Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500 router review
If you like your router to look mean, have blue LEDs and rock a cool name, surely the Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500 should be on your list?
The Netgear R8500 X8 looked a beast when I first met it back in February. Back then the AC5300 standard router had a curiously wavy top. It now seems that the designers have since flattened it though.
Thankfully, the more important stuff has remained just as impressive on the spec sheet – as well as the looks department. The most striking part of the Netgear Nighthawk X8 has to be those antennae that light up blue. But how does the rest of it stack up? Let’s have a look.
Netgear Nighthawk X8 design
Nighthawk might well bring up images of stealth, sleekness and other Ninja-like qualities. Well, the X8 doesn’t really match up with any of that; although it is mostly black.
What you get is a rectangular object with with four antennas at the back.
Also around the rear you have six Gigabit LAN ports (most routers only have four) in addition to the Gigabit WAN (or Internet) port. Two of those LAN ports can work together in a aggregation mode to create a 2Gbps connection to a wired client. These are currently employed by my NAS drive.
Joining those ports there’s a power on/off switch, and a reset pinhole.
There is a USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 port along the side of the router behind an easy-to-open door, and the front boasts push-button control of Wi-Fi, LEDs, and WPS.
The router isn’t inconspicuous in any shape or form. For a start, it’s large. The Nighthawk X8 actually measures 12.44- x 10.39- x 2.44-inches and weighs 3.7 pounds (1.7kg).
As I mentioned before, the original one I saw had a wavy texture on top which broke up the lines as well as deterred anyone from resting a drink on it. The one I have here is flat, but does retain a wavy design for the vents.
The router is designed to stay flat on a surface but it’s also wall-mountable. I quite like how the X8 looks. It’s purposeful and a bit aggressive – a bit like some military hardware. In that case, I suppose Nighthawk might well be a fitting name.
Nighthawk X8 antennae
So, those antennae then. What’s that all about?
Well, instead of using a 3×3 configuration and stack six antennae on the X8, Netgear goes a slightly different route. The R8500 rocks a 4×4 configuration – hiding four antennae internally, and then the four active external antennae. The latter are obviously the ones fitted with blue LEDs that signals their active state.
The active antennae contain amplifiers that help boost the signal without any crosstalk or signal loss that can sometimes come with modern PCB circuitry.
Each 5GHz radio is able to broadcast at 2.1Gbps compared to 1.3Gbps on Gen 1 devices, and the bandwidth on the 2.4GHz channel is also increased from the 600Mbps found on Gen 1 devices to 1Gbps. When you take both 5GHz channels at 2,100Mbps and add it to the 1000Mbps on the 2.4GHz channel, you end up with a number around 5,300Mbps, hence the AC5300 standard branding.
Like the Linksys EA7500 we’ve had before, The Nighthawk X8 supports MU-MIMO, which stands for Multi-User Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output. This is essentially the same technology we saw in 80211.N routers (MIMO) but with multiple channels of data at once, instead of just a single channel.
Netgear Nighthawk X8 interface
If you have ever had a Netgear router before then you’ll be familiar with its friendly, uncluttered, interface. I have no real issue with it as it is clear and easy to navigate – it’s just a little… uninspiring.
There isn’t really a set up routine for the X8 which is a really good thing. None of that downloading of firmware and following a wizard nonsense here. It was a case of plugging in the necessary cables and then having the internets. There are things you can sort via accessing the router by going to Netgear’s easy-to-use URL Routerlogin.net. I did that using my smartphone but a computer would probably be less fiddly.
Logging in to the interface requires the standard Netgear default credentials (admin/password) and then you are greeted by the browser interface. You can access the setup wizard from anytime within the browser interface under the main advanced tab should you so wish.
The main area of the interface gives you everything you need to know about your config at a glance. Here you can see the status of your Internet connection, number of attached devices, Parental Controls status, whether or not the Guest Network is enabled, and if any storage devices are attached.
Heading over to the ‘Wireless’ menu, you can see the SSID for the 2.4GHz network, and further down there’s the 5GHz network. I like the option to have different names and passwords for the different frequency networks. Obviously, you can set them to be the same too.
Basic and Advanced options
In the Basic tab you have six boxes in the main window which are almost, apart from Dynamic QoS, a repeat of the left hand text menu.
This is OK, as a lot of people will prefer the friendliness of a GUI whilst others like things spelled out. Here’s what behind each option:
The basic interface for the “Internet” displays your IP address, DNS settings and Mac Address.
