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Nighthawk Tri-Band WiFi 6E Router
At a glance
ProductNETGEAR Nighthawk Tri-Band WiFi 6E Router (RAXE500)   [Website]
SummaryBroadcom-based Wi-Fi 6E router with WAN/LAN switchable 2.5 GbE port.
Pros• Low Wi-Fi Latency on 5 and 6 GHz
• Decent performance on all bands
• 2.5 GbE port can be switched to WAN or LAN
• Port aggregation supported both WAN and LAN
Cons• Highest priced 6E router at $600.

Typical Price: $600  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

Updated 8/3/2021: Added internal photos

NETGEAR's RAXE500 Nighthawk Tri-Band WiFi 6E Router started selling about the same time as the recently-reviewed Linksys MR7500 Hydra Pro 6E. Along with ASUS' GT-AXE11000 6E ROG Rapture, it makes a total of three Wi-Fi 6E routers you can spend $500+ of your hard-earned cash on.

The Product

The NETGEAR RAXE500 has the bat-wing style of NETGEAR's other RAX-family routers. The two "wings" fold up and hold the twelve single-band dipole antennas for the router's 2.4, 5 and 6 GHz radios. I grabbed the diagram below from one of the FCC test reports to see how NETGEAR handled the antenna design. In keeping with 6E indoor equipment rules, you obviously can't upgrade the antennas. Like the ASUS, but unlike the Linksys, the RAXE500's radios are all four-stream. This appears to help with performance, as you'll see later.

NETGEAR RAXE500 antenna placemen

NETGEAR RAXE500 antenna placement

The callout diagram below shows the router's indicator lights and rear panel connectors. While tiny, all the indicators you'd want are there and there are Wi-Fi On/Off and WPS buttons placed front and center for easy access. The rear panel sports 1 GbE WAN and four switched LAN ports plus a 2.5 GbE "Multi-Gig" port that defaults to LAN, but can be switched to WAN. Like other NETGEAR routers both WAN and LAN ports can be aggregated if that's what your ISP's router needs to reach above 1 Gbps. The two USB ports that support READYSHARE storage sharing are USB 3.0.

NETGEAR RAXE500 callouts

NETGEAR RAXE500 callouts

FCC short-term confidentiality doesn't expire for awhile and I'm returning the router to NETGEAR's online store after I wrap up this review, so I didn't open it up. But since it's a four-stream Wi-Fi 6E router based on a Broadcom platform, I've basically copied over many of the ASUS GT-AXE11000's components for now in the table below.

  NETGEAR RAXE500E ASUS GT-AXE11000 Linksys MR7500 Hydra Pro 6E
CPU Broadcom BCM4908 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz Broadcom BCM4908 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz Qualcomm Networking Pro 810 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz
Switch Switch: in BCM4908
2.5 GbE port: Broadcom BCM54991E
Switch: in BCM4908
2.5 GbE port: Broadcom BCM54991E
?
RAM 1024 MB 1024 MB 512 MB
Flash 512 MB 256 MB 512 MB
2.4 GHz Radio - Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio
- FEM's used, but photos not clear enough to identify
- Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85216-11 2.4 GHz LNA (x4) ?
- Skyworks SKY85006-11 2.4 GHz PA (x4)
- Qualcomm 2-stream an/ac/ax radio
5 GHz radio - Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio
- FEM's used, but photos not clear enough to identify
- Broadcom BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85743-21 5 GHz front end (x4)
- Qualcomm 2-stream an/ac/ax radio
6 GHz - Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio
- FEM's used, but photos not clear enough to identify
- Broadcom BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85780 6 GHz front end (x4)
- Qualcomm 4-stream ax radio
Bluetooth N/A   - Qualcomm
Price $600 $525 $500
Table 1: Component summary
Updated 8/3/2021: Added internal photos

Short term confidentiality expired, so here are a few photos. The first one shows the top of the board with fan and heatsink assembly. I never heard the fan during testing.

NETGEAR RAXE500 board top w/ heatsink

NETGEAR RAXE500 board top w/ heatsink

With the heatsink off and with good detailed photos, my guesses were confirmed. The key components are the same as used in the ASUS GT-AXE11000.

NETGEAR RAXE500 board top

NETGEAR RAXE500 board top

The board bottom photo shows front end modules (FEMs) on all radios. But the photos aren't clear enough to tell whether they're from Qorvo or Skyworks.

NETGEAR RAXE500 board bottom

NETGEAR RAXE500 board bottom

The RAXE500 has the dubious distinction of being the highest-priced 6E router you can buy as I write this. It looks like ASUS has (temporarily?) dropped its price to $525, so we'll see how long NETGEAR can hold the line on price.

Speaking of price, if you're a Costco member, you might opt to save some money and get the RAXE450 for $450. It looks like the tradeoff you'll make is lower maximum link rates for the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands.

NETGEAR RAXE500 vs. RAXE450 spec difference

NETGEAR RAXE500 vs. RAXE450 spec difference

Features

The last NETGEAR router I reviewed before my hiatus was the R8000P, back in October 2017 (yikes!). Here's what the NETGEAR UI looked like then...

NETGEAR R8000P UI Basic Home

NETGEAR R8000P UI Basic Home

...and what is has evolved to on the RAXE500. The basic organization and approach are pretty much the same. But in keeping with the "modern" look trend, the colors are gone and it has a minimalist look.

LNETGEAR RAXE500 Basic Home

NETGEAR RAXE500 Basic Home

The key feature-set changes since then are the addition of the Bitdefender-powered subscription-based Armor Security Suite, OpenVPN, port aggregation (static and LACP 802.3.ad modes) and VLAN support. You'll need to activate and manage Armor via an iOS or Android app and pay $70/year after the 30 day trial period expires.

