Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 router review: A fast, versatile 802.11ax router

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
284
inc VAT

If you're willing to pay a premium price for faster performance, it may be worth looking elsewhere, even if this is a solid router

Pros 
Excellent performance over 802.11ac
4x4 MU-MIMO
Good physical connections
Cons 
Not quite as fast as the competition
Unambitious feature set
Only dual-band
Advertisement

Netgear’s Nighthawk AX8 is a swish new router promising superfast wireless performance over the new 802.11ax standard (also known as Wi-Fi 6), while also supporting clients using 802.11ac and older Wi-Fi technologies. Unlike the pared-down Nighthawk AX4, it’s an uncompromising design with impressive technical specifications, including a total throughput of 6Gbits/sec. It’s also quite a bit more expensive than the AX4, however. Is it worth paying the extra?

READ NEXT: Here are our picks of the best wireless routers you can buy

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 router review: What you need to know

The Nighthawk AX8 is a 4x4 MU-MIMO router with support for the whole swathe of wireless standards, including the latest 802.11ax connections. It’s a dual-band design, with one 2.4GHz radio rated at 1.2Gbits/sec and one 5GHz radio with a claimed maximum speed of 4.8Gbits/sec. At the rear, there are five Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB 3 ports, for connecting wired clients, storage devices and peripherals

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 router review: Price and competition

The AX8’s £284 price may seem steep but if you want an 802.11ax router with MU-MIMO, it’s currently your cheapest option. For a while, the excellent Asus RT-AX88U was on sale for £261 but at the time of writing it’s gone up to £301. It’s still very much worthy of consideration, though, thanks to its huge feature set and excellent real-world performance.

Aside from that, the other notable 802.11ax options right now are also from Netgear: the Nighthawk AX4 (link when live) is the value option, costing £201 but lacking MU-MIMO and only promising half the total bandwidth. In the other direction, the £360 Nighthawk AX12 features 8x8 MU-MIMO, so speeds should hold up even when you have dozens of clients talking to the router at once.

Gamers should also check out the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000,  an 802.11ax router focused on gaming. It costs a pricey £380 but includes numerous software features designed to improve your gaming experience, as well as twin 5GHz radios to give you more options for segmenting and managing your traffic.

READ NEXT: Netgear Nighthawk AX4 review

Features and design

I criticised the Netgear Nighthawk AX4 for feeling slightly cheap but I can’t make the same complaint about the AX8. Its whimsically aerodynamic design feels rock-solid and hits all the right associations. Embedding the antennae in upright “wings” is a smart idea too: it looks far neater than having a crop of individual aerials sticking out in disparate directions.

The AX8’s physical feature set is slightly more expansive than the AX4’s, with a fifth Gigabit Ethernet port adding a little breathing space for wired clients. You can still team two ports together into a single 2GbE link if needed and you can also combine one of the ports with the WAN port to accept a 2Gbits/sec internet connection.

There’s a second rear-facing USB 3 port too, adding a bit of extra versatility. You can share files from USB storage devices over your home network, make them accessible over the internet using Netgear’s ReadySHARE service, stream them over DLNA, or take backups using File History, Time Machine or Netgear’s own free backup software.

The black and white web portal, meanwhile, is functionally identical to the one found on the AX4. It’s just as clear and it feels even more responsive, thanks to the AX8’s 1.8 GHz quad-core Broadcom BCM4908 CPU, which is a big step up from the AX4’s 800MHz dual-core Intel AnyWAN SoC. The beefier processor necessitates an internal fan that spins up audibly when the router first starts up. However, once the AX8 is up and running it falls silent, and I never heard it again.

Despite the greater horsepower on hand, there are no major extra software features. That’s not a terrible thing. You still get twin guest networks (one on each radio band) and a built-in OpenVPN server with dynamic DNS support to make it easy to access your home network from anywhere in the world.

