Netgear Nighthawk X8 AC5300 WiFi Router
Today, we take our first look at Netgear’s flagship router, the Nighthawk X8 R8500 AC5300 WiFi Router. This router has hit shelves just in time for the holiday gift buying season and is priced at around $343 shipped
from most major retailers. This price certainly reflects the standing of the Nighthawk X8 as the leader in the Netgear series of routers but our expectations of what this router brings to the table are high as this is one of the most expensive home networking devices we have looked at.
In the past, the Netgear Nighthawk WiFi routers have been among the leaders in every battery of tests that we have performed here. The Tri-Band Nighthawk X6 is currently one of our favorites and has been the centerpiece of our tests for the past year. It is going to take a lot to unseat the X6 as our “Router King”, but on paper, the Nighthawk X8 seems to have what it takes.
The list is long as to what the X8 brings to the table. First of all, the Nighthawk X8 router features Tri-Band technology that is designed to move massive amounts of data over wireless connections. The X8 is capable of (combined) wireless speeds up to 5.4Gbps over three WiFi bands: 2.4GHz (1000 Mbps/1024 QAM); 5GHz-1 (2166 Mbps/1024 QAM); and 5GHz-2 (2166 Mbps/1024 QAM).
What this means is that the X8 not only doubles the available 5GHz bandwidth, but it also allows for two bands to easily separate slower and faster WiFi devices combined with Netgear’s “Quad Stream” support (ie. Devices with 4x4 antennas). The X8 optimizes WiFi performance across your network by using “Smart Connect” to strategically assign every device to the fastest WiFi possible. With three radios, the R8500 has the ability to broadcast three distinct network names, but with Smart Connect, you attach your wireless device When you connect the router via WiFI, you will only see one WiFi network name which connects to both 5 GHz bands.
The Nighthawk X8 also does some heavy lifting when it comes to Load Balancing as the router moves devices like printers, older computers, IP cameras to the 2.4 GHz band. If the client's signal strength is low or is an 11a, 1x1 11n, or 2x2 11n, the R8500 connects the new client to the 5GHz-1 band (or Channels 36-48). All other WiFi devices including 802.11ac and 3x3 802.11n devices connecting at a long range will connect to the 5GHz-2 band (or Channels 148-161).
This technology makes the Netgear R8500 one of the more technically advanced routers on the market, but frankly, we have seen this sort of thing before in other Netgear products like the R8000 and the Linksys EA8500. The folks at Netgear have introduced some new capabilities to make this generation of router even more technologically advanced.
The Netgear Nighthawk X8 is the first router designed with active antenna technology that helps to improve overall WiFi performance by amplifying the signal through the antennas themselves. The X8 has 4 internal antennas for the 5GHz Band (Channel 148-161) and 4 external antennas for 2.4GHz and 5GHz Band (Channel 36-48).
By including active antennas on the X8 Netgear found that it helped to provide a cleaner and stronger signal to your mobile device. This improvement should be seen across all new and older devices but should have the greatest effect on older, legacy devices which sometime struggle with connection quality issues.
Another new key feature is in the fact that router has six gigabit Ethernet LAN ports that allow you to connect even more wired devices than the standard 4. These ports can be aggregated to double the connection speed to a network attached storage (NAS) unit. This is ideal for 4K HD streaming, fast backups and the transferring of data.
Along with these new and upgraded features, Netgear is equipping the R8500 with Dynamic QoS and Netgear's ReadyCLOUD. Dynamic QoS is where the router resolves internet traffic congestion and prioritizes data packets depending on the type of data that is streaming. If you are a gamer, or have a gamer on your network, you want to make sure online frag sessions aren't interrupted by someone trying to stream Fraggle Rock from Netflix. Netgear's Dynamic QoS automatically allocates bandwidth to latency sensitive application - like online gaming. Even after you initiate this feature and prioritize, the X8 will make sure that the lowest prioritized applications always have some measure of throughput and never be completely stopped.
- Nighthawk X8 AC5300 R8500 (R8500-100NAS)
- AC5300 (1000 + 2166 + 2166 Mbps)
- Simultaneous Tri-Band WiFi - Tx/Rx 4x4 (2.4GHz) + 4x4 (5GHz) + 4x4 (5GHz)
Number of Ethernet Ports
- Implicit & Explicit Beamforming for 2.4 & 5GHz bands
Number of USB Ports
- Seven (7) 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet ports: 1 WAN & 6 LAN
- Dual Gigabit Ethernet Port Aggregation
- Two (2) USB ports: 1 USB 3.0 & 1 USB 2.0 port
- 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
- 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
- Powerful dual core 1.4GHz processor
- 128 MB Flash and 512 MB RAM
- Dimensions: 12.44 x 10.39 x 2.40 in (316 x 264 x 61 mm)
- Weight: 3.70 lb (1680 g)
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Setting up the Netgear R8500
Like previous Netgear router products, the X8 R8500 setup can be performed from your PCs browser, a smartphone, or tablet. Setup for novice users as well as advanced can be performed directly from Netgear's "Genie" a free application that you can use to monitor, control, and repair your home network available here: www.netgear.com/landing/en-us/netgear-genie.aspx
Netgear ships the Nighthawk X8 with a power adapter, AC cable, an Ethernet cable, and Installation Guide. Not really anything extra special, but enough to get your network up and running.
