Mesh? More like meh. – CNET

Netgear’s Nighthawk brand name is a mainstay of the router aisle. This yr, the corporation

Netgear’s Nighthawk brand name is a mainstay of the router aisle. This yr, the corporation added a new Nighthawk-branded mesh method into the blend, total with assist for Wi-Fi six — the newest, swiftest edition of Wi-Fi. Most intriguing of all: The 2-piece Nighthawk mesh method only expenditures $230. That’s a lot less than you’ll devote for Nest Wifi, a properly-reviewed 2-piece mesh method that does not assist Wi-Fi six at all.

Like

  • Remarkable best speeds
  • Desirable, understated style and design
  • Excellent value between Wi-Fi six mesh routers

Don’t Like

  • Lousy mesh effectiveness in our actual-entire world velocity assessments
  • No multi-gig WAN port
  • Number of options of notes in the Nighthawk app

Products that do assist Wi-Fi six are able of sending and getting details a lot quicker and additional effectively than prior-gen Wi-Fi devices. That’s most likely a rather big deal for mesh routers, because the selection-extending satellites that pair with the router want to move a ton of details back and forth as you join. That signifies that Wi-Fi six mesh routers can supply noticeably greater effectiveness for your house even if you never use any other Wi-Fi six devices just but. Confident adequate, the Wi-Fi six mesh routers we have tested so far have been between the swiftest mesh routers we have at any time tested — and at $230, the Netgear Nighthawk is the most inexpensive one but.

I was enthusiastic to test the method out for myself — but in the conclusion, I came absent let down.

Yes, the Nighthawk mesh router was a good deal quickly in our lab-primarily based best velocity assessments — it actually notched the swiftest near-selection transfer velocity that we have viewed from any of the mesh routers we have tested so far, such as a number of versions that charge 2 times as a great deal. But when I took it house to conduct my actual-entire world velocity assessments, points ended up a ton diverse. At many factors for the duration of my assessments, the place I shift from home to home functioning velocity assessments from numerous places all around my property, my speeds would plummet, forcing me to disconnect and then reconnect in get to get my speeds back up the place they really should be. It wasn’t an problem with my community — it was the Nighthawk router having perplexed by a non-stationary consumer machine.

Mainly, the Nighthawk mesh router is brawny adequate to strike spectacular best speeds, but not brainy adequate to manage a regular relationship as you shift all over your house. Other mesh routers I have tested have all finished a a great deal greater position of optimizing my speeds — and other incredibly inexpensive Wi-Fi six mesh routers are coming soon, so you have received choices value ready for. All of that would make Netgear’s mesh entry to the Nighthawk brand name a difficult method for me to suggest.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The electricity of the dim aspect

If the Nighthawk mesh router appears a minor common, that’s because it truly is the identical simple style and design as the new dual-band, budget-priced edition of the Netgear Orbi mesh method, which I reviewed a number of months ago. The Nighthawk will take that identical boxy develop with cheese grater-like heat vents on best, then paints it black, slaps a Nighthawk label on the entrance, and provides in assist for Wi-Fi six.

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Both of those the router and the satellite contain one spare gigabit Ethernet jack, which allows you wire the two with each other for a lot quicker method effectiveness.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I appreciated the tiny, unassuming style and design quite a little bit back when I reviewed the Orbi, and I consider it is effective properly listed here, far too. It really is nice-wanting with out drawing far too a great deal focus to alone, and does a fantastic adequate position of blending in that you is not going to feel ashamed about holding equally devices out in the open, the place they will accomplish their most effective.

One other style and design improve of take note: the Nighthawk mesh method provides a spare Ethernet jack to the back of the satellite, a thing that the dual-band Orbi mesh method lacks. That’s nice to have in scenario you want a wired relationship among the router and the satellite for a lot quicker method effectiveness, or if you want to wire a thing like a media streamer right to the satellite.

