Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500 AC5300 WiFi Router Review: Amplified AC

Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500 Introduction

The router game is heating up once again, after being dormant for what seemed like an eternity, thanks to new iterations of the Broadcom XStream platform. We first examined this platform for 802.11 AC routers back in October when we rounded up four AC3200 routers from Netgear, D-Link, TrendNet, and Asus. We then added one router to the mix with our analysis of the Linksys EA9200, but all five of those routers were based on the first gen of Broadcom’s technology, which allows for up to 3.2Gb/s spread across three channels. This translates to (1,300Mb/s on dual 5GHz channels, and 600Mb/s on the lone 2.4GHz channels). As we’ve stated previously, most home users will probably never need this much bandwidth. However, if you’re in an environment with ten or more wireless devices all trying to pull down a slice from the fat pipe or transfer files between one another, a tri-channel router could offer a lot more performance and flexibility versus a dual-band or single-band router.
netgear x8 3

With the first generation of wireless AC routers in our rearview, we now turn to the second generation, which is dubbed "Wave 2" and carries the AC5300 moniker. The first router out of the gate (for us at least) is the Netgear Nighthawk X8 AC5300. Instead of using a 3x3 configuration with six antennae, this router takes it to the next level with a 4x4 configuration, with four internal antennae and four active external antennae, each with their own blue LEDs to signal their active state. This means the amplifiers for the antennae are on the antennae itself rather than down on the main board, helping to boost the signal without crosstalk or signal loss associated with modern PCB circuitry. Each 5GHz radio is able to broadcast at 2.1Gbps compared to 1.3Gbps on Gen 1 devices, and the bandwidth on the 2.4GHz channel is also increased from 600Mbps on Gen 1 devices to 1Gbps. When you take both 5GHz channels at 2,100Mbps and add it to the 1000Mbps on the 2.4GHz channel, you end up with a number around 5,300Mbps, hence the branding. 

Netgear Nighthawk X8 Active Antennaes
Netgear Nighthawk X8 Active Antennaes

Another big feature of routers like the Nighthawk X8 is support for MU-MIMO, which stands for Multi-User Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output. This is essentially the same technology we saw in 80211.N routers (MIMO) but with multiple channels of data at once, instead of just a single channel. Unfortunately, at the time we went to press here Netgear had not "officially" implemented functionality for this feature, but there is a beta firmware available on their website, if you're daring and want to play with it. 

One other cool feature of the R8500 is the presence of six LAN ports as well as the standard WAN port. The “extra” LAN port can be used for Link Aggregation if you have a switch or NAS that supports it, like the new Netgear ReadyNAS RN212 or RN214. This theoretically allows multiple clients to transmit from the router at speeds beyond Gigabit, but only in certain scenarios and for multiple users.

Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500
Specifications & Features
WiFi Band Simultaneous Tri-Band WiFi - Tx/Rx 4x4 (2.4GHz) + 4x4 (5GHz) + 4x4 (5GHz)
Beamforming Implicit & Explicit Beamforming for 2.4 & 5GHz bands
Number of Ethernet Ports Seven (7) 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet ports: 1 WAN & 6 LAN
Dual Gigabit Ethernet Port Aggregation
Number of USB Ports Two (2) USB ports: 1 USB 3.0 & 1 USB 2.0 port
Key Features Smart Connect intelligently selects the fastest WiFi band for every device
Load Balancing distributes WiFi devices ensuring usage of both 5GHz WiFi bands
MU-MIMO capable—simultaneous streaming of data for multiple devices
Eight (8) high performance antennas with high-powered amplifiers
Four (4) external Active Antennas enhance weak signals and reduce interference for best WiFi performance (patent pending)
Dynamic QoS prioritizes network traffic by application & device
ReadyCLOUD USB Access—Personal & secure cloud access to USB storage anytime, anywhere
ReadySHARE Vault—PC software for automatic backup to USB hard drive connected to the router
DLNA server to find & play your media on TVs & game consoles
VPN support—secure remote access to your home network & Internet
Enhanced Parental Controls to manage web filtering & accessibility by profiles or devices
NETGEAR genie home network manager includes remote access to manage your network away from home
Security Customized free URL to set up personal FTP server
VPN support—secure remote access
Guest network access—separate & secure
WiFi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2—PSK)
Double firewall protection (SPI and NAT) Denial-of-service (DoS) attack prevention
Processor Powerful dual core 1.4GHz processor
Memory 128 MB Flash and 512 MB RAM
Physical Specifications Dimensions: 12.44 x 10.39 x 2.40 in (316 x 264 x 61 mm)
Weight: 3.70 lb (1680 g)
Package Content Nighthawk X8 AC5300 Router (R8500)
Ethernet cable
Quick install guide
Power adapter
Standards Two (2) USB ports: 1 USB 3.0 & 1 USB 2.0 port
IEEE 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz 1024QAM support
IEEE 802.11 a/n/ac 5GHz1024QAM support
Seven (7) 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet ports: 1 WAN & 6 LAN

netgear x8 2
In terms of size, the R8500 is absolutely massive, and is the widest and deepest router we’ve ever set down (with a thud) on the test bench. It measures a cavernous 12.4 inches across by 10.4 inches deep, and stands just 2.4 inches tall. It weighs 3.7lbs and is big, heavy, and formidable.

The rear of the unit sports the aforementioned six LAN ports along with the WAN port, a power on/off switch, and a reset pinhole. There is one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port along the side of the router behind an easy-to-open door, and the front boasts push-button control of Wi-Fi, LEDs, and WPS.

netgear x8 4

In addition to the features listed above, it also supports all the traditional features you’d expect from a Netgear AC router including beamforming, DLNA support, Dynamic QoS, and it even supports ReadyCLOUD USB access, so you can access data stored on a connected USB device from any internet connection, basically turning any portable hard drive into a NAS. It also supports the Smart Connect technology we saw in the Gen 1 routers, whereby both 5GHz bands appear as one SSID allowing the router to “intelligently” assign devices to the band it thinks will offer the most bandwidth.

NightHawk X8 USB Ports

The Netgear Nighthawk X8 AC5300 sells at retail for $399 (currently on sale at $349), making it $100 more expensive than the previous model, the Nighthawk X6. For comparison, the Asus AC5300 router sells on Amazon for $495 currently, so the Nighthawk X8 seems like a bargain by comparison, but it’s quite a bit more pricey than AC3200 routers.

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