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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Saw boosted top speeds
Seamless mesh networking
4 GB ethernet ports
Built for future
Frustrating setup process
Awkward, wobbly design
The Wi-Fi 6-enabled Netgear Nighthawk AX8 undoubtedly brings powerful benefits, but if you’re not yet fully committed to embracing the standard, then don’t start with this pricey extender.
Most Wi-Fi extenders are reasonably affordable devices that are pretty easy, straightforward ways to improve your existing home Wi-Fi situation. Netgear’s Nighthawk AX8 (EAX80) Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Extender takes on a different kind of philosophy. That’s reflected in the boosted price, certainly, but also the capabilities: this is the first Wi-Fi 6 extender on the market.
Wi-Fi 6 is a new standard that not only allows for faster maximum speeds than previous generations but also better accommodates the increasing pile of wireless devices that we have around our homes and connecting at any given time—from phones to laptops and smart home gadgets. Newer smartphones and laptops are implementing support for the standard, and new Wi-Fi routers are being released to supply those benefits.
If you don’t already have one of those new Wi-Fi 6 routers, should you spend extra for the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 to futureproof your setup? Here’s what I think after testing the device for several days across everyday web usage, media streaming, playing online games, and more.
The Netgear’s Nighthawk AX8 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Extender is not only the largest and heaviest Wi-Fi extender I’ve tested at 10 inches tall and nearly two pounds, but it’s also one of the oddest-looking. It has a lot more angles and tapered elements than I’d think are necessary, which results in an overall look that’s dynamic but ultimately awkward. Also, the little plastic feet don’t do a great job of supporting the weight, making it a bit wobbly on a flat surface.
With very large sides, the front is really just a small panel with light-up LED indicators showing connectivity details and which Ethernet ports are in use. There’s also a small WPS button beneath the LED panel for easy connectivity with a router. On the wider back panel are the four wired Ethernet ports for plugging in devices such as game consoles and computers, as well as a USB 3.0 port, DC power port, and the power button itself.
It has a lot more angles and tapered elements than I’d think are necessary, which results in an overall look that’s dynamic but ultimately awkward.
The setup options for the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 are the same as with Netgear’s other extenders—even those without Wi-Fi 6 support. You’ll begin with the extender plugged in near your router. If your router supports WPS, then you can pair the extender with it easily by following the process listed in the included booklet, which is as simple as pressing a button on the router and then doing the same on the extender.
If that’s not an option, or you’d rather follow a step-by-step process with prompts, then you can set it up using either a mobile (iOS or Android) app or a web browser on your computer.
The mobile app has been unreliable in my experience with other Netgear extenders, but it was much worse when setting up the Netgear Nighthawk AX8. The app repeatedly could not connect with the created mesh network on the extender during setup, and I had to factory reset the device multiple times to start again.
Over and over, the setup process wouldn’t complete… and then it finally did. I ran into similar issues with the other Netgear extenders, in which setup processes didn’t work as expected on the first or second time, but this was a much longer and more arduous ordeal. Finally, however, I got the Nighthawk AX8 up and running. From there, you’ll need to find a new location for the extender—roughly halfway between the router and your Wi-Fi dead zone is ideal, but play around with positioning if you’re not getting the results you seek.
Once through the hassle of setup, the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Extender really did deliver strong performance. I tested the connection in my office, which reliably sees reduced 5GHz reception from my router due to obstructions in between, and saw a noticeable boost in both reception and speed.
In one test, I registered a 5GHz speed of 246Mbps with the extender, which was the fastest wireless speed I’ve seen anywhere in my house using that older, TP-Link router. Given that, I wasn’t prepared for the blistering 406Mbps speed registered by my laptop when plugged into one of the Ethernet ports on the back of the Netgear Nighthawk AX8. The router isn’t Wi-Fi 6 compatible, but I still saw higher top-end speeds than ever before.
The Netgear Nighthawk AX8 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Extender also performed pretty well in distance testing. In another instance, I registered a 5GHz download speed of 87Mbps with my office, and then measured the speeds from my backyard at approximate distance intervals from the extender.
I wasn’t prepared for the blistering 406Mbps speed registered by my laptop when plugged into one of the Ethernet ports on the back of the Netgear Nighthawk AX8.
That 5GHz signal dropped down to 77Mbps at 25 feet, 74Mbps at 50 feet, and 56Mbps at 25 feet—still pretty speedy from the farthest edge of my property. Meanwhile, the 2.4GHz signal started at just 42Mbps at that moment in my office, and dropped to 30Mbps at 25 feet, 28Mbps at 50 feet, and 26Mbps at 75 feet.
Given the high max speeds, it wasn’t surprising to see strong gaming performance, as well. While playing Rocket League, I saw smooth gameplay across the wired Ethernet connection as well as both wireless networks, with a ping as low as 33 via the wired connection. The wireless ping was only a few points higher.
As a Wi-Fi mesh extender, the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 will automatically replicate the SSID of your router’s existing Wi-Fi networks and seamlessly keep you connected whenever you’re in range of either. That’s true even with non-Netgear routers and those without Wi-Fi 6 support, and it’s a huge benefit over some cheaper extenders that don’t keep the same network info intact across devices.
It’s billed as an “8-stream” device, so it should be able to handle several simultaneous media streams at once, with a billed max speed of 4.8Gbps on the 5GHz band and 1.2Gbps on the 2.4GHz band. It has MU-MIMO (multiple users, multi-in multi-out) and beamforming capabilities, promising expanded range of up to 2,500 square feet and support for 30+ simultaneous devices.
If you don’t have a Wi-Fi 6 router, then you’ll either want to start there or consider investing in a Wi-Fi mesh system instead.
The Netgear Nighthawk AX8 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Extender is listed at $250, although it’s being sold for $220 at multiple retailers as of this writing. That’s definitely on the higher end for an extender.
Should you really spend that much on an extender? If you don’t already have a new Wi-Fi 6 router, then probably not. You might see higher peaks of speed as I did, but rather than trying to mix and match old and new tech, you’re probably better off investing in a new Wi-Fi mesh system that can cover the entire house. Netgear’s Orbi is a favorite, as is Google’s similar Nest Wi-Fi system.
Both of these Netgear Nighthawk Wi-Fi extenders will set you back $200 or more, and the key difference between them—aside from design—is the Wi-Fi 6 compatibility of the Nighthawk AX8. The Nighthawk X6S (see on Amazon) doesn’t have that, but it does deliver excellent 5GHz range and has four Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired devices. The Nighthawk AX8 is more future-proof as a result, but at a greater cost that becomes increasingly difficult to justify the higher, it climbs.
Only for early adopters with Wi-Fi 6 routers and devices.
If you’ve already bought a Wi-Fi 6 router and need a little help extending your signal into further corners of your home and/or property, then the Nighthawk AX 8 (EAX 80) is the extender you’ll want. But if you don’t have a Wi-Fi 6 router, then you’ll either want to start there or consider investing in a Wi-Fi mesh system instead. Spending more than $200 on an extender doesn’t make much sense unless you’re adding it to a top-of-the-line system—and don’t mind the significant investment.