The Nighthawk does not have almost everything, however — which isn’t surprising presented that this is a Wi-Fi six method on a budget. You never get a multi-gig WAN port on the router like you do with Netgear Orbi six, for instance, so your incoming internet velocity will be capped at 1Gbps. You is not going to find many more bells or whistles in the app, either. And never even consider of having a 3rd band to use as a committed backhaul for transmissions among the router and the satellites at this value.

As for specs, the Nighthawk is a dual-band AX1800 router, with the “AX” indicating that it supports Wi-Fi six (802.11ax) and the “1800” indicating the combined best speeds of the two bands. As usually, combined velocity rankings like individuals are a little bit deceptive considering the fact that you can only join to one band at a time. Netgear promises that the 2.4 GHz band can strike speeds of up to 600 Mbps, and that the 5 GHz band is able of hitting speeds as large as 1,two hundred Mbps.

Pricey, tri-band Wi-Fi six mesh routers like Netgear Orbi six, the AmpliFi Alien and the Arris Surfboard Max Professional all averaged a lot quicker best speeds across all distances — but at a distance of 5 toes (blue), the Netgear Nighthawk was actually the swiftest mesh router we have tested but.


Ry Crist/CNET

Close to-gigabit speeds

That 1,two hundred Mbps velocity claim would without a doubt be rather spectacular, but maintain in intellect individuals rankings appear from the manufacturer’s individual lab, the place conditions are made to be as best as doable (and again, the WAN port caps your incoming wired velocity at a single gig, or 1,000 Mbps). In a actual-entire world location, with selection to get worried about, walls in the way and interference from close by networks, your speeds will be usually be decrease.

However, the Nighthawk router did a ton greater than I envisioned when we ran our individual lab-primarily based best velocity assessments. With the router wired to a MacBook acting as a community server, we related to the Nighthawk’s community working with a next laptop that supports Wi-Fi six. Then, we downloaded information from the MacBook at numerous distances and measured the transfer speeds. At a distance of just 5 toes, our ordinary velocity rang in at 901 Mbps. That’s a wonderful final result, and greater than any other mesh router I have tested, such as fancy tri-band mesh routers like the AmpliFi Alien, the Arris Surfboarf Max Professional, and Netgear’s individual Wi-Fi six edition of the Orbi mesh method. Each and every of individuals expenditures additional than 2 times as a great deal as the Nighthawk.

That mentioned, the Nighthawk observed larger velocity drops than individuals techniques as we amplified the distance. At seventy five toes, its speeds experienced fallen by about 40% to 520 Mbps. Most mesh techniques I test are in a position to keep that fall-off to thirty% or a lot less.

Among Wi-Fi six mesh routers, the Netgear Nighthawk averaged the slowest download speeds all over my house — but the actual problem was the unreliable relationship as I moved from home to home.


Ry Crist/CNET

Actual-entire world velocity assessments ended up a actual pain

With our lab assessments completed, it was time to acquire the Nighthawk house and test it out in a actual-entire world environment — especially, my 1,300 sq. ft. shotgun property in Louisville, KY. It really is a rather tiny place for a mesh method, but it offers me a fantastic probability to see how these techniques actually accomplish in a house environment.

In this scenario, it truly is the place points type of fell apart.

Speeds under a hundred Mbps on a 300 Mbps relationship? That’s the router in the background, a number of toes absent…


Ry Crist/CNET

At very first, almost everything appeared great. Netgear’s Nighthawk app walked me by means of the setup system and my community was up and functioning in a number of minutes. My very first number of velocity assessments, carried out from the consolation of my dwelling home couch with the router sitting down just a number of toes absent, ended up just as quickly as you would assume, fundamentally maxing out my home’s 300 Mbps fiber internet approach.

But then I picked up my laptop and moved to a new location — the kitchen. It really is a little bit further from the router, but it truly is an open principle floorplan that connects with the dwelling home, so there usually are not any walls in the way. All the identical, my speeds plummeted to properly under a hundred Mbps.

Pointless to say, this was unusual. And, when I see a weirdly gradual final result like that in my assessments, I will make a take note of it in my spreadsheet, then reset the relationship. That did the trick — right after disconnecting from the community and then reconnecting to it, my speeds ended up back up ended up they really should be, just shy of 300 Mbps.

