The Nighthawk AX8 from Netgear is not like any other router. This is the first 802.11ax Wi-Fi router, or Wi-Fi 6 for friends, that we are reviewing at EntertainmentBox. By extension, it carries all the great promises of this new wireless standard, which boasts better data rates and better coverage for more devices connected at the same time.
Kylo Ren in design
With its Upsilon-class Star Wars shuttle design, the Nighthawk AX8 is clearly visible but still remains quite discreet. If indeed its folding antenna wings and its slightly disturbing gray-black shape is to your liking. In addition, care must be taken not to damage the small cable that runs through the hinges of the antennas. By being careful, everything should be fine.
At the back of the router, instead of subluminic ion engines, there is a nice bunch of connectors. There are thus six Gigabit Ethernet ports, one for the incoming connection and five others for your local network. Ports 4 and 5 will surprise you, it is indeed possible to aggregate their speed to reach 2 Gbit / s in theory. On their left, two USB-A ports are ambushed, ready to receive a USB 3.0 key or an external hard drive.
Small welcome detail, to avoid being dazzled by LEDs and indicator lights, especially if the router is installed in your room, you can turn them off using a switch on the far left of the rear panel.
Finally, on the top cover, two buttons: one to connect to the Wi-Fi network using WPS technology and the other to easily cut the wireless network, at bedtime, for example.
Wi-Fi, the part of promises…
The Nighthawk AX8 (RAX80) is therefore compatible with the Wi-Fi 6 standard and is capable of transmitting 8 streams for cumulative speeds which can theoretically reach 6 Gbit / s. A peak speed which breaks down as follows: 1.2 Gbit / s maximum on the 2.4 GHz frequency and 4.8 Gbit / s in 5 GHz. The AX8 is dual-band – if you want three frequency bands and theoretical speeds of up to 10.8 Gbit / s, you’ll have to turn to its big brother, the Nighthawk AX12.
In terms of pure hardware configuration, Netgear gave him the answer. It has a 1.8 GHz quad-core processor, assisted by a dedicated coprocessor (also quad-core) for processing multi-gigabit traffic. These two chips come with 512 MB of RAM and a small storage of 25 MB. No need for more.
Like all 802.11ax routers, it also benefits from OFDMA technology, also used for 4G. It allows access multiplexing, in other words the division of a frequency channel into subchannels. Each device connected to the network is allocated a specific frequency, with a channel width which can reach 160 MHz and a “blank” between each frequency to avoid disturbances. The router can thus transmit simultaneously to several devices. The main benefit is twofold. On the one hand, the latency time in communications between the router and the various connected devices is reduced. On the other hand, it is possible to connect and manage more smartphones, laptops and other smart speakers on the same network. Four times more than with 802.11ac 2×2, to be exact, this is in any case the official promise.
Furthermore, the OFDMA only reinforces the potential of MU-MIMO (4×4, in other words four antennas for four concomitant data streams, multiplied by two frequency bands, i.e. eight channels), a technology introduced with Wi-Fi 802.11ac / 5, also present in the AX8. It allows a Wi-Fi router to communicate with multiple wireless devices simultaneously. Communication queues are therefore reduced.
The cumulative effect of these two technologies also improves, in theory, the signal strength and therefore its range.
Finally, the Nighthawk AX8 uses the technology of beamforming suitable for house sauce. Schematically, in the 802.11ac standard, the beamforming allows a router to transmit more precisely in the direction of the client, which in theory contributes to better coverage, reduction of “white” areas and interference as well as better connection stability. The little Netgear touch, which earned him the name of beamforming +, adds an improvement in range and performance mainly for devices connected across the 5 GHz frequency band. A more robust band which usually provides better data rates but over a shorter range than the 2.4 GHz frequencies.
… The part of reality
So many technical elements on paper that suggest a great moment of happiness. Before getting there, we will go through a very simple configuration phase, either by using a web browser on a PC / Mac (routerlogin.net), or by adopting the Nighthawk application (Android and iOS), dedicated to all this. family of routers from Netgear.
The app interface is clear and very easy to use. It offers most of what you will need on a daily basis: device management, integrated speed review, Wi-Fi settings (SSID, password, guest network, activation of Smart Connect mode, which unifies the two bands of frequencies and connects you to the best one automatically, etc.).
However, for the more geeky, we recommend that you take a look at the configuration web interface. She is more detailed if not so attractive. Some advanced functions are only available through this. By default, the router’s web interface is available in Basic and Advanced. We advise you the second even if, in a wonderful world, we would have liked a third option in between to save the presence of some really too esoteric settings.
In addition, in a perfect world, Netgear would integrate DumaOS and its dynamic interface to all its families of routers, avoiding the somewhat unpleasant impression of having made a small ergonomic trip back in time (and again this is not the worst web interfaces that Netgear can serve).
Anyway, this is where you find the advanced network functions. You can quite traditionally provide port mapping between your LAN and the Internet (useful if you are using a NAS), assign IP addresses systematically to a pool of machines (useful if you are using a NAS, again) or filter the access of the various connected machines (useful if you are using a NAS, although not necessarily).
