July 9, 2020


Connecting People

Mesh? More like meh. – CNET

Netgear’s Nighthawk brand is a mainstay of the router aisle. This yr, the firm added a new Nighthawk-branded mesh program into the combine, total with support for Wi-Fi six — the latest, quickest variation of Wi-Fi. Most intriguing of all: The two-piece Nighthawk mesh program only expenses $230. That is much less than you may spend for Nest Wifi, a effectively-reviewed two-piece mesh program that does not support Wi-Fi six at all.


  • Outstanding major speeds
  • Attractive, understated style and design
  • Good price between Wi-Fi six mesh routers

Never Like

  • Very poor mesh functionality in our real-entire world speed checks
  • No multi-gig WAN port
  • Few options of notes in the Nighthawk application

Units that do support Wi-Fi six are able of sending and getting info quicker and much more effectively than prior-gen Wi-Fi products. That is likely a quite massive deal for mesh routers, simply because the array-extending satellites that pair with the router require to move a lot of info back again and forth as you link. That means that Wi-Fi six mesh routers can give significantly far better functionality for your property even if you do not use any other Wi-Fi six devices just but. Positive ample, the Wi-Fi six mesh routers we’ve tested so considerably have been between the quickest mesh routers we’ve ever tested — and at $230, the Netgear Nighthawk is the most cost-effective a person but.

I was thrilled to examination the program out for myself — but in the close, I arrived absent let down.

Certainly, the Nighthawk mesh router was loads rapidly in our lab-primarily based major speed checks — it actually notched the quickest shut-array transfer speed that we’ve observed from any of the mesh routers we’ve tested hence considerably, together with a couple of styles that price 2 times as a great deal. But when I took it property to perform my real-entire world speed checks, items have been a lot different. At a number of details for the duration of my checks, wherever I shift from place to place functioning speed checks from various places around my household, my speeds would plummet, forcing me to disconnect and then reconnect in order to get my speeds back again up wherever they must be. It wasn’t an issue with my community — it was the Nighthawk router having puzzled by a non-stationary shopper gadget.

In essence, the Nighthawk mesh router is brawny ample to strike impressive major speeds, but not brainy ample to keep a constant link as you shift all over your property. Other mesh routers I have tested have all accomplished a a great deal far better job of optimizing my speeds — and other shockingly cost-effective Wi-Fi six mesh routers are coming before long, so you have got alternatives truly worth waiting around for. All of that would make Netgear’s mesh entry to the Nighthawk brand a hard program for me to advise.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The power of the dark facet

If the Nighthawk mesh router appears to be a minor familiar, that’s simply because it truly is the same essential style and design as the new twin-band, funds-priced variation of the Netgear Orbi mesh program, which I reviewed a couple of months back. The Nighthawk takes that same boxy make with cheese grater-like heat vents on major, then paints it black, slaps a Nighthawk label on the entrance, and provides in support for Wi-Fi six.


Both the router and the satellite include a person spare gigabit Ethernet jack, which lets you wire the two alongside one another for quicker program functionality.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I appreciated the small, unassuming style and design rather a little bit back again when I reviewed the Orbi, and I feel it will work effectively here, far too. It really is good-wanting with out drawing far too a great deal awareness to itself, and does a excellent ample job of mixing in that you is not going to feel humiliated about preserving equally products out in the open, wherever they’ll conduct their best.

1 other style and design update of note: the Nighthawk mesh program provides a spare Ethernet jack to the back again of the satellite, one thing that the twin-band Orbi mesh program lacks. That is good to have in case you want a wired link among the router and the satellite for quicker program functionality, or if you want to wire one thing like a media streamer instantly to the satellite.

The Nighthawk does not have almost everything, while — which isn’t shocking supplied that this is a Wi-Fi six program on a funds. You do not get a multi-gig WAN port on the router like you do with Netgear Orbi six, for occasion, so your incoming net speed will be capped at 1Gbps. You is not going to find many added bells or whistles in the application, both. And do not even feel of having a third band to use as a dedicated backhaul for transmissions among the router and the satellites at this selling price.

As for specs, the Nighthawk is a twin-band AX1800 router, with the “AX” indicating that it supports Wi-Fi six (802.11ax) and the “1800” indicating the merged major speeds of the two bands. As constantly, merged speed ratings like these are a little bit misleading because you can only link to a person band at a time. Netgear claims that the two.four 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 Pro all averaged quicker major speeds throughout all distances — but at a distance of 5 feet (blue), the Netgear Nighthawk was actually the quickest mesh router we’ve tested but.

Ry Crist/CNET

Close to-gigabit speeds

That 1,two hundred Mbps speed claim would certainly be quite impressive, but maintain in intellect these ratings arrive from the manufacturer’s possess lab, wherever situations are made to be as exceptional as doable (and again, the WAN port caps your incoming wired speed at a single gig, or 1,000 Mbps). In a real-entire world location, with array to be concerned about, walls in the way and interference from close by networks, your speeds will be constantly be decreased.

Continue to, the Nighthawk router did a lot far better than I predicted when we ran our possess lab-primarily based major speed checks. With the router wired to a MacBook acting as a nearby server, we connected to the Nighthawk’s community utilizing a 2nd notebook that supports Wi-Fi six. Then, we downloaded information from the MacBook at various distances and calculated the transfer speeds. At a distance of just 5 feet, our regular speed rang in at 901 Mbps. That is a great result, and far better than any other mesh router I have tested, together with fancy tri-band mesh routers like the AmpliFi Alien, the Arris Surfboarf Max Pro, and Netgear’s possess Wi-Fi six variation of the Orbi mesh program. Just about every of these expenses much more than 2 times as a great deal as the Nighthawk.

