review

Nighthawk RAX120 Review Netgear Wifi 6 AX Router with DFS

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Appropriately named, Nighthawk, Netgear's RAX120 looks like a cross of Batman's plane and Kylo Ren's ship! Matching the striking looks there is nifty technology, namely 12 Wifi streams and, more importantly Wifi 6 (802.11ax) - the real game changer - supporting MU-MIMO and the newer MU-OFDMA, which allows up to nine users per 20 Mhz channel (up to 36 users in 80 Mhz).
Being a 12-stream dual-band router, the Nighthawk RAX120 supports four streams on the 2.4GHz band and eight streams on the 5GHz band with total speeds of up to 4,804Mbits/sec. The RAX120 is one of Nighthawk's AX12 version; the other version being the RAX200, which is a tri-band Wifi 6 router. The Nighthawk RAX120 version supports 80 MHz and 160 MHz bandwidth channels (80+80 MHz), as well as DFS (Dynamic Frequency Selection) channels, which is particularly useful if you live somewhere surrounded by residential flat properties often flooded with Wifi hotspots all competing for the same 11 Wifi channels.
Via DFS, you can set your Wifi channel range to a non UK range, using radar 5 GHz frequencies. DFS support is also useful if you're using a Wifi extender (i.e. EX8000) that requires a high DFS to allow the 1733 backhaul link. During setup, 160 MHz bandwidth can be enabled but it's worth noting that only compatible devices will connect to 160 MHz bandwidth channels. The channels used for 160 MHz bandwidth don't have to be in a direct sequence; hence you can have any 20 MHz master channel within a block of four 20 MHz channels (forming 80 MHz).
Bolstering the Nighthawk RAX120's security is Netgear Armor, which is an add-on software that you can install from the Nighthawk app to strengthen the protection of your home network. Netgear Armor basically acts as a DNS filter for your entire home network, blocking access to certain websites. From the Netgear Armor, you can also enable Bitdefender Security for every device on your home network, giving you access to useful features such as parental control and anti-theft, which allows you to track the geographical location of any device.
Netgear currently has a free 30-day trial, which maybe worth trying out, particularly if you have a large family and/or business with multiple computers/devices. Also, because Bitdefender is already integrated with Netgear Armor it does not seem to affect the network connection speed, which is a likely downside if you buy cybersecurity and anti-virus software separately. The Nighthawk app also serves as the medium for setting up the Nighthawk RAX120.
The Nighthawk app integrates several useful features such as "speed test" so, you can check the Internet speed all within the same Netgear ecosystem. Another neat feature you can enable from the Nighthawk app is Smart Connect, which puts the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz bands on the same SSID and then allows the Nighthawk RAX120 router to automatically decide which SSID band to connect each device to. This is useful because it allows network devices to automatically roam to the band that suits their needs best.
Smart Connect works well if all the devices in the network are fast and/or support MU-MIMO and have similar channel widths. If this is not the case, you may actually want to keep Smart Connect disabled as you will get better performance by having different SSIDs for 2.4 and 5 GHz and manually assigning each device to each SSID. Ideally, you want to put N devices on the 'slower' 5Ghz band and AC devices on the 'faster' 2.4Ghz band but, you don't want to have too many devices sharing the same SSID band at the same time because it will slow down all the devices.
The Nighthawk mobile app also integrates a signal strength feature for tracking Wifi signal, using an analogue test meter style with a swinging needle going from not good to amazing. One thing you cannot do from the Nighthawk app though, it's to manually turn on the RAX120 built-in fan. That said, the router thermal management works well at keeping the unit cool but, if you want to run the fan all the time, you can enable it always on via Netgear's debug.htm hidden page (http://192.168.1.1/debug.htm).
The Nighthawk app requires a new account creation, unless you already have an account from a different Netgear product. Both the Nighthawk app and Orbi app are linked to the same Netgear database so, if you have already signed up to a different Netgear product, you won't have to create another account. Setup takes up to 15 minutes and it's straightforward, thanks to the on-screen prompts. You can manually register the unit but, using the QR scanner function is much quicker.
Before connecting the Nighthawk RAX120 to your own rooter/modem, you want to power off the rooter/modem (just like the on-screen prompt says) or the setup will not complete successfully. If you are using the existing router provided by your ISP broadband, the Nighthawk app does not require setting the router to modem-only. However, you do want to disconnect anything from your existing router to prevent any possible issues like double NAT, which will give you problems when playing online games, as well as using port forwarding rules. From the Nighthawk mobile, you are also able to update the firmware. The current firmware version, as of January 2020, it's v1.2.0.16.
The Nighthawk RAX120 really has a sleak wing design with metal folding hinge antennas that fold like a laptop. The fan is located on top of the unit covered by a metal grille mesh. More cooling vents can be seen on the base of the unit, which also features four rubber feet and two hole openings for all mounting the unit. The location of the fan on top means the Nighthawk RAX120 sucks in air from the top rather than underneath like with other routers, which is ideal from a cooling perspective. The trade off though, it's the dust ingress since there is not dust-proof mesh filter protecting the fan. More black anodized metal grille mesh styling can be seen running vertically across from the fan mesh.
The Nighthawk RAX120 comes with a flat Cat 5e Ethernet cable and a large AC power brick that measures 10cm high, 3.5cm wide and 7.7cm deep; hence the power brick sticks out 7.7cm when plugged into a mains power outlet. The AC power adapter is attached to a non-detachable 1.5 meter long cord that terminates in a standard DC barrel connector and provides the required output (19V/3.16A) to power the Nighthawk RAX120 router.
The Nighthawk RAX120 Wifi 6 router is really capable of so much, allowing you to stream 4k on multiple devices (as many as 7) at the same time without signal buffering. While a 10Gbps network bandwidth test with Iperf maybe ideal, the above speed test gives some indication of how good the Nighthawk RAX120 is. Upgrading to Wifi 6 may not be necessary, if you already have a gigabit internet connection and a few WiFi 5 access points, giving you over 300 Mbps Internet. That said, Wi-fi 6 will allow you to transmit data between devices faster, as well as move files to a NAS or server on your own network faster.
Best of all, the Nighthawk RAX120 is 100% backwards compatible; hence the Nighthawk RAX120 is compatible with any wireless devices you may currently have at home. The previous Wifi standards include WiFi 1 = 802.11a (2.4GHz), WiFi 2 = 802.11b (2.4GHz), WiFi 3 = 802.11g (2.4GHz), WiFi 4 = 802.11n (2.4GHz/5GHz), WiFi 5 = 802.11ac (5GHz) and WiFi 6 = 802.11ax (5GHz/6GHz), which enables the Nighthawk RAX120's biggest weapon of all, and that is being able to pierce through very dense environments but of course, only when using 802.11ax clients.
The Nighthawk RAX120 router can handle high bandwidth devices simultaneously; however, if you need Wifi to cover every nook and cranny of a large area, you really want to go with a mesh system like the Orbi RBK53. The Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 comes with a 2 year warranty and 90-day support but, you can extend the warranty by signing up to Netgear ProSupport. 
If you don't want to extend the warranty though, but you want Netgear technical support, you can subscribe to GearHead, which is a premium technical support service by Netgear. You can buy the Nighthawk RAX120 router on amazon.

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