Netgear Nighthawk AX8 Router Review: Next-Gen Wi-Fi 6 Networking
Netgear Nighthawk AX8 (RAX80): How We Tested And Performance
There are unique challenges associated with testing wireless performance, ones that do not exist for, say, benchmarking a graphics card or hammering a CPU with single-threaded and multi-threaded chores, with programs like 3DMark and Cinebench spitting out neat and tidy scores. With wireless routers, there are a litany of factors—the size of the dwelling, obstructions like walls and doors, and interference from nearby wireless signals. Nevertheless, we take an approach to testing that offers a rounded view, and can be reasonably repeated with other routers.
How We Tested
Programs like Jperf/Iperf require both a host machine and a client PC. Our host setup is a Devil's Canyon system that is wired to the router, and our client PC is an ASUS ROG G751JY laptop, albeit not with its native network adapter; even though it is a Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) adapter, it's on the short list of slightly older ones that do not work with the Nighthawk AX8. So, we purchased and used a Nighthawk AC1900 USB wireless adapter. It is one of the fastest around, at least until Wi-Fi 6 USB adapters start showing up (none exist yet).
We ran a series of tests, including a mix of inside and outside scenarios at different distances, to gauge signal strength and performance with and without obstructions in the way.
While we have tested other routers before, they were under different conditions, so the throughput results here are not comparable to older articles. For this review, however, we pitted the Nighthawk AX8 (AX6000) against a Linksys EA9500 Max-Stream (AC5400), a high-end router with a $349.99 MSRP. Here we go...
Testing The 5GHz Band
Inside the home, we see the Nighthawk AX8 running circles around the EA9500 in UDP performance. Next to the router, it comes close to offering 1Gbps of throughput, and still maintains UDP transfers of more than 900Mbps when sitting further away with a clear line of sight.
What's also impressive is that there is minimal loss when moving the client PC upstairs. In that scenario, the location we tested is around 20 feet away from the router, and separated by a ceiling/floor. The 5GHz band is not as good as the 2.4GHz band at penetrating objects, so it's good to see the Nighthawk AX8 maintaining fast speeds when it has to contend with one.
As we increased the distance of our client PC to the router and moved outside, performance quickly declined. At around 30 feet, the Nighthawk AX8 conceded the lead to the EA9500 in UDP transfers, though was considerably faster in TCP testing. On both fronts, transfers dipped a little below 300Mbps. That is still fast overall, but not on the level of our inside tests, obviously.
We saw similar results at 50 feet on the edge of what we consider a dead zone of sorts. This specific location is where wireless signals go to die -- it's around a building and separated by multiple obstructions to the router. Moving just a few feet to the left of where we tested often causes signals to drop completely. That doesn't do us any good here, so we positioned the client PC where it could still maintain a connection to the router. In doing so, the Nighthawk AX8 performed similarly to the EA9500 in UDP transfers, at 218Mbps (versus 224Mbps), while once again demonstrating faster TCP performance (171Mbps versus 141Mbps).
This last 5GHz graph shows how the Nighthawk AX8's performance scales at different distances. We can see it stays relatively strong inside the home, then falling as we both move further away and outside the home where the router has to muscle through additional obstructions. Overall, though, these are very good speeds.
Testing The 2.4GHz Band
The 2.4GHz band is slower than the 5GHz band, but in theory it should be much better at extending the signal further and through obstructions, like walls, doors, and the such. In practice, that is exactly how it played out during our inside tests. The Nighthawk AX8 held steady at around 184-185Mbps for the UPD portion of our tests, and around 160Mbps for the TCP tests. Depending on the location, this was around 10-30Mbps faster than the EA9500.
As expected, performance dropped when moving outside, though it did not fall off a cliff by any stretch. Impressively, the Nighthawk AX8 was about twice as fast as the EA9500 at both 30 feet and 50 feet away. This is also interesting, because the Nighthawk AX8 only has half as many antennas as the EA9500—four instead of eight. Nevertheless, the antennas are clearly doing their job by extending a strong signal at longer distances.
Once again, here is a look at how performance scales on the Nighthawk AX8 at different distances, this time in regards to its 2.4GHz band. At the furthest spot (50 feet away, in our dead zone), performance is around half of what it is inside the home and closer to the router.
Wired (LAN) And Bridge Mode
To cap off our TCP and UDP tests, we tested performance in two additional ways -- wired and bridge. For the wired test, we connected the client PC to one of the LAN ports on the back of the Nighthawk AX8. This is relevant for people who want the absolute best performance and who are willing to forgo the convenience of wireless connectivity (gaming comes immediately to mind).
For the bridge test, we configured a second Nighthawk AX8 in bridge mode, with our client PC tethered to one of its LAN ports. The bridge router is wirelessly connected to the main router.
In both instances, the Nighthawk AX8 delivered speeds of around 955Mbps (UDP) and 840-900Mbps (TCP). For comparison, we also tested the wired performance of the EA9500. It ran at 896Mbps (UDP) and 877.6Mbps (TCP), once again trailing the Nighthawk AX8.
1GB File Copy Test
Wrapping up our benchmarks, we recorded read and write speeds of a Lexar JumpDrive P10 USB 3.0 flash drive connected to a USB port on the back of each router.
The Nighthawk AX8 rounds out our benchmark runs with one final victory, demonstrating faster USB file transfer performance. It took 44 seconds to write a 1GB file to a USB thumb drive plugged into the Nighthawk AX8, versus just over a minute (62 seconds) when the same drive was plugged into the EA9500. And extracting the file took just 37 seconds, versus 59 seconds on the EA9500.
Quick Look At Ping
With our performance benchmarks out of the way, we decided to see what kind of ping times both routers delivered at Ping-Test.net, using the "accurate" option (as opposed to "fast"). There are too many variables here to read too much into this, but for the sake of completeness, here we go...
We use this more as a guide to see if there is any cause for concern, rather than a performance comparison. Both routers held steady for the most part, with comparable pings.