A fine router for those who can’t wait to embrace the very latest Wi-Fi standard
- Exceptionally fast over both Wi-Fi 6 and 6E
- 2.5GbE for top-speed wired connections
- Very expensive
- No parental controls at all
- Security is a paid-for add-on
The RAXE500 is Netgear’s latest top-of-the-range standalone router. Notably, it’s the first Nighthawk model to support Wi-Fi 6E, which opens up a new range of radio frequencies in the 6GHz band to enable ultrafast connections.
It works brilliantly: we were blown away by the RAXE500’s performance over a Wi-Fi 6E link. To be sure, it’s a very expensive router, and to take full advantage you’ll need to invest in 6E-compatible devices, too – regular Wi-Fi 6 devices won’t be as fast – but if you’re looking for the pinnacle of wireless performance, this is it.
Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 router review: What you need to know
This router’s big selling point is clearly Wi-Fi 6E, but you don’t need to upgrade your whole home to use it. The RAXE500 will also serve up regular Wi-Fi 5 and 6 connections on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, so you can continue to use legacy clients alongside the coming wave of 6E hardware.
It’s a similar story with wired connections – the router supports the increasingly popular 2.5Gbits/sec Ethernet standard, unlocking the highest speeds for compatible hardware, but will also happily fall back to an ordinary Gigabit Ethernet connection.
Aside from that, there’s little to differentiate this router from previous Nighthawk models such as the Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 (also known as the AX12). That’s no bad thing, as these routers have frequently earned plaudits in the past for their excellent performance and decent set of software features.
Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 review: Price and competition
With a launch price of £550 the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 is far from cheap but, if you want 6E right now you have very few alternatives. One is the gaming-oriented Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000 at £480; other than that the only other 6E system we’ve seen so far is the Orbi WiFi 6E mesh system, yours for a huge £1,500. That does include three separate access points for wide-area coverage, however.
If your budget won’t stretch to that, Wi-Fi 6 is still fast enough for almost any home or office and it’s much cheaper. For example, the excellent Asus RT-AX82U costs a very reasonable £180, while the D-Link DIR-X1860 provides a basic Wi-Fi 6 service for just £90.
If you’re into gaming, you can also consider two new models from Asus: the £300 ROG Rapture GT-AX6000 and the low-cost TUF Gaming AX5400, priced at a modest £120. See our rundown of the best wireless routers for more recommendations.
Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 router review: Features and design
As with most of Netgear’s previous Nighthawk routers, the RAXE500 has a distinctive winged design. It’s quite compact and unassuming, has a footprint of 298 x 211mm and a low-key black case.
At the rear, two USB 3 ports (rated at 5Gbits/sec) let you easily connect external drives and share them over your network, and these sit next to four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a single 2.5Gbits/sec LAN socket. Since there’s only one of these you’ll need an external switch to connect wired clients together at 2.5GbE speeds, but you can aggregate two gigabit ports to provide a second multi-gig connection. The gigabit WAN socket can also be combined with one of the LAN ports to support a 2Gbits/sec internet line.
Your network is managed from the same rather drab web console as on Netgear’s previous Wi-Fi 6 routers. Just a few new configuration options have been added to accommodate the new 6E frequencies: you can set individual names and security settings for each of the 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz networks, or combine them under a single SSID and let the router assign each client to the most suitable band.
There’s also support for dynamic DNS, and a VPN service you can use to access your home network from anywhere, while the Nighthawk mobile app lets you see who’s connected to your network, survey the wireless signal strength as you walk around the house and turn the guest network on and off.
As usual, the Nighthawk software lacks a proper parental control module – you can manually block individual sites, but you can’t enforce per-device time limits or schedules. And the Netgear Armor security module is included only as a 30-day trial. After that, if you want protection against intrusions, dodgy sites and suspicious network activity, you’ll need to pay £34 to keep the service rolling for the first year, and £85 per year after that.
Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 router review: Performance
The RAXE500 claims an enormous total bandwidth of 11Gbits/sec, made up of 1.2Gbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band and 4.8Gbits/sec on each of the 5GHz and 6GHz bands. To make the most of that it supports 4×4 MU-MIMO on each radio and, naturally, supports Wi-Fi 6’s OFDMA airtime-slicing technology to share the bandwidth across all connected clients. Weirdly, the router comes out of the box with both of these features disabled, but you can turn them on in the web console with a few clicks.
To test real-life performance, I connected an Asustor Drivestor 4 Pro NAS appliance to the router’s 2.5GbE socket. I then carried a laptop equipped with an Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E card to various places in my home and copied a standard set of 100MB data files to and from a shared folder on the NAS, over both the 5GHz and 6GHz bands.
Here are the average download and upload speeds I saw; for comparison, I’ve also included the speeds achieved in the same test by the cheaper Wi-Fi 6 routers mentioned above.
The potential of Wi-Fi 6E is clear. Connecting on the 6GHz band yielded the fastest short-range wireless download speeds we’ve ever seen. The benefits were more equivocal over longer distances – perhaps because higher-frequency radio waves are less able to penetrate walls and other physical obstacles – but we still saw really excellent whole-home coverage.
Even on the 5GHz band, the Nighthawk RAXE500 outpaced cheaper hardware for downloads, and proved at least competitive for uploads.
Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 router review: Verdict
With its dramatic design and phenomenal speeds, the Nighthawk RAXE500 is a very desirable piece of kit. It could make Wi-Fi 6 a realistic alternative to Gigabit Ethernet, and 6E clients get even better speeds.
That performance comes at a huge price, though, and not every home or office urgently needs this sort of speed. Don’t forget that to get the very best from this router you’ll need Wi-Fi 6E clients and, so far, those are few and far between. It also feels mean that such an expensive router comes with only one native multi-gig Ethernet port, and the tacked-on subscription for network security seems downright greedy.
Much as we’re excited about 6GHz networking, therefore, we can only recommend the Nighthawk RAXE500 to those who are flush with cash and in a hurry to move on up to Wi-Fi 6E. If you can wait six months or a year there should be many more 6GHz-compatible clients on the market, and plenty of 6E router options to use them with. Hopefully the price of this one will fall, too – for a few hundred quid less it could make an excellent choice for your next network upgrade.