Home Reviews Networking Netgear Nighthawk X8, AC5300, Tri-Band Router (review)

Netgear continues the Nighthawk premium performance tradition with its X8, R8500 - an AC5300, Tri-band, MU-MIMO router.

The X8 is an interesting router – not least is the huge size, 316 x 264 x 61 mm, and weight of 1.68kg. But it has also managed to conceal four antennae inside its chassis and only requires four external “glowing” powered antennas affixed to the back.

It provides 1 x 2.4GHZ (1000Mbps) and 2 x 5GHz (2 x 2166Mbps) for a total theoretical speed of AC5300 with Wave 2, beamforming and 4 x 4 quad stream channels, 7 x LAN/WAN ports, 1 x USB3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0. This is a wonderful router for a large home. By comparison, the R8000, AC3200 version is limited to 1 x 2.4GHz (600), and 2 x 5GHz (2 x 1300) – so the former is a fair bit faster.

The X8 has been out a few months, so it has had time for the firmware to mature and that is evident in setup: it all worked very well out of the box. Simply plug an Ethernet cable from your existing ADSL modem or cable/NBN gateway into its Internet port and you are away. It is important to note that it is not a modem but will work with any Gateway or modem especially the NBN. For example, I have a Telstra Ultimate Cable Gateway, 100Mbps Internet connection, and used one of its a gigabit (1000Mbps) Ethernet ports to connect the X8.

Setup

Once you plug it in and wait for the boot process — a couple of minutes until the power and Internet lights stop flashing  the router presents an SSID and you connect to that wirelessly via a tablet or Ethernet via a computer. It will bring up a Genie and help you decide whether to use it as an access point (probably not) or a router (yes, especially if you don’t want to change your existing modem/gateway setup).

It will ask to download Genie and some ReadyVault software if you are on Windows (Mac not tested) and will look for any firmware updates. Then register the product (advisable as it changes the default admin password to your email and adds a new password) and that is it!

It will present three wireless SSIDs all with the same base name (that you can change) – NetgearXX for the 2.4GHz band, NetgearXX-5G for the first 5GHz band and NetgearXX-5G-2 for the second band. Load balancing is automatics or you can select which band you want to use.

On the next startup, Genie (you have downloaded it), comes up and asks for default admin/password. Enter these and you should be in. Genie is pretty intuitive, and it is hard to stuff up anything. One thing I found useful was it identified Wi-Fi channels of this router and all others within range. For example, it told me that I should avoid channel 149 for 5G-2 as there are several other routers on that channel. It is relatively easy to change channels under wireless settings if you experience any interference – and you probably will not.

You can also turn on three guest networks with different passwords for occasional users that drop by.

Netgear Genie is available for Windows, macOS, iOS, or Android.

I have explained the Genie setup to illustrate that it is not hard in any way – you do not have to be a rocket scientist.

If you are a rocket scientist you can access the router interface directly via a web browser. It defaults to 192.168.0.1, but if you already have a router or gateway, it is likely that this IP address will be already used and it will have given the X8 a different one. You can access it regardless via Genie or download Advanced IP Scanner, and it will reveal all IP addresses on your network – voila! Simply enter the new network IP in a browser and you have a very rich system that can adjust almost every aspect of the router. Annoyingly it is the only place you can change default admin passwords.

Tech stuff

  • 4 x 4 streaming, beamforming, and its smart connect feature will allocate each device to the best band. It can emulate eight dedicated 5GHz connections and many more shared ones.
  • Four powered antennas improve through wall penetration of 5GHz band (eight in total).
  • MU-MIMO means suitably equipped end-points will have a direct link with the router and won't share bandwidth via time slicing. There are not a lot of MU-MIMO devices at present (Samsung S7, Microsoft Surface Book and Pro 4), but when you have it will be up to 100% faster.
  • Netgear’s ReadyCLOUD and ReadyShare USB access – the latter is for portable hard disks, Flash drives, or even printers.
  • Dynamic Quality of Service will identify app activities and prioritise them so that you get more bandwidth for latency sensitive apps – like VoIP.
  • Six LAN ports two can be aggregated to provide a faster data path to wired Ethernet devices — like a 4K TV or fast backups to a NAS (requires an aggregation feature on the device as well).
  • Has a full firewall, WPA/WPA2 encryption, parental access, guest network, and VPN support.
  • DLNA compatible for streaming media from DLNA devices.
  • Wall mountable.

Performance

I compared it to a range of previously tested AC1900, 2600, 3200 and 5300 routers – some with MU-MIMO. As you would expect all routers delivered maximum Internet speed of 100Mbps to my endpoint, so it just shows that this router is capable of much more.

Where it shines is in connection speeds to MU-MIMO devices. On a Microsoft Surface Book, I was getting 700+Mbps data link (up to 10 metres away) compared to 325Mbps for a non-MIMO device.

I also noticed that the 5GHz speed was pretty consistent going up a floor through reinforced concrete floors the drop off was minimum at 585Gbps. This is due to the powered antenna. The signal appears to have a maximum line of sight range of 50 metres. Similarly, the 2.4GHz signal was significantly higher all through the house.

Can I use that speed? Probably not. But when downloading video files via Wi-Fi or Ethernet that is going to reduce the time by half and it is great for streaming content all over the house.

Price

Recommended price is $699 from major retailers. Netgear is also sold via computer stores, and you may find online shops offering it for 10-20% less.

Conclusion

I had been a little sceptical of tri-band routers but as we get more and more 5GHz devices in the home it makes great sense to split the load. The X8 does this with aplomb.

It’s a complete package – one of the fastest, most reliable, tri-band routers from a pedigree company. While it is built to cover large houses and many, many connected devices it does one thing particularly well – it gives every MU-MIMO and Ethernet connected device total access to whatever Internet speed you have.

Highly recommended as a leader in its class.

Netear X8 back

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

 

 

 

 

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