Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 review: Waiting in the wings
The RAX80 offers the best Wi-Fi 6 performance, ports aplenty and a debonair design – what’s not to like?
You can pay an awful lot for a Wi-Fi 6 router. Premium models nudge close to £400 and mesh systems can cost even more. So while the £280 Nighthawk RAX80 is expensive, it’s not outlandishly so for a high-end Wi-Fi 6 solution.
And for the money, you get something that’s visibly a cut above the mainstream. The silver-grey casing with its upturned wings makes a definite statement, and round the back sit not four but five LAN ports, of which the leftmost pair can be aggregated for a 2GbE connection.
The rear panel also hosts a pair of 5Gbits/sec USB 3 ports, while WPS and Wi-Fi buttons sit on the top, next to a string of 11 tiny LEDs showing activity on your LAN ports, wireless connections and more. These are so discreet that you may need to walk up and stand directly over the router to see if there’s an error, but the overall impression is undeniably suave.
It must be said that this cool impression is, in our view, somewhat undermined by the clunky web portal. Getting set up is a breeze: the wizard walks you through a few steps of getting online and choosing your network settings, and then you’re done. Beyond that, though, we found the interface ugly and confusing to navigate, with excessive white space and nested frames that make it easy to miss important settings and buttons. It’s perhaps telling that Netgear encourages you to use the cleaner Nighthawk smartphone app instead – but we’d really like to see the web portal fixed rather than deprecated.
The range of features isn’t entirely comprehensive, either. Netgear’s basic QoS controls don’t allow you to give selected devices priority over others, and although it’s nice to have twin USB ports, their usefulness is limited by the fact that they won’t accept printers or USB modems.
On top of that, you have to pay extra to fully unlock the RAX80’s capabilities. Netgear’s Circle app lets you monitor users behaviour and block certain types of website for free, but if you want to apply time limits you’ll need to pay $50 a year for the Circle Premium service. Activating the Netgear Armor network security module adds another $70 per annum, but that includes Bitdefender security software for your whole user group.
On the plus side, the RAX80 shines when it comes to remote access. A full VPN server is included with dynamic DNS integration, giving you an easy way of accessing your local network over the internet, while Netgear’s ReadyCLOUD service lets you share your USB storage over the web.
And then there’s performance. The radios are as fast as any on the market, with quoted speeds of 1,200Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band and up to 4,800Mbits/sec at 5GHz. There’s 4x4 MIMO on both bands too, although oddly we found that MU-MIMO was turned off by default and had to be manually enabled.
That’s a strong spec and it delivered on its potential in our Wi-Fi 6 speed tests. As we carted our test laptop around the building, the RAX80 consistently delivered the fastest download speeds of any router in its class. In most areas, the RAX80 even managed to outshine multi-node mesh kits, and while it couldn’t quite maintain its winning streak all the way to the bathroom, its worst result was still a very swift 31.5MB/sec.
Things weren’t quite so rosy when we switched to our older Wi-Fi 5 laptop. The RAX80 once again provided superb speeds in the study and living room, but data rates dropped by more than half when we went into the bedroom – and then halved again in the kitchen, finally sinking to a mediocre 3.9MB/sec in the bathroom. This isn’t unusably slow by any means, but it might be a reason to consider other options if you’re not in a hurry to replace your last-generation devices.
At the end of the day, though, buying a Wi-Fi 6 router is about looking forward not back, and from that perspective the RAX80 is unequivocally a winner. Its performance over 802.11ax is simply the best around, outpacing routers costing £100 more, and that comes combined with easy setup, a good set of ports and a striking physical design.
Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 specifications
Dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ax
2x USB 3, 5x Ethernet
Netgear Armor security (optional subscription), ReadyCloud, Amazon Alexa & Google Assistant support, inbound VPN
305 x 202 x 161mm