You can also fine-tune the settings for the guest Wi-Fi network. This will make it possible to block access to your local network to the machines that connect to it. Your guests will be able to surf the web, therefore, but not access your SIN (handy if … you understand). We simply regret that it is not possible to configure the automatic extinction of this network or to ensure that it does not consume too much of the overall bandwidth.
Finally, for those who are better equipped, you can enable and configure the aggregation of Ethernet ports from this Web interface. Then the Gigabit rates doubled.
There are also other more exotic functions, at least specific to the Netgear offer. We think in particular of the functions ReadySHARE. Two options are available, Storage, which allows sharing a USB disk on the local network and Vault, which is a counterpart to Windows of Apple’s Time Machine. You connect a USB storage space to the local network, then thanks to software installed on each connected PC, you can back up these machines via the local network. This is rather well thought out.
Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6, a small overview
Either way, within minutes, your Wi-Fi network is up and running. Your good life! You have the dream rates! Those that will allow your fiber connection to reach its full potential. In fact, the first thing we tackle is obviously to start flow measurements.
As usual, we performed them in an almost hostile environment. A lengthy apartment, streaked with thick load-bearing walls, brick partitions, corridors and surrounded by a multitude of third-party Wi-Fi networks which are all potential disturbances.
We first reviewed the speeds of the Nighthawk AX8 with our usual machines, a MacBook Pro and an iPhone XS Max, both compatible with the Wi-Fi 5 standard. Then we used a Galaxy S10e, from Samsung, compatible with the new Wi-Fi standard. We also used a Dell Latitude laptop, equipped with a Wi-Fi 6 module, in order to be able to benefit from the best possible speeds.
Each time, the speeds recorded with peripherals compatible with the new standard have been shown to be much higher than those of the machines opposed to them. The same domination ratio observed for PCs and smartphones, we decided to focus on the two laptops.
To begin, let’s quickly refer to the results obtained for file transfer with Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 compatible machines. However, keep in mind that the machines used are not identical, these figures are there more to give an idea of the contribution of Wi-Fi 6 only for a comparison of equals.
Quite simply, we can see that at “close range”, between 0 and 5 meters, the Wi-Fi 6 compatible PC dominates its competitor, both for transferring a large file and small files. We also observe that by taking distance, the machine compatible with 802.11ax hardly loses any connection speed when we move away to 10m, for the big file at least. While the Wi-Fi 5 laptop sees its bandwidth almost halved.
The most glaring difference is obviously 15m away. While the speeds of the 802.11ac machine drop sharply, to just 30.15 Mbit / s, the PC Wi-Fi 6 manages to maintain more than 275 Mbit / s.
The first conclusion is obvious. Logically enough to get the most out of a Wi-Fi router 6, you need to use compatible hardware. But one point should not be overlooked. Typically, in our review environment, dual-band “non-mesh” routers do not provide coverage that allows our Wi-Fi 5 machine to have speeds of this kind at 15m. Sometimes it’s even impossible to get a stable connection. This is proof that Wi-Fi 6 routers can bring their benefits (some of them at least) to older devices.
Wi-Fi 6 takes cover
However, to confirm and illustrate these performances on the cover, we have produced a small series of heatmaps Wi-Fi with the dedicated tool, Ekahau HeatMapper. Before going into more detail, you will find that you have not been lied to. The apartment (plan presented above and visible under each heatmap) is indeed very long with many load-bearing walls. It is above all – and we can clearly see it around these cards – surrounded on all sides by neighboring Wi-Fi networks which are all possible disturbances.
Anyway, the first heatmap (below) compares the coverage of the Wi-Fi network emitted at 2.4 and 5 GHz by the Nighthawk AX8 – drag the small slider to see them. We can clearly see that the 5 GHz network offers narrower coverage, although already impressive, while the 2.4 GHz network provides better reach to the network (with lower speeds).
The second heatmap is intended to put in perspective this coverage offered by the Nighthawk AX8 with the king in the matter, the Orbi RBK50, excellent mesh router. In this case, the first image, or everything is green (or almost), corresponds to the coverage provided by a router and an Orbi satellite (RBR and RBS 50) which work together. The compared image (which you can display by dragging the slider) is that of the network range provided by the only Orbi 50 router – it has a small bug in rendering the network coverage materialized by an inappropriate white area on the left .
Comparing these images with that obtained with the Nighthawk AX8, we see that the Wi-Fi router 6 from Netgear directs its transmission more and ensures a better range than the Orbi RBR50 alone. Obviously, when you activate the satellite, the battle is lost for the Nighthawk, but it does not deserve it. This proves in any case that the promise of better coverage with Wi-Fi 6 is kept by the Nighthawk AX8.
The time for gigabit Wi-Fi has come
To finish and take the full measure of the optimal performance of the router, we also used the iperf3 tool. Installed as a server on a computer equipped with a 2.5 Gbit / s Ethernet module and interrogated by a client installed on the Dell laptop, we measured downstream and upstream rates approaching gigabit per second, as you can see in the graph below.
These transfer speeds are obviously reached near the router and they will logically decrease when you move away from them. If the assured speeds are less than 200 Mbit / s at 15 meters (which is already very comfortable), it is important to emphasize once again that it is rare that a single router – not meshed – offers such coverage in the context of our review environment. It’s now clear, the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 puts the future of Wi-FI at your fingertips …
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