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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Fast file transfer
Future-proof Wi-Fi 6 support
No built-in malware protection
No parental controls
The Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 is a flashy dual-band router that features good Wi-Fi speeds, future-proof Wi-Fi 6 support, and fantastic file transfer speed between devices on your network.
Following the publication of our review, Netgear released a firmware update (126.96.36.199) that adds the Netgear Armor malware protection and Circle with Disney Parental Controls that are found on many of Netgear’s other routers, but that we noted were conspicuously missing from the RAX80 before. These additions address two of the RAX80's most significant flaws—the absence of an anti-malware solution and missing parental controls.
The Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 is a dual-band router that packs in Wi-Fi 6 technology, five gigabit LAN ports, link aggregation, and a beastly quad-core processor. The headliner here is Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, which you may or may not even have in your home just yet. As the successor to Wi-Fi 5, 802.11ax promises fantastic speeds of up to 4.8 Gbps and less network congestion.
I recently slotted a Nighthawk RAX80 into my network to put it to the test, looking at everything from Wi-Fi 6 speeds to file transfer performance, and even how well it holds up to general use like streaming and gaming.
When I reviewed the Netgear R7000P, I remarked that the angular design was more evocative of a stealth bomber than a traditional router. With the Nighthawk RAX80, Netgear leans even further into that general design ethos. The angular surfaces are gone, but the upswept antenna sheathes give the router the overall appearance of a graceful flying wing.
The Nighthawk RAX80 might not actually fly, but it does look great on the desk or shelf. The overall shape does look a bit odd when wall-mounted, but it’s small enough that you shouldn’t be forced to mount it if you don’t want to.
The front of the unit is fitted with a breathable grill, with all of the buttons, LEDs, and ports located toward the rear. I did find it a bit difficult to see the LEDs during use due to the positioning. That’s unlikely to be an issue during normal use, but it could be a bit of an annoyance when trying to diagnose connectivity issues.
On the rear, the Nighthawk RAX80 features five Gigabit Ethernet ports, one port to connect to your modem, power button and jack, two USB 3.0 ports, and a switch that allows you to toggle the LEDs on or off.
The Nighthawk RAX80 comes with the antenna wings folded in, so the first step in setting up the router is to fold them out and slot them in place. This is a lot faster than the general modem setup procedure that typically involves screwing each antenna onto the router individually, so the RAX80 definitely scores points there.
The only snag I ran into setting up the RAX80 was that it refused to function without a modem reboot. That’s an issue that I’ve run into before, so it isn’t totally unique, but it is a bit of an annoyance as some routers are more plug and play.
After the reboot, the setup process was quick and easy. You have your choice of setting it up with Netgear’s Nighthawk mobile app or via the web console. I chose to use the old familiar web console to run Netgear’s installation wizard, which ran me through the process of creating an admin password, downloading a firmware update, and setting up the wireless networks.
The wizard does leave advanced settings untouched, but I found the router to work quite well with most of the default settings left as is.
The Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 is an AX6000 dual-band router, which means it’s capable of providing up to 1.2Gbps on the 2.4GHz band and 4.8 Gbps on the 5GHz band. You’ll experience slower speeds with 802.11ac devices and will need 802.11ax devices to see the full benefit, but that’s true of any Wi-Fi 6 router.
Since this is a dual-band router, it has one 2.4GHz band and one 5GHz band, both of which are available at all times. Provide your wireless devices with login information for both, and they will automatically choose the best connection based on the signal strength wherever you are in your house.
This router also supports MU-MIMO with beamforming, allowing it to simultaneously stream to up to four devices simultaneously without anything needing to wait in line. If you have wireless devices that support MU-MIMO, and they’re all used at the same time, that’s a nice feature to have.
For physical connectivity, you get five Gigabit Ethernet ports that can be aggregated if your hardware supports it. That means you can aggregate two ports to enjoy multi-gig internet speeds and file transfer if your setup can take advantage of that.
Since this is a dual-band router, it has one 2.4GHz band and one 5GHz band, both of which are available at all times.
I tested the Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 on a 1Gbps Mediacom cable internet connection, checking both wired and wireless speeds. When connected via Ethernet, I measured a top download speed of 568Mbps, which was a bit slower than my Eero, which notched a top download speed of 627Mbps at the same time.
