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Mesh? More like meh. – CNET

Netgear’s Nighthawk model is a mainstay of the router aisle. This calendar year, the organization added a new Nighthawk-branded mesh process into the blend, entire with support for Wi-Fi 6 — the latest, quickest variation of Wi-Fi. Most intriguing of all: The 2-piece Nighthawk mesh process only expenses $230. That is less than you are going to expend for Nest Wifi, a perfectly-reviewed 2-piece mesh process that would not support Wi-Fi 6 at all.


  • Outstanding prime speeds
  • Desirable, understated structure
  • Great benefit between Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers

Really don’t Like

  • Bad mesh effectiveness in our actual-world speed exams
  • No multi-gig WAN port
  • Couple of characteristics of notes in the Nighthawk app

Units that do support Wi-Fi 6 are able of sending and receiving facts more rapidly and a lot more proficiently than preceding-gen Wi-Fi devices. That is most likely a really significant deal for mesh routers, mainly because the vary-extending satellites that pair with the router have to have to pass a whole lot of facts back again and forth as you hook up. That usually means that Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers can offer you noticeably improved effectiveness for your dwelling even if you don’t use any other Wi-Fi 6 devices just still. Confident more than enough, the Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers we have tested so considerably have been between the quickest mesh routers we have ever tested — and at $230, the Netgear Nighthawk is the most reasonably priced just one still.

I was psyched to exam the process out for myself — but in the close, I arrived away unhappy.

Certainly, the Nighthawk mesh router was a lot speedy in our lab-based mostly prime speed exams — it really notched the quickest shut-vary transfer speed that we have viewed from any of the mesh routers we have tested hence considerably, including a few products that cost 2 times as a lot. But when I took it dwelling to perform my actual-world speed exams, things had been a whole lot various. At quite a few factors through my exams, where I move from area to area functioning speed exams from different places about my household, my speeds would plummet, forcing me to disconnect and then reconnect in purchase to get my speeds back again up where they ought to be. It was not an issue with my community — it was the Nighthawk router having baffled by a non-stationary client gadget.

Essentially, the Nighthawk mesh router is brawny more than enough to strike spectacular prime speeds, but not brainy more than enough to maintain a continual connection as you move in the course of your dwelling. Other mesh routers I’ve tested have all carried out a a lot improved occupation of optimizing my speeds — and other astonishingly reasonably priced Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers are coming soon, so you’ve acquired options worth ready for. All of that makes Netgear’s mesh entry to the Nighthawk model a challenging process for me to endorse.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The ability of the dim facet

If the Nighthawk mesh router seems a minimal acquainted, that is mainly because it’s the identical standard structure as the current twin-band, spending plan-priced variation of the Netgear Orbi mesh process, which I reviewed a few months back. The Nighthawk takes that identical boxy establish with cheese grater-like heat vents on prime, then paints it black, slaps a Nighthawk label on the entrance, and adds in support for Wi-Fi 6.


Both of those the router and the satellite involve just one spare gigabit Ethernet jack, which lets you wire the two with each other for more rapidly process effectiveness.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I preferred the smaller, unassuming structure really a little bit back again when I reviewed the Orbi, and I assume it works perfectly below, much too. It is really pleasant-seeking with out drawing much too a lot consideration to alone, and does a superior more than enough occupation of mixing in that you will not experience embarrassed about trying to keep the two devices out in the open up, where they will accomplish their very best.

A single other structure up grade of observe: the Nighthawk mesh process adds a spare Ethernet jack to the back again of the satellite, anything that the twin-band Orbi mesh process lacks. That is pleasant to have in case you want a wired connection amongst the router and the satellite for more rapidly process effectiveness, or if you want to wire anything like a media streamer directly to the satellite.

The Nighthawk would not have anything, even though — which isn’t stunning offered that this is a Wi-Fi 6 process on a spending plan. You don’t get a multi-gig WAN port on the router like you do with Netgear Orbi 6, for instance, so your incoming online speed will be capped at 1Gbps. You will not come across quite a few more bells or whistles in the app, possibly. And don’t even assume of having a third band to use as a dedicated backhaul for transmissions amongst the router and the satellites at this price.