The AX8 also replicates the AX4’s impressively granular access control features, which include domain- and keyword-based blocking and blacklisting of specific network services to a user-specified schedule. And away from the web portal, you can use the Netgear Nighthawk app to check your network status and configure your wireless and guest networks, as well as issuing voice commands via Alexa and the Google Assistant.

All the same, for a router costing this much, the feature set feels a little basic. It would have been nice to see some internet security features, a USB 4G failover option and a traffic meter able to track specific clients and apps, rather than merely showing the total number of megabytes sent and received over your internet line.

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 router review: Performance

While the Nighthawk AX8 has a lot in common with the AX4, its dual radios are rated for much higher speeds, promising up to 1.2Gbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band and 4.8Gbits/sec at 5GHz. On paper, that matches the fastest 802.11ax router we’ve seen so far: the Asus RT-AX88U.

If you’ve ever tested your own Wi-Fi speeds, however, you’ll know that the performance you see never bears much resemblance the manufacturer’s claims. To find out how the Nighthawk AX8 really performs, I carried out my usual real-world tests, copying a series of 100MB files between a NAS appliance connected directly to the router via Ethernet and a laptop located in various rooms of the house.

I started by testing speeds over a current-gen 5GHz 802.11ac connection, since this is what the vast majority of clients are using today. Copying files to and from a Microsoft Surface Laptop with a 2x2 Marvell Avastar AC network card, I obtained the following results:

Speeds over 802.11ac (MB/sec)Asus AX88U uploadNetgear AX8 uploadAsus AX88U downloadNetgear AX8 download
Living room17.813.932.237.7
Rear terrace4.23.8812.4
Bedroom7.810.716.932.7
Bathroom58.210.826.1

For comparison I’ve also included test results from the Asus RT-AX88U – and, as you can see, the Nighthawk AX8 comes off very well indeed. It fell a little behind in two of my four upload tests but download speeds were faster than the Asus no matter where in the house I wandered, and performance in the upstairs bedroom and the bathroom at the rear of the house was simply excellent. Support for 4x4 MU-MIMO means speeds shouldn’t plummet when there are multiple household members connecting at once, either.

I then repeated the test over 802.11ax, this time using a Dell Latitude 5490 laptop with a 2x2 MIMO Intel AX200 802.11ax adapter and again connecting on the 5GHz band. The results were as follows:

Speeds over 802.11ax (MB/sec)Asus AX88U uploadNetgear AX8 uploadAsus AX88U downloadNetgear AX8 download
Living room39.734.270.564
Rear terrace24.71651.639.4
Bedroom27.820.856.844.5
Bathroom16.68.832.629.8

As you’d hope, switching to the new standard immediately boosts Wi-Fi speeds. The benefit was particularly pronounced on the rear terrace, where speeds more than tripled in both directions versus 802.11ac – thanks, no doubt, to the new ultra-wide 160MHz data channels introduced in 802.11ax, which are much better able to permeate exterior walls and other obstacles.

Elsewhere though, the results were less dramatic. Read speeds leapt by 70% at short range, but by only 36% in the bedroom and 15% in the bathroom, and nowhere matched the speeds I’d seen from the Asus RT-AX88U. On average, over 802.11ax, the Asus was 48% faster in my write tests, and 20% faster in my read tests.

READ NEXT: Asus RT-AX88U router review

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 router review: Verdict

If you’re considering buying an 802.11ax router at this point in time, that implies that you’re willing to pay a premium to get the very fastest performance. If that’s so, the Nighthawk AX8 is a tempting proposition but the Asus RT-AX88U delivers even better performance ­­– plus a more generous feature set – at a price that’s not much higher.

Even so, we’d have to say that the AX8 wins out on looks and its superb 802.11ac performance isn’t to be sniffed at. After all, that’s what most of your clients are going to be using for the next year or two. In all, it’s a solid router that’ll help you get the best from current-gen wireless devices and give you a noticeable speed boost with next-gen clients, too.