The Wireless menu lets you change SSIDs, channels, and wireless modes for each band. You can also alter security options, change passwords, and enable Smart Connect. As you can see from the screenshot above, I have Smart Connect enabled. This means that, by one set of credentials, you have access to both 5GHz networks.
The Attached Devices menu lets you see, well, attached devices. Here is what it looks like in my home when I’m here alone. Tablet, laptop, PC, phone, cameras, etc.
The Access Control is a sub-menu you get to by clicking a hyperlink at the top right of this screen. This lets you block or allow individual clients, or ban everything all at once.
You can then edit a device’s name, set its priority for bandwidth in QoS and also designate a device type listing.
The Dynamic QoS menu is either on or off. However, from there you can drill down and prioritize devices in terms of bandwidth allocation. Marvel at the blistering internet speeds I get here in London! Yeah, even in E17 I can only get ADSL. Grrrrrr!
This is an odd one. Clicking this option sends you to a page on Netgear’s website. This prompts you to download an application named Netgear Genie that is basically the exact same controls you see in the web browser, except in a smaller, application-sized form. Apparently the only way to access Parental Controls are from within this application.
I’ve had a look around and was a little nonplussed to be honest.
The advanced menu gives you a bit more control for those who want it.
The home screen shows the status of all wireless networks, the internet connection, and the router itself.
Under Advanced sharing, you see connected devices and the address to access them via the local network, HTTP/S, FTP, and FTP over the internet.
Under the USB Functions you can configure the ReadyCLOUD service to access it from any connection via the mobile app as well. This is pretty neat as if you have USB drive attached it suddenly becomes a NAS of sorts.
Netgear Nighthawk X8 performance
I have been really impressed by the R8500’s performance over the last few weeks.
The X8 has taken everything I have thrown at it. Stability-wise the Wi-Fi has been rock-solid with no drop outs even when there’s been multiple devices streaming and downloading at the same time. This could well be down to those clever antennas that help deliver very high signal quality.
Nighthawk X8 range
I have a powerline adapter upstairs which also clones the Wi-Fi signal – something I needed with the EA7500 as there were a couple of low signal areas up there. I now have that option disabled thanks to the R8500. The house is modern with fairly thin walls but also I can see at least 5 of my neighbour’s Wi-Fi router SSIDs which could also cause interference.
Nighthawk X8 storage performance
Plugging in a portable drive into the USB 3.0 port the R85o0 delivered decent speeds for sending/retrieving chunky files to it. Via a Gigabit connection, the X8’s performance was fast enough for local media streaming and file sharing. What really sets the X8 apart though is its port aggregation feature which my QNAP TS-215 loves. I can drag a Blu-ray rip from my PC to the NAS in no time – that’s whilst listening to FLACs being streamed to my Hi-Fi.
Nighthawk X8 review conclusion
Let’s get the elephant in the room front and centre right now. The Nighthawk X8 is not a budget router. The R8500 costs between £380-£400 depending where you buy from.
This means that the X8 isn’t for everyone – but I don’t think it’s pretending to be.
Do you stream HD/4K movies? Stream PC games to your Nvidia Shield tablet to play on the telly? Have Network Accessible Storage? Have a load of devices connected at any one time? Then you might be the kind of person who would benefit from the Netgear R8500 Nighthawk X8.
There are ways in which you could get the port aggregation niceness via a router and separate switch with the function, but the X8 has it all in one box.
The R8500 is a tri-band router which means that it’s able to spread its available bandwidth over three different bands (1 x 2.4GHz and 2 x 5GHz). Living in a gadgety household means that we benefit through the shared love and have noticed faster times over, say, dual-band routers.
Yes, the Netgear Nighthawk X8 R8500 might be overkill for some, but in terms of Wi-Fi bandwidth, thanks to its eight antennae design, and upcoming support for MU-MIMO it helps define the next-generation of wireless routers we’ll all be using in a year or two from now.
For me, this is one of the fastest routers GadgetyNews has ever tested. It’s definitely a premium product and delivered premium performance.
Add to that the great range and throughput on the 5GHz channel, abundant ports and a complete feature set I can’t help but recommend it.
If you’re in the market for what’s possibly the best Wi-Fi router available right now, you owe it to yourself to check out the Nighthawk X8 R8500.