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Wireless Reviews

Nighthawk X6S Tri-Band WiFi Range Extender
At a glance
ProductNETGEAR Nighthawk X6S Tri-Band WiFi Range Extender (EX8000)   [Website]
SummaryAC3000 class three-radio Wi-Fi range extender with 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 2.0 port supporting storage sharing.
Pros- 4x4 5 GHz high-band radio can be used for back or fronthaul
- Impressive extended throughput
Cons- Pricey
- Aesthetics

Introduction

When NETGEAR announced its EX8000 Nighthawk X6S Tri-Band WiFi Range Extender at the end of August, I dubbed it the "DIY Orbi Extender. Little did I know how accurate that description was for reasons I'll reveal shortly.

The EX8000 is the first three-radio/"tri-band" Wi-Fi extender to hit the market. Like the original RBK50 Orbi, the EX8000 combines a two-stream dual-band 802.11ac AC1300 class radio with a third, four-stream 5 GHz radio. Also like Orbi, the two-stream 5 GHz radio only operates in the 5 GHz low-band channels (36-48) and the four-stream only in the high-band channels (149-161).

NETGEAR EX8000 architecture

NETGEAR EX8000 architecture

But unlike Orbi, any of the three radios can be used to link back to the wireless router you're extending. Orbi always uses its 5 GHz high-band radio for backhaul, falling back to sharing the 2.4 GHz client-facing radio also for backhaul in the unlikely event it can't get a 5 GHz link.

However, the biggest difference between Orbi and the EX8000 is that Orbi will link only to other Orbis, while the EX8000 will connect to any router. Since the EX8000 also can be set to function as "tri-band" access point, you can even use a pair of them as a wireless bridge. A pair of EX8000's won't replace an Orbi, however, since it has no routing features.

The LED callouts show Link Status and "Maximum Throughput" indicators meant to communicate backhaul condition. It doesn't look like the two lights can tell you which 5 GHz radio is being used for backhaul. Of course, since that depends on the 5 GHz channel you set your main router to, you'd already know that.

NETGEAR EX8000 LED callouts

NETGEAR EX8000 LED callouts

The rear panel callouts show the four gigabit Ethernet ports and other ports and buttons. The USB 2.0 port supports Readyshare storage and printer sharing

NETGEAR EX8000 rear callouts

NETGEAR EX8000 rear callouts

The EX8000 is meant to sit on a shelf or table; it has no wall/ceiling mount screw slots.

Inside

NETGEAR requested short-term confidentiality on the EX8000's FCC internal photos, so I opened it up after testing was completed. I didn't have to go very far with disassembly because the innards looked very familiar.

NETGEAR EX8000 main board

NETGEAR EX8000 main board

If you compare the EX8000 photo above with the RBK50 Orbi photo below, it's obvious the two use the same main board. The differences I could detect are highlighted in the photo; 32 MB of flash replacing the 4 GB in Orbi and no Bluetooth radio. The top of the two products is also different, with different plastic brackets supporting the antennas and light-guides for the EX8000's onboard LEDs.

NETGEAR Orbi (RBK50) main board

NETGEAR Orbi (RBK50) main board

The table shows the key components of both.

  NETGEAR EX8000 NETGEAR Orbi RBK50
CPU Qualcomm IPQ4019 Qualcomm IPQ4019
Switch QCA8075 QCA8075
RAM 512 MB 512 MB
Flash 32 MB 4 GB
2.4 GHz Radio - In IPQ4019
- Skyworks SKY2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x2)
- In IPQ4019
- Skyworks SKY2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x2)
5 GHz radio - In IPQ4019
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz power amp (x2)
- In IPQ4019
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz power amp (x2)
5 GHz backhaul - QCA9984
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz power amp (x4)
- QCA9984
- RFMD RFPA5542 5 GHz power amp (x4)
Bluetooth None CSR8811 Bluetooth 4.1 SoC
Table 1: NETGEAR EX8000 and RBK50 Orbi key components

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