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Lifewire / Erika Rawes
Alexa and Google Assistant compatible
Wi-Fi 6 compatible
Lacks good antivirus protection
The Netgear Nighthawk AX12 is a beast, but it may be a bit too much for the average user.
The Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 is supposed to provide lightning-fast speeds while serving as one of the best long-range wireless routers currently on the market. Fully loaded with Wi-Fi 6 technology, smart home connectivity, and a slew of other features, the AX12 should be an ideal router for small businesses, very large homes, or for homes with multiple devices. I tested the Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 to see how well it performs in the real world.
The Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 has a futuristic design—angular, with clean lines. It looks like a cross between a spaceship and the Batmobile. It’s matte black and rectangular, but instead of the multiple antennas you’d typically see protruding from the top of a Nighthawk router, it has two wing-like extensions that come from each side.
The eight antennas are housed inside of the two wings, so they’re not visible. The antennas are supposed to be ideally pre-positioned for you to get the best possible connection. However, because the eight individual antennas are housed within the wings, you can’t adjust them to your liking. The wings are on hinges though, so can fold down the wings to store the router, as the unit is somewhat large and bulky. It weighs three pounds, and it measures about a foot wide and almost eight inches in depth.
The Netgear Nighthawk app walks you through the setup process. There’s a QR code sticker on the router, as well as a temporary network name and password on the label, which allow you to connect quickly and easily.
The app guides you through creating separate 2.4 and 5GHz networks, but you can also take advantage of a feature called smart connect, which combines your networks and designates your devices based on optimal performance. You can create a guest network, as well as manage and monitor your devices individually. The initial setup process took me about ten minutes in total.
The RAX120 is a workhorse. It's classified as a dual-band router, but there's also a tri-band version available (the RAX200). The RAX120 supports 802.11ax, which is also known as Wi-Fi 6. Although Wi-Fi 6 is still relatively new, the addition of Wi-Fi 6 future-proofs the RAX120 to a certain degree. It allows for faster speeds, better battery life on your Wi-Fi 6 compatible and IoT devices, and less congestion on your network.
With the addition of 802.11ax, the RAX120 also supports 8-stream MU-MIMO, which means your wireless router can communicate with several streaming devices at the same time without experiencing too much congestion. Support for beamforming and Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) also promotes better performance. The RAX120 is backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac as well, so it’ll work with virtually all of your devices, Wi-Fi 6 or not.
The RAX120 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back (two of which can be combined to support a larger file transfer rate of 2 GB) and a multigig Ethernet port that supports speeds up to 5 gigs. I was impressed overall with the location and specifications of the ports, but I would have liked to see more Ethernet ports on a router this expensive.
The Nighthawk RAX120 indicates top speeds of 1,200 Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band and 4,800 Mbps on the 5Ghz band. My Internet speed maxes out at 500 Mbps. I have about 50 connected devices, more than half of which are smart home devices like smart light switches, smart appliances, security cameras, and smart speakers and displays. The RAX120 had no problem managing my numerous smart devices, nor did I experience any lag or connectivity issues on streaming and gaming devices. I simultaneously ran a gaming computer, two playstations, and two FireTVs without the connection missing a beat.
I used the smart connect feature when testing the router’s speeds, and it did a decent job of moving me to the appropriate band as I traveled throughout my home. On an 802.11ax compatible iPhone, the Nighthawk RAX120 clocked speeds of 469 Mbps while in the same room as the router. Proximity to the router had little impact in Wi-Fi speeds, as the speeds only dropped slightly (to 455 Mbps) when I traveled to the opposite end of my 1,600 square foot home. When I went out to the backyard, however, the speeds dropped more dramatically (to 385 Mbps).
On my laptop, which is not Wi-Fi 6 compatible, the speed maxed out at 410 Mbps, and I saw a substantial drop in the backyard (to 280 Mbps), just as I saw with the phone. The router has an impressive range overall, and I didn’t experience any dead zones, which has been a problem with other routers in the past. The speeds on the RAX120 did slow down when faced with obstructions though, especially outdoor walls and appliances.
The RAX120 is backward compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac as well, so it’ll work with virtually all of your devices, Wi-Fi 6 or not.
Under the hood, the Nighthawk RAX120 has a 64-bit Quad-core 2.2GHz processor. The quality hardware helps ensure stable and reliable performance. The router has two USB 3.0 storage ports on the back for connecting an external hard drive.
For security, the RAX120 features WPA3 support, the ability to connect through a VPN, automatic firmware updates, and the ability to create a guest network. The RAX120 does not, however, support Netgear Armor cyber security software. It would have been nice to have the option to include some sort of software for network protection against malware.
You can enable parental controls on the router. The options are somewhat basic, but they do provide some peace of mind, and they are helpful when paired with other parental control applications.
The RAX120 is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can use voice commands and say things like, “Alexa, ask NETGEAR to enable guest network” or “OK Google, ask NETGEAR to reboot my router.”
The router has two USB 3.0 storage ports on the back for connecting an external hard drive.
In the Nighthawk app, you can change your router’s settings, create a guest network, control your router remotely, manage your devices individually, and you can test your network speeds. However, when testing my network speeds, they consistently clock much faster on the Nighthawk app than on other platforms like Ookla and VeeApps.
The Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 12-Stream AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Router will cost you a pretty penny—it sells for $400, which is $100 lower than its original retail price of $500. But it’s still on the higher end of the price spectrum, especially considering it doesn’t include any sort of mesh points, and you only get the router, power supply, and an Ethernet cable.
More and more Wi-Fi 6 routers continue to hit the market, including the TP-Link Archer AX6000 (view on Amazon). Like the Nighthawk RAX120, the Archer AX6000 has a quad-core processor, but the Nighthawk’s processor is 2.2 GHz, while the TP-Link Archer’s CPU is only 1.8 GHz. The Nighthawk features the WPA3 security protocol, while the Archer AX6000 does not yet have WPA3. The Nighthawk RAX120 doesn’t outshine the Archer in every area though. The TP-Link Archer AX6000 has eight LAN ports, includes antivirus protection, has better integration with smart home platforms, and it costs $100 less.
A cool looking router that’s faster and more powerful than you probably need.
The Nighthawk RAX120 performs impressively, but it‘s costly and lacks some user-friendly features like strong parental controls and easy-to-manage antivirus, so it’ll be more desirable for those with heavier networking demands than the average user.