I was super excited when Netgear sent us a brand new Nighthawk X6 R8000 model router to review for Dragonblogger.com as this router is touted as being among the best if not the best Wireless router on the market right now and it has some amazing features where almost all of them I have been able to test to be able to publish this review.
What About the R7000?
First a disclosure, Netgear had sent us an R7000 Nighthawk router at the end of June and I spent weeks in July working with the router which had problems and I worked with the vendor and the only viable conclusion we could come to was that there was a hardware defect in the R7000 model I was trying to review. Netgear instead of sending me an R7000 replacement wound up just sending us the newer R8000 (Nighthawk X6) so I was never actually able to give a proper review of the Nighthawk R7000 which is a different model and as the unit was defective I don’t feel reviewing a defective unit would have been fair to Netgear nor my readers since I did a lot of research and the R7000 had favorable reviews from so many other sites and many favorable reviews on Amazon, plus the problems I had were not ones I found elsewhere and affected both Ethernet and Wi-Fi so clearly made it a defect with that single unit rather than simply an issue with the R7000 model as a whole.
Unboxing the Netgear Nighthawk X6 R8000
So right off the bat there are some clear differences physically between the R7000 and R8000 model units, the R8000 has six antenna which are permanently attached to the base and fold flat which was much nicer than the R7000 having 3 separate antenna that you had to screw on manually.
Right from the unboxing the only negative thing you could say about the Nighthawk X6 is that it is large, very large and with it’s antenna extended it measures 14″ from antenna to antenna horizontally and 9″ from back to front. This makes it require a lot of desk or shelf space, but this is the only negative. The fact that it has instant access to all the important lights and networks right on the top instead of behind or on the side make it that you will benefit from having this router lower on a desk rather than high up on a shelf above your viewing angle too which is something to consider if you often look at your router lights. Don’t like blinking lights? You can shut them all off with the LED on/off switch and not see any lights other than power, but this is a good way to not know if your router is taking traffic too.
This router has 4 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports, a USB 2 and a USB 3 port and your basic uplink port to your cable modem. It has 3 Wi-Fi channels including one 2.4ghz channel and 2 5ghz channels, treat these as really serving 3 wireless networks all at the same time from the same device.
This means you can divide your mobile devices between 2 different 5Ghz networks so that you are reducing the amount of clutter/traffic on the same 5Ghz network for your Wireless N devices). By default you will want to immediately remember to change the default router admin name/password to something secure, and you will know your default Wi-Fi network names by looking at the bottom of your router. I always setup my router via Ethernet first, but it is nice that you can by default configure it directly from Wi-Fi from the start. Or of course you can do Smart Connect, which basically means you would have both your 5ghz networks be the same SSID name, and devices that support dual band will join to both networks and be able to transmit data up to twice as fast.
Ethernet Speed Testing with Nighthawk X6 R8000
But before I get into the Wi-Fi Testing I had some curious questions, I was on a Gig-E Ethernet with a previous router, could I see any difference? So I decided to try direct Gig-E only throughput tests between the Netgear Nighthawk X6 and the LinkSys EA 4500 and was surprised to see that doing nothing but unplugging the Ethernet from 1 router to the other, I could more throughput on Ethernet from Speedtest from the Netgear Nighthawk X6, this probably has to do with a faster processor in analyzing traffic since both routers have Gig-E ports.
The Linksys EA4500 I was never getting more than 105Mbps downstream, testing over and over from the same Tucson, AZ Speedtest location.
This is the Netgear Nighthawk X6 with the stock firmware it comes with.
Testing the same exact location with the Netgear Nighthawk X6 and I consistently got above 125Mbps even hitting 129.9 Mbps in some tests with more upload throughput after updating to latest Firmware. Again, I have no idea why the firmware would cause a 2x boost in upload speeds, but that was the only change between tests and I did multiple tests before taking this as my capture. Upload speed was all over the place but never below 10Mbps and is more limited by the ISP itself.
This was my throughput after the Firmware upgrade, not subsequent tests were all very similar but generally in every test the Netgear Nighthawk X6 outperformed the Linksys EA4500 by at least 20% on Ethernet ports.
Wi-Fi Testing and Distance Testing with an iPad 2
I really like in the Nighthawk X6 Router GUI how you can clearly see your Wi-Fi networks sectioned off and which devices are connected to which networks. It makes it really easy to see where your Wi-Fi devices are connected, and I do have about 21 Wi-Fi connected devices in my house and only 1/3 were paired with the Netgear Nighthawk X6 at the time of this screenshot.
InSSIDer Home showed strong signals for my networks and no overlap with neighbor networks.
I always do my initial test about 10′ away from a Wi-Fi router to see where we get our baseline for speed and I always repeat 3 tests when using mobile devices taking the range that fell in the middle. So for the iPad 2 connection to the 2.4ghz network I got a fairly solid throughput through 1 wall in another room about 10′ away from the Netgear Nighthawk X6
Then I walked outside my house and tested down to the mailbox, this is about 20′ from the router and there is a solid brick wall between the router and where I am standing. Speeds were still impressive for being about 20′ away. Again, this is on the 2.4ghz network not the 5gz network or the dual band.
Then I just walked down to about 2 neighbors houses away, I would have to estimate I was 3 1/2 house distances away, or approximately 50′ from the Wi-Fi router with now multiple walls from 3 homes blocking the signal.
I could have pushed it further, but the distance I tested was so much farther than anybody would be from one end of a home to another unless they had a mansion and I was really impressed the 2.4ghz signal was that strong at that distance, more than passable. For PC Wi-Fi transfer speeds, I plugged in a USB Wi-Fi Adapter.
