How WiFi should be done.
Holy crap! Right, the first thing we need to mention about this next-level home WiFi router from Netgear is the price. The Netgear AC5300 Nighthawk X8, with those angular, almost-1980s looks that Netgear seems to favour these days, will set you back in excess of the £350. You might be looking at your £70 router right now, thinking 'but this one is fine', and you'd be right. But the Nghthawk X8 is like no other router we've tested before, and we've tested quite a few. Let's delve in.
This is a giant slab of a router. We'll be honest that we're not massive fans of Netgear's current design direction, as everything looks just a tad under-developed and utilitarian. However, we're always willing to overlook aesthetics due to the sheer might of performance that the company installs in their tech, and the Netgear AC5300 Nighthawk X8 is surely leading the attack.
The headlines here are that the router features tri-band WiFi and offers combined speeds of up to 5.3 Gbps. Yep, gigabytes. There are six Ethernet ports on the back of the unit, two of which are Ethernet with Aggregation for super-fast file transfer rates. There are two USB ports for connected media, one of which is USB 3.0, and there are four whopping great antennas on the back, as well as another four set internally to work together to create a huge usable wireless range. Oh, eight antenna... is that the reason for the 'X8' in the name? Maybe.
As with all of Netgear's routers and extenders that we've reviewed, set up is a total breeze, and as long as you know you IP login details, from opening the box to connecting to the WiFi network takes about five minutes. After that it is the Netgear AC5300 Nighthawk X8 that does all the hard work for you, assigning each connected device to one of the three bandwidths most suitable to it. This means that even with a large number of devices squeezing every last drop of internet-y goodness from it, the router could deal with them all so nobody was left high and dry (or high and lagging).
We tested this by using every single WiFi-enabled device we had in Test Pit Towers (and that's a lot) to stream something. Four were streaming Netflix, which is the maximum number our Netflix account allowed, apparently, while everything else hit YouTube for some hi-def music video action. Whereas in the past these kind of tests have ended with us saying “and by the sixth phone, things starting to slow down...” but not with the Netgear AC5300 Nighthawk X8. No matter what we were doing online, at whatever time of day (and some of that is our own personal private business, mind!), the internet was as fast as it has ever been.
The USB ports were also put to good use, and we had our first taste of Netgear's ReadyCLOUD smartphone app. We hooked up an external hard drive the USB 3.0 port, and by using the app, we had our own private cloud storage. Imagine Dropbox but without the limitations or worrying about someone getting in to all your files. The app works great, was nice and simple, and being able to access a hard drive at home while anywhere with a mobile internet connection was awesome.
So you might balk at the price, but once you use this thing for a few days you see just how much it is worth it. If you live alone in a relatively small house or flat, this might be a tad wasted on you. But for families with older kids, or shared houses with gamers and streamers – or indeed if you just live in a massive house – this is definitely your next router.