For wireless, I started out with a close proximity test on the 5GHz band, which yielded a top download speed of 423Mbps. Measured at 10 feet with a closed door in the way, that only dropped down to 420Mbps. At 50 feet, with a few walls and appliances in the way, the top speed I saw was 220Mbps. I also took my mobile device down into my garage, at a distance of about 100 feet, where it had trouble staying connected to the 5GHz network. Connected to the 2.4GHz network, I achieved a maximum download speed of 28.4Mbps.
When connected to a Wi-Fi 6 adapter in a close proximity test, I saw slightly better speeds: 480Mbps compared to 423Mbps with a Wi-Fi 5 adapter. During this same round of testing, the fastest wired speed I saw was 627Mbps from my Eero, and the fastest close range Wi-Fi speed I saw was 587Mbps from an Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 router.
When connected to a Wi-Fi 6 adapter in a close proximity test, I saw slightly better speeds: 480Mbps compared to 423Mbps with a Wi-Fi 5 adapter.
Netgear gives you the option to manage this router via a web portal or a smartphone app. Unlike other Netgear routers I’ve tested, the web portal doesn’t launch automatically with this one, so you aren’t pushed toward using it.
The web portal works well enough, but it is very barebones in terms of both presentation and options. I didn’t have trouble finding settings like quality of service (QoS) and everything was fairly intuitive, but I did notice a fairly glaring lack of parental controls.
Other Netgear routers I’ve tested, including significantly less expensive ones, came with built-in parental controls, and some models even include Circle with Disney built right in. The Nighthawk RAX80, despite its forward-thinking Wi-Fi 6 technology and premium price tag, has no parental controls at all, so keep that in mind if you have kids or teens in your house.
There is a basic firewall option, VPN integration, and DDoS protection, but there is no built-in malware protection. This is another area where Netgear dropped the ball, as I’ve tested less expensive Netgear routers that came with more advanced security options like the Bitdefender-powered Netgear Armor. You won’t get that here, so plan on finding your malware protection elsewhere on a per-device level.
The Nighthawk RAX80, despite its forward-thinking Wi-Fi 6 technology and premium price tag, has no parental controls at all.
With an MSRP of $400, the Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 is an expensive piece of equipment. It’s less expensive than the related RAX200, which has the princely MSRP of $600, but it’s still a very costly router and a significant investment. This is especially true considering the fact that this is just a dual-band router, and you can find cheaper tri-band routers that offer better overall performance.
With the Nighthawk RAX80, you’re paying a premium to future-proof your network for Wi-Fi 6 devices. Even if most of your devices are Wi-Fi 5, that’s going to change, and you’ll be ready for that change if you invest in a router like the Nighthawk RAX80. Spending a bunch of money on a Wi-Fi 5 router when Wi-Fi 6 is on the table isn’t exactly a wise long term investment.
With an MSRP of $300, the TP-Link AX6000 (see on Amazon) is priced significantly lower than the Nighthawk RAX80 right out of the gate. And while these routers have very different looks, they actually have very similar capabilities. They’re both dual-band AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 routers, and they both support four simultaneous wireless streams.
The TP-Link unit has more Ethernet ports, and it also has eight antennas compared to just four on the Nighthawk. It also comes with a three-year subscription to TP-Link HomeCare, which provides anti-malware and antivirus protection in addition to parental controls, which the Nighthawk lacks.
Since these routers are so similar in capabilities, but the TP-Link has a few extras, I have to give the edge to the TP-Link. If you were to find them priced the same, which does happen, and you don’t need parental controls, then the more aesthetically pleasing Nighthawk RAX80 is still worth a look.
A powerful Wi-Fi 6 router that fails to shine if you’re still on Wi-Fi 5.
The Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 is a fantastic Wi-Fi 6 router, but you won’t see it live up to its full potential unless you have a lot of Wi-Fi 6 devices. Since it’s only a dual-band router, you’ll see better real-world performance out of Wi-Fi 5 devices if you opt for a powerful tri-band router instead. The name of the game here is future-proofing though, and the Nighthawk RAX80 has that in spades, so long as the price manages to keep up with similarly-equipped hardware.
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