As for specs, the Nighthawk is a twin-band AX1800 router, with the “AX” indicating that it supports Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and the “1800” indicating the merged prime speeds of the two bands. As normally, merged speed scores like individuals are a little bit deceptive since you can only hook up to just one band at a time. Netgear claims that the 2.four GHz band can strike speeds of up to 600 Mbps, and that the 5 GHz band is able of hitting speeds as superior as 1,200 Mbps.

Pricey, tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers like Netgear Orbi 6, the AmpliFi Alien and the Arris Surfboard Max Professional all averaged more rapidly prime speeds across all distances — but at a length of 5 toes (blue), the Netgear Nighthawk was really the quickest mesh router we have tested still.

Ry Crist/CNET

In the vicinity of-gigabit speeds

That 1,200 Mbps speed claim would in truth be really spectacular, but keep in head individuals scores appear from the manufacturer’s have lab, where ailments are developed to be as best as doable (and all over again, the WAN port caps your incoming wired speed at a solitary gig, or 1,000 Mbps). In a actual-world placing, with vary to fret about, walls in the way and interference from nearby networks, your speeds will be normally be decreased.

Continue to, the Nighthawk router did a whole lot improved than I expected when we ran our have lab-based mostly prime speed exams. With the router wired to a MacBook performing as a community server, we related to the Nighthawk’s community applying a next laptop that supports Wi-Fi 6. Then, we downloaded data files from the MacBook at different distances and measured the transfer speeds. At a length of just 5 toes, our regular speed rang in at 901 Mbps. That is a wonderful consequence, and improved than any other mesh router I’ve tested, including extravagant tri-band mesh routers like the AmpliFi Alien, the Arris Surfboarf Max Professional, and Netgear’s have Wi-Fi 6 variation of the Orbi mesh process. Each individual of individuals expenses a lot more than 2 times as a lot as the Nighthawk.

That claimed, the Nighthawk observed even larger speed drops than individuals methods as we improved the length. At seventy five toes, its speeds experienced fallen by about forty% to 520 Mbps. Most mesh methods I exam are in a position to maintain that drop-off to thirty% or less.

Amongst Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers, the Netgear Nighthawk averaged the slowest download speeds in the course of my dwelling — but the actual issue was the unreliable connection as I moved from area to area.

Ry Crist/CNET

Serious-world speed exams had been a actual ache

With our lab exams concluded, it was time to just take the Nighthawk dwelling and exam it out in a actual-world atmosphere — specially, my 1,three hundred sq. ft. shotgun household in Louisville, KY. It is really a reasonably smaller place for a mesh process, but it provides me a superior opportunity to see how these methods really accomplish in a dwelling atmosphere.

In this case, it’s where things kind of fell apart.

Speeds down below 100 Mbps on a three hundred Mbps connection? That is the router in the background, a few toes away…

Ry Crist/CNET

At first, anything appeared good. Netgear’s Nighthawk app walked me by means of the setup method and my community was up and functioning in just a few minutes. My first few speed exams, conducted from the consolation of my residing area couch with the router sitting down just a few toes away, had been just as speedy as you’d be expecting, effectively maxing out my home’s three hundred Mbps fiber online plan.

But then I picked up my laptop and moved to a new place — the kitchen. It is really a little bit even further from the router, but it’s an open up principle floorplan that connects with the residing area, so there are not any walls in the way. All the identical, my speeds plummeted to perfectly down below 100 Mbps.

Unnecessary to say, this was odd. And, when I see a weirdly gradual consequence like that in my exams, I will make a observe of it in my spreadsheet, then reset the connection. That did the trick — right after disconnecting from the community and then reconnecting to it, my speeds had been back again up had been they ought to be, just shy of three hundred Mbps.

