Hover over the image for rating details. Quarks rating explanation here.
With the Nighthawk, Netgear was able to combine aesthetically pleasing lines, great functionality and a prominent coolness factor. The sharp edges make it look like a stealth drone or something that came out of a sci-fi movie. Although it’s really subjective, a like the overall design.
When looking at it, the first thing you’ll notice is the 6 antennas (2 on each side). Netgear describes them as high-performance antennas with power amplifiers to maximize coverage. The device’s upper section is a mesh-like plastic material that allows internal heat to vent out and prevent damage from high internal temperatures.
On the back, the X6 is provided with two USB ports (one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0) so that external hard drives can be connected, transforming the router into a Network Attached Storage (NAS)device. there is a WAN port (Internet), Power On/Off switch and the customary four Gigabit Ethernet ports. Since this is a a high-performance router, I would have liked to see some additional Ethernet ports in the back.
The Nighthawk X6 is made out of a hard plastic, which is a pretty common for consumer grade routers and network equipment . Although it doesn’t feel cheap or inadequate, some metal parts would have been nice, especially for the antennas, which seem pretty fragile.
Most external plastic components have a glossy finish. However, fingerprints are not easily seen on the surface.
This is the key section of this review and where this router really shines. Below are some of the main features per Netgear’s specifications:
- AC3200 Tri-Band WiFi (more on this below) IEEE® 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz-256QAM support IEEE® 802.11 a/n/ac 5.0 GHz
- Dual-Core 1GHz processor. with 3 offload processors.
- Memory: 128 MB Flash and 256 MB RAM.
- Smart Connect intelligently selects the fastest WiFi for every device (see comments below).
- Dynamic QoS intelligently prioritizes video streaming & gaming.
- High powered amplifiers and six (6) high performance external antennas.
- Implicit & Explicit Beamforming for 2.4 & 5GHz.
Let’s go over a couple of key features that deserve a little bit more explanation:
Tri-Band Wifi Technology and Smart Connect
WiFi Band 1: 600 Mbps @2.4GHz-256QAM WiFi Band 2: 1300 Mbps @5GHz WiFi Band 3: 1300 Mbps @5GHz
It’s quite common for AC-capable routers nowadays to have dual-bands (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz). The X6 adds an additional 5 GHz band in order to better distribute the load between devices, preventing the overall speed from dropping considerably for all connected systems. This is especially important now that there are more mobile devices using the 5 GHz band.
In addition to this, the X6 is provided with Netgear’s Smart Connect, which can intelligently assign devices to the best WiFi band for maximum speed, effectively separating slower from faster devices so that the latter ones can connect and perform unhindered by the slower devices.
To improve performance even further, the X6 provides Load Balancing across the two 5-GHz bands, so that both bands are utilized as mobile devices are connected to the router as opposed to just using one up to the top of its capability before switching to the second 5 GHz band.
Range of Coverage
Netgear claims the X6 is provided with high performance antennas/amplifiers. I wanted to see how effective the antenna arrangement was in providing additional coverage without having to rent (and learn to use) expensive RF equipment. I decided to do an empirical comparison with a similar AC-band capable router, the Linksys EA6400. Granted, it’s not a tri-band router, however; the objective wasn’t to test speed or connection reliability, but coverage in certain spots in my house. In order to do that, I used the WiFi SweetSpots iOS App.
For this test, the routers were placed next to each other in my office on the second floor of my house. Only my iPhone was connected to each router during each test and only one router was turned on at a time. The following are the spots in my house where the measurements were taken:
- Spot 1: Next to the router.
- Spot 2: First floor, about 30 ft horizontally from router position. No line of sight.
- Spot 3: First floor, room directly below office (where router is located).
- Spot 4: First floor, 5 ft outside the back door (back yard). More than 40 ft horizontally from router position.
- Spot 5: First floor, 5 ft outside front door (front yard). About 30 ft horizontally from router position.
Below are the results of the test. On the left, the measurements with the Linksys router, on the right measurements with Netgear’s Nighthawk X6.
As it can be observed, the Nighthawk X6 surpasses the Linksys router’s coverage in every single spot. Again, this is far from being a scientific test. There is a plethora of factors and variables that might affect coverage in different areas of my house, but I think the test results are a good indication of the router coverage capabilities.
Netgear ships the Nighthawk X6 with a management app called Netgear Genie. It is available for iOS devices, Android devices, Macs and PCs. The router can also be accessed and managed via its web interface (which was the option I used).
The user experience in any of the platforms is the same: lackluster. I would say is the main (and perhaps only) downside of the router. The user interface feels dated and lacking vitality. It’s actually surprising that Netgear paired such an incredibly capable router with such an old software interface.
The general design is not very intuitive. Take the menus, for example. Although the general menus are divided in a Basic and an Advance section, the setup wizard is actually in the advanced section, which doesn’t make much sense to me. Also, the item/section layout between menus doesn’t seem uniform or following a particular flow.
The good news is that Netgear can easily correct this by updating the router’s firmware. Perhaps they are already working on this, time will tell.
The shortcomings of the software interface are made up by its performance. Software is rock solid and responsive when compared to other routers’ interfaces. Once the X6 is setup, you just forget about it, which is exactly what you want from a router that is handling all your entertainment, personal and/or work connections.
Netgear keeps pushing out updates to the X6’s firmware for security fixes, performance improvements and other minor UI features. It’s definitely reassuring to see Netgear on top of their game and keeping up with the latest changes in technology. Other networking companies should take note.
Ease of Use
Once you find your way through the web interface or Genie App, general use and management is simple and easy.
There is an option for easily setting up tablets, smartphones and computers. This feature is called Push ‘N’ Connect, also known as Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). From the Netgear’s support page:
Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) is a network security standard that allows users to easily secure a wireless home network, and connect wireless client devices (iPad’s, smart phones, etc.) to it, without accessing the router’s configuration screens, and without even knowing the wireless network’s security key/passphrase/password. To connect using WPS both your wireless router and your wireless client device must support WPS. Some of NETGEAR’s products use the name Push ‘n’ Connect for WPS.
This section is intended to account for features not usually found in similar products. In the case of the Nighthawk X6, there are several characteristics that make it stand out from the competition:
- Tri-band capable.
- Smart Connect (described above).
- ReadySHARE® USB: USB storage access and streaming media. With the available USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports on the X6 you can connect the USB storage you already own and enjoy high-speed access via WiFi.
At the time of this writing, the Nighthawk X6 is $270 in Amazon. Although it’s not cheap, the price matches the capabilities and performance offered by the router.