Netgear’s approach to the design of the Nighthawk X8 makes the fairly large unit look modern and sleek. Besides the removable “active” antenna, there are a bank of LEDs on the top-left side of the router. There are also lighted buttons on the front panel. The bank of LEDs on top of the router include the Power LED, Internet LED, 2.4 GHz, WiFi, 5 GHz 1 WiFi, 5 GHz 2 WiFi, USB 1 LED, USB 2 LED, and Ethernet port 1-6 LEDs. Each one of the LEDs are able to show different states that the router is in by actively blinking or remaining solid.
On the front of the Nighthawk, we see an LED Control Button, WPS button, and a WiFi toggle button. The LED Control button will let you toggle how the LEDs on top act. You can have them blink all the time, not blink or turn completely off. There is also the WPS button that lets you use WPS to join the WiFi network without typing a WiFi password. Lastly, there is the WiFi button. When you press this button you can toggle the 2.4 and two 5 GHz radios on and off.
Netgear didn't mess with a winning formula and continues to give you a few different ways to access the router. You can use your browser and go to http://routerlogin.net
and use the wizard to set things up or, for the more advanced user, go directly to http://192.168.1.1
and manually set things up. Since we have gone through Netgear's Set-up numerous times with previous Netgear routers, we will spare the details with you and refer you to our older articles.
Our router shipped with firmware version V126.96.36.199_1.025 but we upgraded to the latest available software: V188.8.131.52_1.0.41. You can grab the latest firmware/software as well as all the Netgear documentation from their download center here
While we really didn’t see any speed or performance difference from the upgrade, the Netgear Firmware notes mention the latest firmware improves the R8500 general Wi-Fi performance and stability as well as OpenVPN throughput. This firmware also introduces support for Airtime Fairness which is a feature that boosts overall network performance mostly used when there are a number of legacy or older devices connected to the network. For those gamers out there, you will want to leave the AIRTIME FAIRNESS option enabled so that your primary gaming computers will have lag-free performances.
For those who hate the idea of using anyone’s stock firmware, the Netgear R8500 Nighthawk does indeed support Open Source firmware. Most notably, the R8500 supports DD-WRT and its late build “Kong Mod” (Build 28575). While there haven’t been too many problems listed on the various DD-WRT support pages, we haven’t really played around with open source firmware. It is nice, however that the Broadcom-powered Netgear units support alternative firmware.
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Next up, we wanted to take a look at the speed of the router using one of our traditional speed tests. See how well the Nighthawk X8 does.
Netgear R8500 Wireless Speed Tests
We set up the Netgear R8500 router connected to our desktop PC running Windows 10 Pro 64-bit and configured the router using “Automatic” settings for our 5Ghz band and called it “LEGIT”. We then took our Alienware M17XR4 laptop to use as a client and connected it to a different Netgear R8500 router configured in “Bridge Mode”. The pairing of a R8500 with another R8500 should show us the maximum WiFi speeds capabale of this brand new wireless-AC router.
We took our Alienware M17XR4/R8500 Bridge and didn’t tell the client anything more than the SSID name for each router tested and let it automatically choose the cleanest channel to connect to. For the fastest possible data throughput, the routers were set to “Unsecure Mode” and with WMM turned ON. After connecting, we ran the application LAN Speed Test (LST)
to measure file transfer and network speeds. LST builds a file in memory and then transfers the packet without the effects of windows file caching. It then reports the time and calculates the network speed.
We repeated the test 2 more times rotating the router 90 degrees after each test to make sure that the router’s speed was affected adversely by its orientation. We took speed measurements at two different locations of the Legit Bunker: In the “Same Room” at exactly 5.5 feet away from the test router; and in a “Far Room”, one level below (wood framed floor) where the client router/bridge sat. Doing this should really give us a nice taste of how our routers perform in the real-world.
Benchmark Results: Looking at the 1MB test for the Netgear R8500 shows us some of the fastest speeds we have tested. Because our testing methodology has changed, we didn’t show a large suite of routers, but looking back at our top performers, we have never had a router break the 900 Mbps barrier. When comparing the R8500 with the Netgear R8000, we found a significant improvement over the previous generation flagship router.