But then it happened again. And again. And again. I’d shift to a new location for the duration of my assessments, and my speeds would nosedive. I alternate rounds of velocity assessments from the entrance of the property to the back, and then from the back of the property to the entrance — on one of the latter rounds, the place that near-selection dwelling home test is the past test in the sequence, my velocity came in at ninety three Mbps. That was with the router only a pair of toes absent.

In the conclusion, the Nighthawk returned an over-all ordinary velocity of 219 Mbps all over my entire property, which is worse than all but two of the dozen or so techniques I have tested in my house, Wi-Fi six or normally. And that was with me commonly re-connecting in get to give the method its most effective probability to thrive.

Slow speeds in my kitchen one moment, then back to usual as soon as I disconnect and reconnect.


Ry Crist/CNET

So what was occurring listed here? It wasn’t my community — I made sure to operate some control assessments with my current router, and did not see nearly anything like I was going through with the Nighthawk. Identical goes for the on-line velocity test computer software and the server I was connecting to, neither of which registered any problems when testing with my individual router. In truth, I have operate 1000’s of velocity assessments in my house more than the previous many months less than the identical controlled settings, and the Nighthawk is the only router that’s presented me this a great deal of a headache.

It genuinely would seem like the Nighthawk, for what ever cause, isn’t all that fantastic at optimizing the signal for a consumer machine that isn’t in a preset spot. If that machine moves from one location to a further, the relationship gets perplexed and points gradual down. That may be owing to inadequate beamforming or a wonky mesh algorithm that isn’t fantastic at deciding when to route your relationship by means of the satellite and when to go straight to the router, but what ever is occurring, it truly is an annoyance that I would not want to deal with in my house.

I will also take note that it isn’t the very first time that I have experienced problems with Netgear’s mesh effectiveness. Both of those the dual-band Orbi and the tri-band Orbi Voice Wi-Fi 5 techniques dropped my relationship on a number of occasions for the duration of my at-house assessments. Only the large-conclusion, Wi-Fi six edition of Netgear Orbi managed to impress me with the stability of its signal.

The Nighthawk’s signal power was a minor more robust than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 method like Nest Wifi, but not almost as robust as a large-conclusion Wi-Fi six method like Netgear Orbi.


Steve Conaway/CNET

Speaking of signal power, we test for that, far too. To do so, we shift more than to the 5,800 sq. ft. CNET Sensible Property, the place we established every single mesh method up with the router and one satellite on reverse ends of the home’s major ground. Then, we use NetSpot’s on-line computer software to track how robust the relationship is across dozens of destinations. It really is a little bit of a pressure test — the 2-piece Nighthawk method is made for homes of up to three,000 sq. toes.

The success ended up rather near to what you may assume for an entry-degree Wi-Fi six method like the Nighthawk. The signal power on equally the major ground the place the router and satellite ended up positioned and the basement degree under was suitable and somewhat more robust than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 method like Nest Wifi, but not almost as robust as a large-conclusion, tri-band Wi-Fi six method like Orbi six that sells for $seven hundred. Credit score the Nighthawk for hitting the center floor among individuals two, specifically presented that it expenditures a lot less than Nest.

However, at the farthest distances we test, the Nighthawk’s speeds dropped by about 40% in our lab and by a minor a lot less than thirty% in my at-house assessments. These are equally very low-conclusion success between the Wi-Fi six mesh techniques I have tested.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

Wi-Fi six really should verify to be a specifically nice improve for mesh routers, and it truly is encouraging that we’re presently seeing solutions that charge a lot less than most Wi-Fi 5 mesh routers ended up promoting for not even a yr ago. 

At $230, the Netgear Nighthawk fits that bill, which would make it rather tempting — but the shaky mesh effectiveness leaves far too a great deal to be ideal. Speed is critical, but stability issues, far too. The Nighthawk has a good deal of the previous, but it lacks the latter. With lots of other appealing new mesh routers creating their way to marketplace in 2020, that’s far too a great deal of a compromise.