Netgear Nighthawk X6 Wi-Fi Router: Australian Review

802.11ac is into its second generation now, with several Wi-Fi router makers releasing a second iteration of the super-fast wireless standard that promises a big jump in transfer rates. Netgear's Nighthawk X6 router improves on the model it replaces, but it doesn't offer a huge speed improvement from the existing R7000 unless you have a bunch of brand new 802.11ac-compliant devices.

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What Is It?

The Nighthawk X6, as the name suggests, has six antennas sprouting from its sleek trapezoidal chassis. Six. That's three more than the original Nighthawk R7000, and there's a very good reason for that -- instead of improving the throughput of the R7000's three-band 802.11ac 5GHz frequency channel, Netgear has simply added a second independent three-band 802.11ac 5GHz radio.

Specifications
  • Wi-Fi Performance: 3200Mbps
  • Wi-Fi Type: 802.11ac, 802.11n
  • USB Ports: 2 (1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0)
  • Processor: 1GHz (3 offload CPUs)
  • Ethernet Ports: 5 (1 WAN, 4 LAN)
  • Warranty: 2 Years

To calculate the massively inflated and optimistic marketing numbers of Wi-Fi routers, manufacturers add the theoretical transfer rates of the frequency bands in each router. Add the theoretical maximum throughput of one 802.11ac 5GHz band -- 1300Mbps -- and then add the same again for the other band -- 1300Mbps again -- then add the potential throughput of the lesser 802.11n band -- 600Mbps -- and you have Netgear's lofty claim of 3200Mbps transfers. The Nighthawk X6 is the first router I've seen in the flesh that sports this incredible number.

The Nighthawk X6 (R8000), like the original Nighthawk (R7000) before it, is incredibly stylish for a Wi-Fi router. It looks vaguely reminiscent of a high-tech piece of military hardware, and while it's a little more Transformers than F-117, it's well built and has plenty of cooling ventilation across its top and rear. Being a router without an inbuilt modem, the R8000 has one WAN and four LAN Ethernet ports, as well as one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 port for adding external storage or flash drives.

The R8000 has the same 1GHz processor as the previous model, but the higher-performing Wi-Fi means each wireless radio has its own offload processor that can take some of the networking calculation load off the main CPU. Because of this, Netgear is claiming better performance especially for using the R8000 for network storage -- something the Linksys WRT-1900AC has over the existing Nighthawk.

What Is It Good At?

Netgear's interface for the Nighthawk X6 is the familiar Genie interface of the previous model and other Netgear routers. It's a reliable and easy to understand interface once you have the router past its initial setup process, and although it's a little simplistic for the power users I presume will be purchasing the R8000 for their high-end home network setups, it does the job well for the most part. If you want to quickly change parental controls, for example, Genie is easy to use.

Like other good 802.11ac routers, the Netgear Nighthawk X6 (R8000) clocks great Wi-Fi transfer rates especially with a fast PC or smartphone and especially at close range. Its Wi-Fi transmission distance is similar to the R7000's -- more than enough to cover a large house and extend outside to an external garage or patio. If you're living the Australian Dream and have a quarter-acre block, a smartly-placed R8000 should be more than enough to saturate your property with high-speed Wi-Fi -- if not over 5GHz, definitely through the failover 802.11n 2.4GHz network.

In terms of close-range outright speed -- if you wanted to transfer a high-def movie to your smartphone from your network storage device, or if you were backing up your laptop's hard drive via Time Machine or another backup app -- the Nighthawk R8000 performs largely similarly to the previous model. That is, it has fast Wi-Fi transfer rates, but not hugely faster than the original Nighthawk. There's a good reason for this, though, so read on.

Netgear Nighthawk X6 R8000: Performance

Wireless: 802.11ac, 2m: 84MBps 802.11ac, 10m: 69MBps 802.11ac, 15m: 53MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 2m: 42MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 10m: 43MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 15m: 36MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 2m: 36MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 10m: 32MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 15m: 26MBps USB 3.0: 1GB: 48MBps 5GB: 46MBps USB 2.0: 1GB: 20MBps 5GB: 20MBps

While they're definitely impressive numbers, they're not hugely different to those of the original Nighthawk, and this is due to our testing not stressing the router to its maximum and not using that second 802.11ac Wi-Fi radio. In a single transfer test, you're not going to see the true benefit of the Nighthawk X6 coming through -- you'll need to be transferring two massive datasets at the same time to (hopefully) notice no loss in maximum throughput.

To its credit, Netgear has done a very smart thing in kitting the Nighthawk X6 R8000 out with two networking gizmos that work well in parallel -- beamforming, which picks the best antenna set to maximise throughput to a nearby wireless device, and Smart Connect, which picks the best Wi-Fi network for that device to sit on and transfer data without interference or congestion. While I'm not ready to call it a scientific test, on a similar but separate test system I was able to get a second high-speed transfer going without affecting the first (where I got the above performance results) -- and that's not something that is possible on a lesser 802.11ac router.

What Is It Not Good At?

Unless you have a lot of 802.11ac devices, and unless all those devices are working away actively at the same time, you won't be able to take advantage of the dual 802.11ac chipsets inside the Nighthawk X6. And not many households do at the moment; not even many businesses will. Unless you have your family kitted out with brand new laptops and smartphones -- from this year at the very least, and from the last couple of months ideally, the R8000 might not be worth the price premium to you that Netgear is asking.

It's a seriously big price premium, too. Where the cheapest street price in Australia I've seen for the Nighthawk R7000 is $218, a few months after its launch, the newer Nighthawk X6 is, at a bare minimum, $346. That's a 40 per cent price premium for what is a big jump in theoretical functionality but not in actual practicality for the vast majority of users. If you're a power user, or if you have really specific needs, or if you really want to future-proof your house, the X6 makes a strong case for itself. This router is not for low-end users.

Similarly to the R7000, the Genie app and interface of the Nighthawk X6 aren't the easiest things to set up straight out of the box. Instead of plugging the router in and connecting directly to an open Wi-Fi network to set up, for example, you'll first have to enter the default Wi-Fi security details and then change them both in the initial setup and on the device you're setting the router up via. If you're a proper power user, as you'd expect most of the buyers of the R8000 to be, a more barebones and more feature-focused interface would probably simultaneously be more useful and less bloated -- Netgear's Genie interface just feels a little simplistic.

Should You Buy It?

Netgear Nighthawk X6 (R8000)

Price: AUD$399

Like
  • Fast transfer rates.
  • Space-age looks.
  • Versatile dual 802.11ac Wi-Fi networks.
Don't Like
  • Middling USB transfer speeds.
  • Interface is overly simplified.
  • Dual Wi-Fi overkill (for most).

Not a lot of users at the moment will be able to make the most of the Nighthawk X6's double 1300Mbps 802.11ac Wi-Fi radios. It's designed to handle the absolute worst case scenario in terms of network load, and if you're in a situation where you need that kind of resilience, by all means the new Nighthawk R8000 is for you. It's definitely a great router.

It faces strong competition from within its own ranks, though. For the majority of users, without a huge array of 802.11ac devices, the original Nighthawk R7000 is almost as capable -- especially when it comes to most everyday networking tasks. If you want to put together an impromptu home NAS though, the R8000 makes a good case for itself as an upgrade.

If you want to future-proof your home network, give the R8000 a serious look and evaluation. At the end of the day, though, it depends on just how future-proof you want your home network to be, and whether you're able to justify the extra cost over slightly less capable devices.