But then it occurred all over again. And all over again. And all over again. I might move to a new place through my exams, and my speeds would nosedive. I alternate rounds of speed exams from the entrance of the household to the back again, and then from the back again of the household to the entrance — on just one of the latter rounds, where that shut-vary residing area exam is the final exam in the sequence, my speed arrived in at ninety three Mbps. That was with the router only a few of toes away.

In the close, the Nighthawk returned an total regular speed of 219 Mbps in the course of my entire household, which is worse than all but two of the dozen or so methods I’ve tested in my dwelling, Wi-Fi 6 or or else. And that was with me often re-connecting in purchase to give the process its very best opportunity to thrive.

Sluggish speeds in my kitchen just one moment, then back again to standard as soon as I disconnect and reconnect.

Ry Crist/CNET

So what was occurring below? It was not my community — I created sure to run some regulate exams with my existing router, and didn’t see just about anything like I was suffering from with the Nighthawk. Very same goes for the on the web speed exam software program and the server I was connecting to, neither of which registered any concerns when tests with my have router. In fact, I’ve run countless numbers of speed exams in my dwelling about the previous quite a few months below the identical controlled options, and the Nighthawk is the only router that is offered me this a lot of a headache.

It genuinely would seem like the Nighthawk, for regardless of what cause, isn’t all that superior at optimizing the sign for a client gadget that isn’t in a set area. If that gadget moves from just one place to an additional, the connection receives baffled and things gradual down. That could be because of to bad beamforming or a wonky mesh algorithm that isn’t superior at determining when to route your connection by means of the satellite and when to go straight to the router, but regardless of what is occurring, it’s an annoyance that I would not want to deal with in my dwelling.

I will also observe that it isn’t the first time that I’ve experienced concerns with Netgear’s mesh effectiveness. Both of those the twin-band Orbi and the tri-band Orbi Voice Wi-Fi 5 methods dropped my connection on various situations through my at-dwelling exams. Only the superior-close, Wi-Fi 6 variation of Netgear Orbi managed to impress me with the steadiness of its sign.

The Nighthawk’s sign strength was a minimal stronger than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 process like Nest Wifi, but not almost as robust as a superior-close Wi-Fi 6 process like Netgear Orbi.

Steve Conaway/CNET

Speaking of sign strength, we exam for that, much too. To do so, we move about to the 5,800 sq. ft. CNET Smart Property, where we set just about every mesh process up with the router and just one satellite on reverse finishes of the home’s key floor. Then, we use NetSpot’s on the web software program to monitor how robust the connection is across dozens of places. It is really a little bit of a anxiety exam — the 2-piece Nighthawk process is developed for households of up to three,000 square toes.

The final results had been really shut to what you could be expecting for an entry-amount Wi-Fi 6 process like the Nighthawk. The sign strength on the two the key floor where the router and satellite had been found and the basement amount down below was enough and somewhat stronger than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 process like Nest Wifi, but not almost as robust as a superior-close, tri-band Wi-Fi 6 process like Orbi 6 that sells for $seven-hundred. Credit rating the Nighthawk for hitting the middle ground amongst individuals two, primarily offered that it expenses less than Nest.

Continue to, at the farthest distances we exam, the Nighthawk’s speeds dropped by about forty% in our lab and by a minimal less than thirty% in my at-dwelling exams. Those people are the two lower-close final results between the Wi-Fi 6 mesh methods I’ve tested.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

Wi-Fi 6 ought to establish to be a specially pleasant up grade for mesh routers, and it’s encouraging that we’re presently seeing alternatives that cost less than most Wi-Fi 5 mesh routers had been marketing for not even a calendar year back. 

At $230, the Netgear Nighthawk matches that bill, which makes it really tempting — but the shaky mesh effectiveness leaves much too a lot to be preferred. Speed is important, but steadiness matters, much too. The Nighthawk has a lot of the former, but it lacks the latter. With loads of other attention-grabbing new mesh routers creating their way to market in 2020, that is much too a lot of a compromise.