Review: Netgear Nighthawk X8 router perfect for NBN

AC5300 Smart Wi-Fi Router

Netgear Nighthawk X8

The latest router from Netgear is another in a growing list of NBN-focused routers. This means they’ve ditched the modem and are all about turning higher-speed connections into super-fast WiFi to power the growing list of devices around your home.

Netgear are pitching this router to those who want the best in gaming performance, with WiFi speeds up to 5.3 Gbps and MU-MIMO support, along with Dynamic QoS, which automatically helps prioritize your gaming activity on the network.

If you need the very best possible connection, then the X8 features no less than 6 Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections.

The other key target market is for those data hungry families with plenty of devices and who are streaming-first households. If you’re always competing speed, then the Nighthawk X8 offers Tri-Band WiFi, and MU-MIMO to deliver multiple HD video streams to multiple devices to help reduce buffering and jittery video.

One special trick the X8 has is port aggregation, which allows you to double the connection speed for 4K HD streaming. If you’ve invested in a 4KTV and are comfortable on the top tier of Netflix to take advantage of the extra pixels, the last thing you want is network congestion from holding you back.

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Hardware

The router itself is engineered to be stylish, yet understated, allowing it to comfortably adorn your bench or shelves without yellow ‘look at me’.

Inside the wavy black recangle lives a dual core 1.4GHz processor and 512 MB RAM, not so long ago these were the specs of the computer on your desk.

While the back of the router has 4 pretty substantial antennas, there’s also another 4 inside the case that combine for pretty stunning WiFi broadcasting. This makes the X8 perfect for larger homes that can often struggle to get the WiFi signal to reach everywhere.

Netgear have done something most manufactuers don’t, they considered what the device is like to live with. Practically, they know that not everyone wants their kitchen bench lit up like a blue Christmas tree every night and conveniently provided a LED button on the front to easily disable the lights. This feature is certainly appreciate and something I wish more would offer.

On the side of the router lives a small fold down flap that allows you to connect is a file sharing devices to a USB 3.0 or a USB 2.0 port. Understanding that these shares are often temporary, the location of these ports are convenient and well thought through. I did expect that in 2016 and for the price, these would both be USB 3.0 by now.

Software

The software interface to your Nighthawk X8 is certainly on of the better interfaces we’ve used. Not only does it service the needs of basic and advanced users, options are fit into a perfectly logical structure.

That may seem like a pretty simple benchmark to meet, however its surprisingly far too common that this is done poorly. When you know the configuration you want to achieve, you should be able to log into the router and jump straight to the page where you can apply the necessary change, not guess your way through obscure titles and 15 minutes later find the magic screen you need.

A few key features you’ll want to consider during initial setup is around Guest Network, Parental controls.

The ability to create a Guest Network is great to provide access to the web for family and friends, while not compromising the security of devices on your LAN. By creating a separate Guest WiFi network, you can also ensure nobody gets ideas about controlling your PnP devices like the Xbox or SONOS.

Genie

Often parents ask me about limiting internet access for their kids. Thankfully Netgear have a solution called NETGEAR Genie. Unfortunately this isn’t integrated into the router software, instead is available as a separate application, the download to which is found within the left-hand navigation in the router configuration page, also confusingly called Netgear Genie. This needs to be improved and integrated to the router webpages.

Once you have the software installed, it enables you to log into your router and limit connectivity to specific times of the day or days of the week, but goes further than that, offering content filters, with a choice of None, Low, Moderate, High filtering levels or a Custom that offers an advanced grid of checkboxes to allow or ban specific content areas. This leverages OpenDNS and if you don’t already have an account, they walk you through the setup process.

With Parental Controls, you can get pretty creative with this, like limiting a applying strict filtering on a child’s phone that they may take to their room, but only medium level filtering on a PC in the living room. We see far too often the ability to control the internet in your home, be limited by the router’s functionality, thankfully that’s not the case with the X8.

NetGearX8 on NBN

Performance

The features of a router are certainly impactful on your decision to pick one over another, but perhaps the most important is the performance and speed your router delivers. Given the X8 focuses on the fastest end of the market, they ditched the modem, so ADSL2 customers would need to BYO modem, but most owners will be connecting this to the NBN.

The goal of performance is two-fold, the first is to enable the internet speed entering the router, to reach your devices. The second is to enable connections between devices inside the network (going via the router) to be as fast as possible.

The fastest method will still always be a hard-wired connection from router to device and if you’re lucky enough to live in a networked house, you’ll be living on a gigabit connection, but if you’re on a mobile device, you’re bound by the quality of the WiFi in your router.

With performance as a key goal of this router, both of these objectives are achieved with success. When it comes to Ethernet, you can take your pick on up to 6 Gigabit ports to connect to and if you’re a WiFi user, you’ll be taking advantage those 4 large antennas (and 4 more inside) which help the 802.11AC AC5300 signal be sent directly to your devices. Using beam forming technology, it doesn’t simply blindly send the WiFi in an Omni direction and hope it reaches your device, instead the router understands where devices are located in relation to it and sends more power, more signal in that direction.

For testing, I connected the Nighthawk X8 to an FTTP connection serviced by iiNet, running at a theoretical 100Mbps down and 40Mbps up. On a Sunday afternoon, The X8 managed an average speed of around 84Mbps down and 32Mbps up, using a 5G wirelessly connected laptop, of course with a wired connection, you’d gain another few Mbps, but these really are speeds many Australians could only dream of.

Its hard to say the internet speeds are the best possible with any premium router on the market, but if this was my connection speed to the online world, I’d be definitely be a happy customer.

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Price & Availability

The Netgear Nighthawk X8 is available now and as a premium router, comes with a premium price. Available at all your big electronics retailers and online providers, the X8 is available for between A$589 – A$699.

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Overall

After spending time with the Netgear Nighthwawk X8 router, it’s going to be hard to send back. The router performed well in terms of speed, but you’d expect nothing less at this price point. The features and software were absolute highlights here and the X8 would easily take place on the benches of basic and advanced users. When it comes to networking devices, they’re pretty utilitarian, they should get the job done and let you get back to your connected lives and that’s exactly what the Nighthawk X8 does.

If you’re in the market for a new router, especially if you’re connected to the NBN via FTTN or FTTP, then this router will serve you well for years to come, delivering the best possible speeds to your growing list of devices.

Netgear Nighthawk X8
The Good
  • WiFi Performance
  • Subtle design
  • LED on/off
The Bad
  • No modem
  • Performance
  • Design
  • Features
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