Mesh fabric? More like meh. – CNET

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The Nighthawk brand from Netgear is a mainstay of the router aisle. The company added this year a new mesh system from the Nighthawk brand into the mix, complete with support for Wi-Fi 6 – the latest and fastest version of Wi-Fi. Most fascinating: The two-part Nighthawk mesh system costs only $ 230. That is less than you will spend Nest wifi, a well-rated two-piece mesh system that doesn't support Wi-Fi 6 at all.

To like

  • Impressive top speeds
  • Appealing, reserved design
  • Great value for money among Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers

I do not like it

  • Poor mesh performance in our real speed tests
  • No multi-gig WAN port
  • Some functions of notes in the Nighthawk app

Devices that support Wi-Fi 6 can send and receive data faster and more efficiently than previous generation Wi-Fi devices. It’s potential a pretty big deal for mesh routers, because the extended range satellites that are coupled to the router have to transfer a lot of data back and forth when connecting. This means that Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers can provide significantly better performance for your home, even if you are not yet using other Wi-Fi 6 devices. Sure enough, the Wi-Fi 6 mesh router We have tested so far were under The fastest mesh router we have ever tested – and at $ 230, the Netgear Nighthawk is the cheapest to date.

I was excited to test the system myself – but in the end I was disappointed.

Yes, the Nighthawk mesh router was very fast in our lab-based top speed tests – it actually achieved the fastest short-range transmission speed we've seen of any mesh router we've tested so far, including a few models that cost twice as much. But when I took it home to do my real speed tests, things were very different. At several points during my tests, where I go from room to room and do speed tests in different places in my house, my speeds drop and I have to separate and then reconnect to get my speeds back to where they should be , It wasn't a problem with my network – it was the Nighthawk router that got confused by a non-stationary client device.

Basically, the Nighthawk mesh router is beefy enough to reach impressive top speeds, but not smart enough to maintain a stable connection when you move around your home. I tested other mesh routers have optimized all my speeds much better – and More surprisingly affordable Wi-Fi 6-mesh routers will be available soonSo you have Alternatives that are worth waiting for, All of this makes Netgear's mesh entry into the Nighthawk brand a difficult system that I can recommend.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

The power of the dark side

If the Nighthawk mesh router looks a little familiar, it's because it has the same basic design as The latest dual-band version of the Netgear Orbi-Mesh system at an affordable pricethat I checked a few months ago. The Nighthawk adopts the same box-like structure with ventilation slits similar to cheese graters, then paints it black, applies a Nighthawk label to the front and also supports Wi-Fi 6.

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Both the router and satellite have a spare Gigabit Ethernet port that you can use to connect the two to get faster system performance.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

I liked the small, nondescript design a while back when I was reviewing the Orbi, and I think it works well here too. It looks good without attracting too much attention and fits in well so you won't be embarrassed to leave both devices outdoors where they do their best.

Another notable design upgrade: the Nighthawk mesh system adds a replacement Ethernet port to the back of the satellite, which the dual-band orbi-mesh system lacks. This is useful if you want a wired connection between the router and the satellite for faster system performance or if you want to connect something like a media streamer directly to the satellite.

However, the Nighthawk doesn't have everything – which is not surprising since it is an inexpensive Wi-Fi 6 system. You won't get a multi-gig WAN port on the router like you do Netgear Orbi 6For example, to limit your incoming Internet speed to 1 Gbit / s. You won't find many extra bells and whistles in the app either. And don't even think about using a third band at this price as a dedicated backhaul for transmissions between the router and the satellites.

The Nighthawk is a dual-band AX1800 router, where "AX" indicates that it supports Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and "1800" shows the combined maximum speeds of the two bands. As always, combined speed ratings like this are somewhat misleading because you can only connect to one band at a time. Netgear claims that the 2.4 GHz band can reach speeds of up to 600 Mbit / s and that the 5 GHz band can reach speeds of up to 1,200 Mbit / s.

Expensive tri-band WiFi 6-mesh routers such as Netgear Orbi 6, AmpliFi Alien and Arris Surfboard Max Pro achieved higher maximum speeds across all distances on average – at a distance of 5 feet (blue), however, this was actually the Netgear Nighthawk fastest mesh router we've tested so far.

Ry Crist / CNET

Fast gigabit speeds

This 1,200 Mbps speed requirement would be quite impressive indeed, but keep in mind that these ratings come from the manufacturer's own laboratory, where conditions are designed to be as optimal as possible (and the WAN port limits your incoming wired Speed ​​to a single gig or 1,000 Mbit / s). In a real-world environment with worrying range, disruptive walls, and interference from nearby networks, your speeds are always slower.

Still, the Nighthawk router ran much better than I expected when we ran our own lab-based top speed tests. With the router connected to a MacBook acting as a local server, we connected to the Nighthawk network via a second laptop that supports Wi-Fi 6. We then downloaded files from various distances from the MacBook and measured the transfer speeds. At a distance of only 5 feet, our average speed was 901 Mbit / s. This is a great result and better than any other mesh router I've tested, including fancy tri-band mesh routers like that AmpliFi alien, the Arris surfboard Max Pro, and Netgear's own Wi-Fi 6 version of the Orbi-Mesh system, Each of them costs more than twice as much as the Nighthawk.