The Wi-Fi settings are shown in the next few screenshots. Although Region looks like a selector, it's locked to the region the router is used in. An overall AX enable and OFDMA enables for each band are provided as well as for Smart Connect. NETGEAR told me both uplink and downlink OFDMA are supported on all three bands, in case you were wondering.

NETGEAR RAXE500 Wi-Fi Settings

NETGEAR RAXE500 Wi-Fi Settings

Settings for the 2.4 GHz radio are shown next. Transmit power can be adjusted down to 25% in 25% increments. The other Mode selections are Up to 54 and Up to 600. I have to say I'm not a fan of NETGEAR's approach here. You're not just setting bandwidth here, since there are three options for 2.4 GHz and that band can be set to only 20 MHz or 40 MHz channel bandwidth. The "Up To" values also change depending on whether the "Enable AX" checkbox shown above is checked.

NETGEAR RAXE500 2.4 GHz settings

NETGEAR RAXE500 2.4 GHz settings

Here are the explanations from the User Guide for 2.4 GHz. See if you can figure out what's going on. First, with AX disabled:

  • Up to 54 Mbps. This mode allows 802.11ax, 802.11n, 802.11g, and 802.11b devices to join the selected WiFi network in the 2.4 GHz band of the network, but limits 802.11ax and 802.11n devices to functioning at up to 54 Mbps.
  • Up to 433 Mbps. This mode allows for reduced interference with neighboring WiFi networks. This mode allows 802.11ax, 802.11n, 802.11g, and 802.11b devices to join the selected WiFi network in the 2.4 GHz band of the network, but limits 802.11ax and 802.11n devices to functioning at up to 433 Mbps.
  • Up to 1000 Mbps. This mode allows 802.11ax, 802.11n, 802.11g, and 802.11b devices to join the selected WiFi network in the 2.4 GHz band of the network, and allows 802.11ax and 802.11n devices to function at up to 1000 Mbps. This mode is the default mode.

and with AX enabled:

  • Up to 54 Mbps. This mode allows 802.11ax, 802.11n, 802.11g, and 802.11b devices to join the selected WiFi network in the 2.4 GHz band of the network, but limits 802.11ax and 802.11n devices to functioning at up to 54 Mbps.
  • Up to 600 Mbps. This mode allows for reduced interference with neighboring WiFi networks. This mode allows 802.11ax, 802.11n, 802.11g, and 802.11b devices to join the selected WiFi network in the 2.4 GHz band of the network, but limits 802.11ax and 802.11n devices to functioning at up to 600 Mbps.
  • Up to 1200 Mbps. This mode allows 802.11ax, 802.11n, 802.11g, and 802.11b devices to join the selected WiFi network in the 2.4 GHz band of the network, and allows 802.11ax and 802.11n devices to function at up to 1200 Mbps. This mode is the default mode.

The 5 and 6 GHz explanations are similarly wordy, but easier to understand. Each has four selections and each radio has four possible channel bandwidths (20/40,80/160). By the way, since the 6 GHz band allows only AX devices, you won't see settings for the 6 GHz radio if you uncheck the Enable AX box.

That confusion aside, you'll be happy to know that that DFS channels 52, 56, 60, 64, 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 124, 128, 132, 136, 140 and 144 are supported on the 5 GHz radio, if you like the excitement of getting your 5 GHz radio kicked off the air by nearby radar as reward for trying to use 160 MHz wide channels.

For 6 GHz, there isn't a mode that limits channel selection to PSC channels only. Instead, NETGEAR helpfully indicates each PSC channel in the selector dropdown. Available 6 GHz channels start at 33 and run to 221.

NETGEAR RAXE500 6GHz  channel selector

NETGEAR RAXE500 6GHz channel selector

Given the relative immaturity of 6E, I recommend sticking with using PSC channels for now (5, 21, 37,53,69,85,101,117,133,149,165,181,197,213,229). Check out Wi-Fi 6E: The Basics for more info on PSC. Other Wi-Fi features are summarized in the table below.

Wireless
# of 2.4 GHz streams4
# of 5 GHz streams4
# of 6 GHz Streams4
# of Radios3
Radio 12.4 GHz: Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio [guess]
Radio 25 GHz: Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio [guess]
Radio 36 GHz: Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio [guess]
FCC IDPY320300508
AntennaExternal single-band dipole, 4 per radio
Antenna Upgradeable
N
WPS
Y
WPA3
Y
OWE
Y
AP Mode
N
Wireless Bridge
Y
Mesh support
N
Schedule
Y
DFS
Y
Roam Assist11kv

And other router features are summarized here. NETGEAR says it plans to add QoS support in an upcoming firmware update.

Features
TypeWiFi6E
2.5G Port
Y
5 GbE port
N
10 GbE port
N
# WAN Ports1
# LAN Ports4
CPUBroadcom BCM4908 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz [guess]
RAM (MB)1024
Flash (MB)512
FirmwareV1.0.5.62_2.0.35
Storage Share
Y
USB 3.0
Y
WAN
Static
Y
Dynamic
Y
PPPoE
Y
PPTP
Y
L2TP
Y
WWAN
N
Failover
N
Load Balance
N
Aggregation
Y
IPv6
Y
DDNS
Y
LAN
DHCP Reserve
Y
VLAN
Y
Port Control
N
Firewall
Port Triggers
Y
DMZ
Y
URL Block
Y
Service Block
Y
Schedules
N
Firewall Notes- Malware detection / blocking available via subscription ($)
QoS
TypeNone
DirectionN/A
VPN
PPTP
N
IPsec
N
L2TP
N
SSL
N
OpenVPN
Y

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