Benchmark Results: Because we like to evaluate data packets that are similar to multimedia-size data, our 100MB tests are always quite interesting. Again we see the Netgear X8 R8500 posting the fastest speeds we have measured. With an average Write Average Write speed of over 450 Mbps and Average Read Speeds over 550 Mbps look to be the fastest we have ever seen.
Netgear R8500 Netperf Router Speed Tests
Netperf is a lightweight benchmarking tool that can be used to measure the performance of a variety of different networking technology. Netperf includes tests that can evaluate unidirectional throughput between a client and server, and latency between endpoints. As such, it a useful tool for testing the performance of network controllers, like Killer Wireless or Killer Ethernet.
Netperf works by sending packing of data from its server module, to the client module, and measuring the throughput. The server and clients must be run from both endpoints, i.e. the client and server machines, to measure throughput in both directions. Measuring throughput in both directions is somewhat akin to measuring download and upload speeds.
The Router Gaming Test:
PC Gaming is big and the performance of your network is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to having a good gaming experience. Many games have a client-server communication model, where all the critical data is crunched by the server and then sent back to the clients over UDP. Your system and the server are constantly sending data back and forth over UDP and game developers usually use tiny 100-200 byte packets to reduce the overhead of creating and sending all the packets. We perform this test with 128 Byte packets .
Benchmark Results: The Netperf results look a lot like our LAN Speed Test results in that the Netgear X8 AC5300 WiFi Router is significantly faster than that of the, now 'legacy' Netgear R8000. We ran a number a different tests with Netperf and in each one, we saw a tremendous increase in every packet test. The combination of the Netgear R8500 wireless bridge communicating to another R8500 router no doubt shows us the maximum router performance.
Benchmark Results: Here we look at one of the largest data packets that Perf Test allows, the approximately 1.5GB data packet whish is the typical packet size that is used when your network is performing file transfers or HTTP/website traffic. The Netgear R8500 still dominates the R8000 with speeds of up to 1GB per second. These are some of the fastest speeds we have measured regardless of our testing methodology.
Benchmark Results: This last test is our TCP and UDP Round Robin test that is essentially our latency test. As a lower latency device or adapter would be able to send an receive more quickly, returning a larger number of transmissions. We see here that the Netgear R8500 again outclasses the R8000 in overall performance.
Netgear R8500: Network Attached Storage Tests
One of the major components of these next-generation routers is the ability for them to double as home-ready Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. If a person didn’t want to spend a lot of money for a stand-alone NAS unit which could cost hundreds of dollars for a 2TB unit, an integrated solution that allows you to add a USB Flash drive for much less might be perfect. Of course the question is how good is the performances of these routers when it comes to attached storage.
For our Router Storage test, we used the very popular ATTO Disk Benchmark to measure transfer speeds of our router’s USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. ATTO measures raw transfer rates for both Read and Write plotting them in a graph that is easy to understand. We ran our routers with this test with default ATTO settings of 0.5 KB up through 8192.0 KB transfer sizes with the total length being 256 MB.
The folks at Kingston were kind enough to send over a Kingston DataTraveler HyperX 3.0 64GB USB drive ($60.00 shipped
) for our tests. The Kingston HyperX USB 3.0 Flash drive is rated conservatively at 225MB/s read and 135MB/s write. On our test system we were able to get 300MB/s read and 160MB/s write speeds on the DTHX30/64GB. Those speeds should be well over what this generation routers can support. We wanted to make sure the write speeds would be high enough not to bottleneck the benchmarks of these next generation routers.
Benchmark Results: When comparing the Netgear R8500 storage speeds to others in our suite of routers, the Nighthawk X8 doesn’t exactly lead the pack, but it does quite well. The USB 3.0 Average Write speeds measured in at around 75 MB/s which puts it near the top of all routers we have tested. Average Read speeds in the middle of the pack but still pretty good at almost 68 MB/s. For those looking to share data easily over their network, using the Nighthawk’s USB 3.0 port is a simple and economic way to create a personalized network attached storage (NAS).
Results: Looking at the USB 2.0 we see the Nighthawk X8 R8500 Average Read and Average Write speeds were towards the top of our results chart. Clocking in at 38.59 MB/s (Ave. Read) and 30.94 MB/s (Ave. Write), the R8500 is only bettered by its Netgear cousin the R8000. Most people who will use the USB 2.0 port will be using it to extend their printer or scanner to their network and these speeds will be perfectly suitable for this kind of use.
