was bizarre. And, once I see a weirdly sluggish consequence like that in my assessments, I’ll make an observation of it in my spreadsheet, then reset the connection. That did the trick — after disconnecting from the community after which reconnecting to it, my speeds have been again up have been they need to be, simply shy of 300 Mbps.But then it occurred once more. And once more. And once more. I’d transfer to a brand new spot throughout my assessments, and my speeds would nosedive. I alternate rounds of pace assessments from the entrance of the home to the again, after which from the again of the home to the entrance — on one of many latter rounds, the place that close-range lounge check is the final check within the sequence, my pace got here in at 93 Mbps. That was with the router solely a few toes away.In the tip, the Nighthawk returned an total common pace of 219 Mbps all through my entire home, which is worse than all however two of the dozen or so programs I’ve examined in my residence, Wi-Fi 6 or in any other case. And that was with me incessantly re-connecting with a view to give the system its greatest probability to succeed.Slow speeds in my kitchen one minute, then again to regular as quickly as I disconnect and reconnect.
    Ry Crist/CNET
    So what was taking place right here? It wasn’t my community — I made certain to run some management assessments with my current router, and did not see something like I used to be experiencing with the Nighthawk. Same goes for the net pace check software program and the server I used to be connecting to, neither of which registered any points when testing with my very own router. In truth, I’ve run 1000’s of pace assessments in my residence over the previous a number of months beneath the identical managed settings, and the Nighthawk is the one router that is given me this a lot of a headache.It actually looks as if the Nighthawk, for no matter cause, is not all that good at optimizing the sign for a shopper machine that is not in a set location. If that machine strikes from one spot to a different, the connection will get confused and issues decelerate. That is perhaps as a result of poor beamforming or a wonky mesh algorithm that is not good at deciding when to route your connection via the satellite tv for pc and when to go straight to the router, however no matter is occurring, it is an annoyance that I would not wish to cope with in my residence.I’ll additionally word that it is not the primary time that I’ve had points with Netgear’s mesh efficiency. Both the dual-band Orbi and the tri-band Orbi Voice Wi-Fi 5 programs dropped my connection on a number of events throughout my at-home assessments. Only the high-end, Wi-Fi 6 model of Netgear Orbi managed to impress me with the steadiness of its sign.The Nighthawk’s sign energy was a bit stronger than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 system like Nest Wifi, however not almost as sturdy as a high-end Wi-Fi 6 system like Netgear Orbi.
    Steve Conaway/CNET
    Speaking of sign energy, we check for that, too. To achieve this, we transfer over to the 5,800 sq. ft. CNET Smart Home, the place we set every mesh system up with the router and one satellite tv for pc on reverse ends of the house’s primary flooring. Then, we use NetSpot’s on-line software program to trace how sturdy the connection is throughout dozens of places. It’s a little bit of a stress check — the 2-piece Nighthawk system is designed for houses of as much as 3,000 sq. toes.The outcomes have been fairly near what you would possibly count on for an entry-level Wi-Fi 6 system just like the Nighthawk. The sign energy on each the primary flooring the place the router and satellite tv for pc have been situated and the basement stage under was satisfactory and barely stronger than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 system like Nest Wifi, however not almost as sturdy as a high-end, tri-band Wi-Fi 6 system like Orbi 6 that sells for $700. Credit the Nighthawk for hitting the center floor between these two, particularly provided that it prices lower than Nest.Still, on the farthest distances we check, the Nighthawk’s speeds dropped by about 40% in our lab and by rather less than 30% in my at-home assessments. Those are each low-end outcomes among the many Wi-Fi 6 mesh programs I’ve examined.
    Tyler Lizenby/CNET
    The verdictWi-Fi 6 ought to show to be a very good improve for mesh routers, and it is encouraging that we’re already seeing choices that price lower than most Wi-Fi 5 mesh routers have been promoting for not even a 12 months in the past. At $230, the Netgear Nighthawk matches that invoice, which makes it fairly tempting — however the shaky mesh efficiency leaves an excessive amount of to be desired. Speed is essential, however stability issues, too. The Nighthawk has loads of the previous, nevertheless it lacks the latter. With a lot of different attention-grabbing new mesh routers making their technique to market in 2020, that is an excessive amount of of a compromise.

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