The Nighthawk series from NETGEAR has been around for a while. Winning accolade after accolade from some of our most notable compatriots in the tech reviewing world, this venerable system has not rested on the hero worship of the past. NETGEAR has released the newest product to take on the Nighthawk mantle, the Nighthawk AX1800 Mesh WiFi 6 System - an advanced network for the whole house. Can we expect pro-level performance from this system or will it be relegated to the “sidekick” category? Let’s find out!
- MSRP: $292.00 (MK63)
- WiFi Bands: 2.4GHz, 5 GHz, dedicated 5 GHz for satellite units
- Antennae: 4x internal
- Ports: 1x Gigabyte WAN port, 1x LAN Gigabyte ethernet (base), 1x LAN Gigabyte ethernet (satellite)
- Wireless Connection Support: Radio 1 - IEEE 802.11 b/g/n/ax (2.4 GHz at 600Mbps), IEEE 802.11 a/n/ac/ax ( (5 GHz at 1200Mbps)
- Coverage Distance: 4,500 sq. ft. (satellite adds 1500 sq. ft of coverage)
- Processor: Quad-core 1.5 Ghz
- Memory: 128MB Flash, 256MB RAM
- Dimensions: 2.5H x 4.8D x 4.8W inches
- Weight: .63lbs
- In the box: 1x Nighthawk Router (RBR850), 1x Orbi Satellite (RBR850), 1x 2m ethernet cable, 2x 12V 3.5A power adapters
As internet speeds rise and streaming services push beyond high- and ultra high definition streaming, the need for wireless protocols to handle these needs have increased. Add on top of that the game streaming services available at present (and anticipated for the future) such as Microsoft xCloud or Google Stadia, not to mention the growing number of connected devices in a home, and the demand for bandwidth increases. This means that there is a need for the modern network to not only handle high internet speeds but more network traffic overall.
To meet this need, the NETGEAR Nighthawk AX1800 relies on four high-performance antennas to throw is 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz across 3000 square feet. On paper, this system advertises support speeds of up to 1200Mbps on the 5 GHz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. It is also poised and ready for the wide-scale acceptance of IEEE 802.11ax as a mainstream wireless connection protocol.
Along with using MU-MIMO (multi-user - multi-in, multi-out), the Nighthawk system will also prioritize the connection type best suited for your devices within their signal range, intelligently working behind the scenes on a single SSID to ensure the best possible user experience. This means that you should not ever have to wonder if you are connected to the right network for the best possible performance.
From a design standpoint, the Nighthawk units are quite small and stealth in comparison to NETGEAR’s Orbi system. They have a glossy black finish with artistically designed tops. This small form factor makes each unit easy to place amongst other decorations, in case you are worried about aesthetics! Each unit has one extra gigabit ethernet port (in case you have a nearby device that needs a hardline connection into the network) and a small LED in the center to indicate connection health - white means all is well, orange means there is an issue.
On Patrol with the Nighthawk
The overall setup time for the Nighthawk system took between 20 to 30 minutes. This included a firmware update and the setup of NETGEAR’s Nighthawk mobile app. This will be necessary if you want to easily setup and update your system. We did discover that upon creating this new network, we were hit right out of the gate with an advertisement to purchase NETGEAR’s Pro Support and Armor by Bitdefender services. Rough start, but we will talk a little bit more about this in the closing thoughts.??As we talk through some data points, here are some details about the testing methodology used for these tests:
Each of the wireless systems appearing in the graphs below was set up in the same location. Testing also took place at the same physical locations. The NETGEAR Nighthawk system did include two satellite units - which we used for our charts. However, each of the other systems only had the router and one satellite. For the Nighthawk, we positioned one in the same location as the other test satellites and one in a room equidistant between the router and the other satellite.
On each wireless system, we ran an internet speediest using Speedtest.net. Each system was testing on a connection to the same server location and was performed at around 10-, 25-, and over 50 feet away from the router. At each testing location, a file transfer test was also run using a 2.79 GB video file between the remote testing system (using 802.11ac) and a desktop connected (via gigabit ethernet) to the test router. Each test was run with and without a satellite or satellites (in the case of the Nighthawk) connected to the network.
Here are our findings:
Overall, for a wireless system within its price bracket, the Nighthawk AX1800 performed admirably. While it did not have the same system integrity of the Orbi, a much higher powered (and more expensive) system and it did experience performance drop-off over the distance. At 10 feet away, the signal does drop off of ~20Mbps, ~120Mbps at 25 feet, and a massive ~270Mbps delta performance between at 10 feet and over 50 feet. While this might not have a negative impact on the end user on the farther ends of that network - if that network is supported by a high speed internet connection, if a satellite is down or out of range, the drop-off is much more steep, seeing ~10% of the performance at full strength.
That being said, when it came to the file transfer, the Nighthawk held its own with a slight increase in time needed over the Orbi AX6000 - both prioritizing a 5 GHz connection for this transfer. We did, however, see the same performance drop off over distance that we saw in the internet download speeds. The Nighthawk AX1800 took just over a minute to transfer the 2.79 GB file at 10 feet, but that only increased to around three minutes at range.
In the transfer test without the satellite, the Nighthawk, while still taking its time to transfer the file, showed that it is more than sidekick material. Reaching over half the performance of the Orbi system without a satellite, it still performed well - at a fraction of the cost. Where it took the Orbi AX6000 ~12 minutes to transfer, the Nighthawk took around ~17 at range whereas the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD added an extra 10 minute on top of that in the same situation.
Not a bad showing for the Nighthawk at all!
The system we received for review included the router along with two satellite units, offering generous mesh network coverage moderately-sized homes. If you have a smaller home and do not need as much coverage, there is an option to buy the router with one satellite for $199.99 (MK62). Additionally, an extra satellite can be purchased for $129.99 per satellite (MS60).
These prices are pretty modest for a system like this, but it makes sense with where the NETGEAR Nighthawk AX1800 Mesh Wifi 6 system falls into the product bracket. The system has an interesting juxtaposition of notable points that stuck out to us. The units do not feel exceptionally built, but they don’t feel cheap either. Their design is simple, but not thoughtless. The network provides dependable, middle-of-the-road performance, even competing outside of its class… all at an inviting price.
It is in this averageness, though, that it breaks out of the mold of what we should expect out of “average” - we would expect more. Much like the Razer Huntsman TE provided enthusiast features on at entry-level prices, the Nighthawk AX1800 offers features that are outside of its product tier. While the advertisements were initially off-putting, having the option to add network security at the router level along with remote access is nothing to ignore.
For the average user that is looking for a reasonably priced mesh network solution with extra features and customization, the Nighthawk AX1800 Mesh WiFi 6 system may be worth looking into - especially if it has been a while since you have updated your network hardware. This system is like a freshly graduated sidekick-turned-hero with satellite sidekicks of its own: it will get the job done with a little help from some friends.The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.