Netgear R8500: Power Consumption
Power consumption by your home’s electronic devices continues to be a very important issue so we have made an attempt to present some simple power consumption tests on the various routers that we had. To measure idle usage, we reset each wireless router to the default settings and plugged them with no devices connected to them. We then measured the power draw from each router at the wall with our P3 International P4400 Kill-A-Watt electric usage monitor.
Benchmark Results: It is quite apparent that the Netgear Nighthawk X8 AC5300 is very power hungry under idle conditions. We measured the Nighthawk X8 at 56% higher than its cousin the Netgear R8000 and ASUS’ RT-AC3200 router. All three of these routers are Tri-Band routers with the only difference being in the “Active Antennas” the Nighthawk X8 has introduced.
For the most part, when people start using these routers into their network, they really don’t think about the power usage. In the above chart we have examined how each of these devices do when they are idle, but for power users who are using Bittorrent, playing online games, or who have busy small office, their routers are almost always in constant use. We were curious to see if there were any power differences between these networking devices at idle and when they are under full load.
The way we measured the power draw at load is that we started multiple instances of LAN Speed Test, our application to test the routers wireless throughput speeds. We did multiple instances of large packet sizes (5 GB) to keep the processors on each device busy. Each router was connected to our P3 International P4400 Kill-A-Watt electric usage monitor and the results are plotted below:
Benchmark Results: Under load, the Netgear R8500 uses 21.5 Watts of power making it the most consumptive router we have tested. Under load, the R8500 uses about 10% more power than when it is at idle. What is interesting is that both the ASUS RT-AC3200 and Netgear R8000 had similar power spikes (of around 10%) when running under load as well. In comparison, the Linksys WRT1900AC had an almost 60% jump in power consumption.
Netgear R8500: Final Thoughts and Conclusions
Netgear has been one of our favorite networking brands for many, many years. Because they have been very consistent releasing high-quality products and updates to their entire line of products is one of the reason they have been one of the first companies we mention when making recommendations.
The Netgear Nighthawk X8 AC5300 WiFi Router is not really that revolutionary and essentially contains only a few features that we have not seen on other flagship routers: the new active antenna design, and aggregated Ethernet ports are the two new highlights that Netgear has introduced. Other routers in this class (like the Netgear R8000 or Linksys EA8500) already have been working with multiple radios, MU-MIMO-ready setups, and network attached cloud storage.
As we look at the Netgear R8500, we have to note the design change from R8000. For many years, Netgear’s routers looked cookie-cutter and the same. When the Nighthawk line was introduced a few years ago, it was a departure from the boxy form to a more sleek style. When the R8000 was introduced, it was not only large, but radical in style looking like an alien mothership with its flip-up antennas and Batman-inspired slopping nose. The Netgear R8500 is a return to ‘sleek and stylish’. The router is still quite large, but the design isn’t exactly radical. The router won’t keep you up at night in a mostly dark room with a bunch of flickering lights. The antennas are trimmed in a nice mellow blue and you can control how the rest of the LEDs act from the router itself – no need to grab a computer and log in.
One of the biggest issues with the Netgear R8500 is the price. At $343.00 shipped
, the router is one of the most expensive we have tested. For a router that has only a few never-before-seen features, this might be a show-stopper for many people. The R8500 has been a rock solid performer when it comes to throughput, WiFi speeds, and all the features one could imagine, but the fact remains that the router costs the same as a laptop computer. Netgear outfits the Nighthawk R8500 with a limited 1-year Hardware Warranty that also gives you 24/7 technical support for 90 days from the purchase date.
The Netgear X8 R8500 is like that luxury vehicle that you want
– not need. Sure you could go with something more economical and scaled back, but what fun is that? Does everyone need to purchase the Netgear X8 R8500? At $343, certainly not. Does the R8500 do anything more than other routers? Nope, not at all. There are certainly routers that have three radios, feature beamforming, Dynamic QoS, and can convert your USB hard drive to Network Attached Storage. While MU-MIMO has not been universally adopted for a large number of devices, it’s good to know that the function is present on the router, but at this cost we really would like to see it active. We honestly don’t know how much longer Netgear (and others) can get away with the whole “MU-MIMO Capable” like and not start to turn off users.
For all the reasons above, we give X8 Netgear's R8500 our Editors' Choice Award. the R8500 is as close to a complete package as you can get. It's speed, looks, and general capabilities will enhance any home or office network. Besides a slightly lofty price, the only thing missing from this router is MU-MIMO that is fully functioning.
Legit Bottom Line: Although expensive, we absolutely love the Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500 AC5300. The X8 Wi-Fi is the fastest we have ever seen, has multiple Ethernet ports that expands it use for expanded NAS use as well as peripherals. We aren’t sure the R8500 has enough bells and whistles to justify its cost – and the MU-MIMO functionality has yet to be initiated, but this is far and away the best router we have seen.