That is, the Nighthawk saw greater drops in speed than these systems when we increased the distance. At 75 feet, its speed had dropped about 40% to 520 Mbps. Most network systems I test can keep this drop to 30% or less.

Among the Wi-Fi 6-mesh routers, the Netgear Nighthawk averaged the slowest download speeds in my entire house – but the real problem was the unreliable connection when I moved from room to room.

Ry Crist / CNET

Speed ​​tests in the real world were a real problem

After our lab tests were done, it was time to take the Nighthawk home and test it in a real-world environment – especially at my 1,300-square-foot shotgun house in Louisville, KY. It's a relatively small space for a mesh system, but it gives me a good chance to see how these systems actually work in a home environment.

In this case, things kind of fell apart.

Speeds below 100 Mbit / s with a 300 Mbit / s connection? This is the router in the background, a few meters away …

Ry Crist / CNET

At first everything seemed fine. Netgear's Nighthawk app walked me through the setup process and my network was up and running in minutes. My first speed tests, conveniently run from my living room couch with the router just a few feet away, were just as fast as expected and essentially exhausted my home's 300Mbps fiber optic internet plan.

But then I took my laptop and moved to a new place – the kitchen. It's a little further from the router, but it's an open floor plan that connects to the living room so there are no walls in the way. Nevertheless, my speeds dropped to well below 100 Mbit / s.

Needless to say, it was weird. And if I see such an oddly slow result in my tests, I'll write it down in my table and then reset the connection. That was the trick – after I disconnected from the network and then reconnected, my speeds were back where they should be, just under 300 Mbit / s.

But then it happened again. And again. And again. I would move to a new location during my tests and my speed would drop. I switch the speed tests from the front of the house to the back and then from the back of the house to the front – in one of the latter rounds, in which this close range test in the living room is the last test of the year, my speed came at 93 Mbit / s. That was only a few meters away with the router.

In the end, the Nighthawk delivered an average overall speed of 219Mbps throughout my home, which is worse than all but two of the roughly a dozen systems I've tested in my home, Wi-Fi 6 or otherwise. And that was often a new connection for me to give the system the best chance of success.

Slow speeds in my kitchen for a minute, then back to normal as soon as I disconnect and reconnect.

Ry Crist / CNET

So what was going on here? It wasn't my network – I did some control tests with my existing router and saw nothing I experienced with the Nighthawk. The same applies to the online speed test software and the server to which I have connected. Neither registered any problems when testing with my own router. In fact, I've done thousands of speed tests in my house under the same controlled settings in the past few months, and the Nighthawk is the only router that has given me so many headaches.

It really seems like the Nighthawk is not so good at optimizing the signal for a client device that is not in a fixed location for some reason. When this device moves from one place to another, the connection becomes confused and things slow down. This could be due to poor beamforming or a Wonky mesh algorithm that may not be able to make a good decision about when to route your connection through the satellite and when to go directly to the router, but whatever happens, it's an annoyance i dont want to treat in my house.

I will also note that it is not the first time that I have problems with Netgear's network performance. Both the dual band Orbi and the tri-band Orbi Voice Wi-Fi 5 systems cut my connection several times during my home tests. Only the high-end Wi-Fi 6 version of Netgear Orbi was able to impress me with the stability of the signal.

The Nighthawk's signal strength was slightly stronger than a comparable Wi-Fi 5 system like Nest Wifi, but not nearly as strong as a high-end Wi-Fi 6 system like Netgear Orbi.

Steve Conaway / CNET

Speaking of signal strength, we test that too. To do this, we move to the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home, where we set up each mesh system with the router and satellite at opposite ends of the house's ground floor. We then use NetSpot's online software to keep track of how strong the connection is at dozens of locations. It's a bit of a stress test – the two-part Nighthawk system is designed for homes up to 3,000 square meters.

The results largely met the expectations of a Wi-Fi 6 entry-level system like the Nighthawk. The signal strength on the ground floor, where the router and the satellite were located, as well as on the basement level was sufficient and somewhat stronger than with a comparable Wi-Fi 5 system Nest wifi, but not nearly as strong as a high-end tri-band Wi-Fi 6 system like Orbi 6 that sells for $ 700. We thank the Nighthawk for finding the middle ground between the two, mainly because it costs less than Nest.

At the farthest distances we test, the Nighthawk's speeds dropped by about 40% in our laboratory and a little less than 30% in my home tests. These are both low-end results among the Wi-Fi 6-mesh systems I've tested.

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Tyler Lizenby / CNET

The judgment

Wi-Fi 6 should prove to be correct A particularly nice upgrade for mesh routersand it's encouraging that we're already seeing options that cost less than most Wi-Fi 5-mesh routers that were sold less than a year ago.

At $ 230, the Netgear Nighthawk fits this bill exactly, which makes it pretty tempting – but the shaky network performance leaves much to be desired. Speed ​​is important, but stability is also important. The Nighthawk has many of the former, but the latter are lacking. Given that many other interesting new mesh routers are coming to the market in 2020, this is too much of a compromise.