I have a Netgear USB Wi-Fi adapter which I use for Wi-Fi testing on my desktop as it doesn’t have a Wireless card or Wi-Fi built into the motherboard. It is also a Netgear product (which I actually had long before I got the Nighthawk X6 to test). It is only a N600 compatible Adapter, not N900 and does not do Wireless AC, so therefore I cannot do any testing with Wi-Fi 5g dual band or Wireless AC testing at this time.
At the same distance and with the same files, I initiated transfers of a large file between 2 machines on the Wi-Fi network.
A 5G to 5G Wireless device and I was getting between 9.2 and 9.8MBps transfer speeds which is around 78Mbps transfer upload speed, again no dual band here.
Downloading saw around 10-11MBps which is 88Mbps.
I also used a LAN Speedtest tool that I found on CNET and it showed worse performance than just doing Shared drive file copy to copy, but was similar.
Not sure where the latency is on those, but my download speeds on SpeedTest.net were maxed out at my ISP limit and Download was consistently identical to Ethernet Gig-E on the Wireless 5G network. Upload speed was suspiciously slower but not sure if ISP had limitations at the time of the Wi-Fi testing which was done on a different day than Ethernet testing.
I then proceeded to test the ReadyShare and USB functionality of the Netgear Nighthawk X6.
Netgear Nighthawk X6 and USB Hard Drive
Netgear Genie has a nice ReadySHARE feature where if you plug in a flash drive or even a USB hard drive, in this case I used a 512GB 5400RPM 2.5″ HDD and just put in a USB enclosure and plugged into the USB 3 port of the Netgear Nighthawk X6.
I started doing file transfer tests by backing up more than 115GB of MP3 files from my 2TB drive to the USB drive attached to the Netgear Nighthawk X6 R8000 and had gotten through about 30 minutes of file transfers before all of a sudden, I crashed my router, literally killed it while transferring files and the whole router died. I was able to repeat and it died again after doing massive file transferring.
I was able to reproduce this issue a few times, but after doing some research the latest version of Netgear Nighthawk X6 firmware specifically states it addressed a memory leak issue with USB file transfers. So I updated my firmware to V126.96.36.199_1.0.45 and had to redo all of my testing with Wi-Fi, Ethernet and USB file transferring all over again to make sure the version updated didn’t break or alter my previous test results.
I was also able to crash the router again, so I decided to try with some other USB devices, and had no trouble at all with a 32GB USB flash drive or other USB flash drives. Of course I was copying 25-30GB worth of files and around 5000-6000 files rather than over 115GB and over 19972 files.
So I couldn’t tell if there was a problem with my HDD in USB, though it worked fine when transferring the same files from PC USB port to HDD, or if there is some memory leak on the router and you can potentially cause it to crash if you try to transfer too many files and too much GB, I think the number of files was probably more problematic than a fewer number of files that would add up to that size but this is something I let Netgear know about to see if they have any suggestions.
So I worked with Netgear support and upgraded to the R8000-V188.8.131.52_1.0.69 BETA firmware and tested with a brand new Seagate 2TB HDD Expansion Drive and I was able to progress to over 91% before it crashed again, though I got much further and had no trouble if I were transferring it seems under 100GB or a lower volume of files. I am going to consider this an ongoing support issue and I think it can b e resolved with a firmware patch, but right now if you want to move massive amounts of files, I would suggest doing them in 50GB chunks to avoid potentially crashing your router, though Netgear did import my config and claims they tested with over 25000 files and 215GB without issue, so there could be something specific about my system that is causing the router crash. Again when the router locks up it shows like it’s working, except you can’t hit anything on 192.168.1.1 and nothing responds, only unplugging and plugging in the power will reset the router at this point.
Finally after working with Netgear support we found out which function of the router was causing it to crash and this was the DLNA feature in the Media Server function under Advanced Settings.
Once I disabled the “Enable DLNA Media Server” I was able to copy all 115GB of data just fine and I repeated it over Ethernet, Wi-Fi and with the USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports on the Netgear Nighthawk R8000, so I am still wondering if this feature is needed to have my external drive work like a media hub and continue to work with Netgear on figuring out if this is resolvable and needed.
All of my Wi-Fi devices and in particular my iPhone 5s and Kindle Fire HDX devices appear more stable on the Netgear Nighthawk X6 and have much better range and signal on the 5g network. No devices I had supported dual 5ghz Band, the Kindle Fire HDX supports dual band on 5g / 2.4ghz but not dual 5g networks. The other thing is that my PlayStation 4 in particular which is far from my router and my DISH Network Hopper DVR which is right next to my PS4 have stronger signals to the Netgear Nighthawk X6 at the same distance than my former Linksys router, they also get better speed tests for streaming Netflix and most importantly when using the DISH Anywhere service, where you are streaming your Live TV or HD content from your DISH DVR through your router so that you can watch it from a mobile app or PC website in another location this primarily uses your Upstream on your router and ISP and it worked SO much better on the Netgear Nighthawk X6 compared to my former Linksys router. I say it is because the antenna are stronger by far. I am very pleased with the Netgear Nighthawk X6 and as a result have now installed this as my permanent router as it will also allow me to do more longevity tests. I had this router in place and being tested for 3 weeks to write this review, but I also want to make sure this router holds up for 3 months, 6 months, 1 year…etc as well in the long run. We have identified which config setting was causing the USB file transfer issue so that is progress and it shouldn’t affect most users. I deducted .5 star from the router as a result of this issue if I can find out how to resolve it I may restore the half star if it is just a firmware patch.
Disclosure: I am part of the Netgear Ambassador program where Netgear will send me products to review and showcase to our audience, Netgear only provides physical copies of products to review no other compensation and all opinions are 100% mine and mine alone.