After a lot of hype, the Netgear R8000 Nighthawk X6 AC3200 Tri-Band Gigabit Wireless Router is just a disappointment.
Positioned as a major upgrade to the previous R7000 model, which is one of the best -- if not the best -- home routers from Netgear, the R8000 is impressive on paper. It's the first ever tri-band router with a total Wi-Fi bandwidth of up to 3,200Mbps at any given time, and it comes with an innovative design.
When working as intended, however, the R8000 didn't perform better than its predecessor, or any of these other excellent AC1900 routers for that matter. During my testing, it suffered from a problematic 2.4Ghz frequency band, rendering it for the most part a 5Ghz-only router, and with a comparatively short overall Wi-Fi range.
In all fairness, you might still enjoy it if you use only 802.11ac Wi-Fi clients, though you'll need to have a lot of them to see any benefit. Considering its current $300 price (AU$399 in Australia, with UK pricing unavailable at the moment), however, I can't think of any reason why you should buy it.
Same powerful hardware, new design
Available in black, the R8000 is slightly larger than the R7000 while also taking the shape of a flying object (hence the name Blackhawk). It is, however, more compact than its predecessor, thanks to the six collapsible antennas. I like that you can fold them down completely out of the way. You will need to open them up to get maximum range, however.
Otherwise, the new router is very similar to the R7000, with four Gigabit LAN ports, one Gigabit WAN port, and two USB ports (USB 2.0 and USB 3.0) on the back. On top, right in the middle and running from back to front, is an array of fancy-looking LEDs that indicate whether the router is powered on and the state of its port and Wi-Fi networks. If the lights are too bright, you can turn them off via a little switch on the back. Below these lights there's an on/off button for Wi-Fi signals and another button to activate the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). WPS is an easy way to connect a WPS-enabled Wi-Fi client to the router, saving you from having to type in the Wi-Fi password manually.
On the inside, similar to the R7000, the R8000 runs on a dual-core 1,000Mhz processor, and supports the latest Wi-Fi standards. It's capable of offering Wi-Fi speed up to 1,300Mbps on the 5Ghz band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band simultaneously. It does, however, have two separate access points for the 5Ghz frequency band, instead of just one as all other dual-band routers. That means at any given time, the R8000 has a potential of 3,200Mbps bandwidth; it's the first router on the market with the AC3200 designation.
As for its interface and setup process, the R8000 shares the R7000's Netgear Genie firmware and uses the same methods to manage it, either via a Web browser or the Netgear Genie mobile app.
Minimal performance gain, lots of disappointing returns
The R8000's the second access point on the 5Ghz band sounds promising, but it made only a small difference, if at all, in my testing.
For local devices, an individual Wi-Fi client still connects at 1,300Mbps at most because it can connect to just one access point at a time. So, the only instance where you will see the benefits of the R8000's two 5Ghz access points is when you have a lot of 802.11ac clients -- like a dozen of them or more -- that are connecting to the router for intensive data-transferring tasks at the same time.
Currently, there are fewer 802.11ac clients on the market than 802.11n clients (the R8000 has nothing extra to offer 802.11n clients). (Read more about Wi-Fi standard here.) And even if there are several 802.11ac clients in one household, I can't think if any situation where more than a few of them might need to perform intensive local tasks simultaneously. During my testing, I couldn't create a situation where a second 5Ghz access point would be necessary.
For the Internet, the R8000 exhibits no difference whatsoever from other AC1900 routers. This is because the speed of any residential Internet broadband connection is much slower than the speed of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi. In other words, you won't see any improvement at all for Internet-related tasks, such as Netflix streaming or downloading and uploading files.
Problematic 2.4Ghz band
Like all Wi-Fi routers, the R8000 has just one access point for the 2.4Ghz frequency band. This band is slowly becoming obsolete, since there are just too many clients and routers using it. But for the same reason, it's also very important that a router supports this band, for backward compatibility: You don't want to leave any 2.4Ghz clients out in the cold. But should you change any settings on the R8000, though, that's exactly what may happen.