That explained, the Nighthawk noticed even bigger speed drops than these units as we elevated the distance. At 75 feet, its speeds had fallen by about 40% to 520 Mbps. Most mesh units I examination are in a position to maintain that drop-off to thirty% or much less.

Amid Wi-Fi six mesh routers, the Netgear Nighthawk averaged the slowest down load speeds all over my property — but the real issue was the unreliable link as I moved from place to place.

Ry Crist/CNET

True-entire world speed checks have been a real discomfort

With our lab checks finished, it was time to choose the Nighthawk property and examination it out in a real-entire world surroundings — precisely, my 1,three hundred sq. ft. shotgun household in Louisville, KY. It really is a somewhat small space for a mesh program, but it presents me a excellent prospect to see how these units actually conduct in a property surroundings.

In this case, it truly is wherever items kind of fell apart.

Speeds down below one hundred Mbps on a three hundred Mbps link? That is the router in the qualifications, a couple of feet absent…

Ry Crist/CNET

At to start with, almost everything appeared high-quality. Netgear’s Nighthawk application walked me through the set up method and my community was up and functioning in just a couple of minutes. My to start with couple of speed checks, conducted from the comfort of my dwelling place couch with the router sitting down just a couple of feet absent, have been just as rapidly as you’d assume, primarily maxing out my home’s three hundred Mbps fiber net program.

But then I picked up my notebook and moved to a new spot — 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 place, so there aren’t any walls in the way. All the same, my speeds plummeted to effectively down below one hundred Mbps.

Needless to say, this was strange. And, when I see a weirdly slow result like that in my checks, I’ll make a note of it in my spreadsheet, then reset the link. That did the trick — immediately after disconnecting from the community and then reconnecting to it, my speeds have been back again up have been they must be, just shy of three hundred Mbps.

But then it took place again. And again. And again. I might shift to a new spot for the duration of my checks, and my speeds would nosedive. I alternate rounds of speed checks from the entrance of the household to the back again, and then from the back again of the household to the entrance — on a person of the latter rounds, wherever that shut-array dwelling place examination is the last examination in the sequence, my speed arrived in at ninety three Mbps. That was with the router only a couple of feet absent.

In the close, the Nighthawk returned an in general regular speed of 219 Mbps all over my entire household, which is worse than all but two of the dozen or so units I have tested in my property, Wi-Fi six or otherwise. And that was with me usually re-connecting in order to give the program its best prospect to succeed.

Slow speeds in my kitchen a person moment, then back again to standard as before long as I disconnect and reconnect.

Ry Crist/CNET

So what was going on here? It wasn’t my community — I built certain to run some management checks with my present router, and did not see anything like I was going through with the Nighthawk. Identical goes for the on the internet speed examination program and the server I was connecting to, neither of which registered any difficulties when tests with my possess router. In actuality, I have run thousands of speed checks in my property over the earlier a number of months under the same managed settings, and the Nighthawk is the only router that’s supplied me this a great deal of a headache.

It actually appears like the Nighthawk, for what ever purpose, isn’t all that excellent at optimizing the signal for a shopper gadget that isn’t in a fastened locale. If that gadget moves from a person spot to one more, the link gets puzzled and items slow down. That may be due to weak beamforming or a wonky mesh algorithm that isn’t excellent at determining when to route your link through the satellite and when to go straight to the router, but what ever is going on, it truly is an annoyance that I wouldn’t want to deal with in my property.

I’ll also note that it isn’t the to start with time that I have had difficulties with Netgear’s mesh functionality. Both the twin-band Orbi and the tri-band Orbi Voice Wi-Fi 5 units dropped my link on numerous instances for the duration of my at-property checks. Only the large-close, Wi-Fi six variation of Netgear Orbi managed to impress me with the balance of its signal.

The Nighthawk’s signal toughness was a minor more robust than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 program like Nest Wifi, but not practically as solid as a large-close Wi-Fi six program like Netgear Orbi.

Steve Conaway/CNET

Talking of signal toughness, we examination for that, far too. To do so, we shift over to the 5,800 sq. ft. CNET Good Home, wherever we set just about every mesh program up with the router and a person satellite on reverse ends of the home’s key floor. Then, we use NetSpot’s on the internet program to observe how solid the link is throughout dozens of areas. It really is a little bit of a worry examination — the two-piece Nighthawk program is made for homes of up to 3,000 sq. feet.

The effects have been quite shut to what you may assume for an entry-degree Wi-Fi six program like the Nighthawk. The signal toughness on equally the key floor wherever the router and satellite have been found and the basement degree down below was satisfactory and marginally more robust than a comparably priced Wi-Fi 5 program like Nest Wifi, but not practically as solid as a large-close, tri-band Wi-Fi six program like Orbi six that sells for $seven-hundred. Credit score the Nighthawk for hitting the center ground among these two, particularly supplied that it expenses much less than Nest.

Continue to, at the farthest distances we examination, the Nighthawk’s speeds dropped by about 40% in our lab and by a minor much less than thirty% in my at-property checks. People are equally low-close effects between the Wi-Fi six mesh units I have tested.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

Wi-Fi six must confirm to be a specially good update for mesh routers, and it truly is encouraging that we are by now looking at choices that price much less than most Wi-Fi 5 mesh routers have been promoting for not even a yr back. 

At $230, the Netgear Nighthawk matches that bill, which would make it quite tempting — but the shaky mesh functionality leaves far too a great deal to be sought after. Velocity is significant, but balance issues, far too. The Nighthawk has loads of the former, but it lacks the latter. With lots of other interesting new mesh routers generating their way to sector in 2020, that’s far too a great deal of a compromise.