Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Review: Nice but Not Worth the Wait

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600
The ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Mesh system includes two identical W21 Wi-Fi 6 routers.

Almost exactly a year after first announced the entry-level SURFboard mAX AX6600 Mesh, CommScope today officially made this Wi-Fi 6 system available. Is it worth the wait? Well, not really. The new mesh has nothing new.

But this supposedly budget-minded mesh is not all bad either. In many ways, it’s similar to its older cousin, the mAX Pro that came out in late 2019.

The bottom line is if you can survive the awkward app-based setup process, don’t mind the extremely poor feature set, and live in a home with sub-Gigabit Internet, this all-new-yet-with-nothing-new ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 mesh system will work out well.

Keep in mind, though, it’s compartaively expensive, especially the single unit (model W21), which costs $249.99. You’re better off getting the 2-pack for $399.99 (W121).

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Tri-Band Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System (Model W121)

0.00
7.4

Performance

8.0/10

Features

6.0/10

Design and Setup

8.0/10

Value

7.5/10

Pros

  • Fast Wi-Fi speeds, large coverage
  • Effective dedicated wireless backhaul band
  • Reliable performance
  • Compact, fan-less design

Cons

  • Zero customization and feature
  • Fluctuating Wi-Fi 6 speeds
  • Poor Parental Control feature, terrible setup process
  • App and vendor account required to work
  • No wired backhaul, only two network ports per unit, no Multi-Gig
  • No local web user interface

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600: Nothing of note

At the outset, the SURFboard mAX AX6600 is the same concept as the mAX Pro (model W31). It includes two identical mAX AX6600 routers. Pick either as the main router, and you can use the other as the satellite to extend the Wi-Fi coverage.

Familiar barebone design

The W21 has the same design as the W31, too, though smaller. It’s an up-right white tube with a silver base that measures 7.8-inch (19.8 cm) tall and 4-inch (10.2 cm).

It now has just two Gigabit network ports (one WAN and one LAN) instead of four like the W31. There’s no Multi-Gig port nor the support for Link Aggregation. So it’s more of a barebone router compared to its older cousin.

All of these ports are on the underside of the router, making them hard to reach. But since there aren’t many of them, chance is this is not a problem.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600: Hardware specifications

Full NameARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router
ModelW21
Mesh Availability2-Pack (model W121)
Dedicated Backhaul BandYes
Wired BackhaulNo
Dimensions7.8-inch (19.8 cm) tall, 4-inch (10.2 cm) wide
Weight1.37 lbs (620 g)
Wi-Fi TechnologyTri-Band Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) AX6600
5GHz Wi-Fi Specs2x 5GHz 4×4 Bands: up to 2.4Gbps each
2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs1x 2.4GHz 4×4 AX band: up to 1.2Gbps
Channel Width Support20MHz, 40MHz, 80MHz (5GHz only)
Backward Compatibility802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Mobile AppSURFboard Central
Web User InterfaceNo
Bridge ModeNo
AP ModeNo
USB PortNone
Regular Network Ports1x Gigabit LAN port ports, 1x Gigabit WAN port
Link AggregationNone
Multi-Gig PortNone
U.S. Retail Price$249.99 (Single router), $399.99 (2-pack)
ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600’s hardware specifications.

New mobile app, vendor login required

Like the older version, the SURFboard mAX AX6600 is fully app operated. To set it up, you need the new SURFboard Central app, which requires a login account with the vendor.

(Initially, the mAX Pro uses a different app, called ARRIS SURFboard mAX Manager. It now uses the same SURFboard Central app.)

As a result, keep these in mind:

  1. You must use a phone with a cellular connection to set up the system.
  2. Your home network will stay connected to the vendor at all times — potentially, your privacy is at risk. Here’s CommScope’s Privacy Policy.
  3. There’s no web user interface for you to manage your network locally.

Generally, it’s never a good idea to manage your home network via an app. Among other things, this means you’ll get a few options if at all in terms of customization. And on this front, the mAX AC6600 is on the worst end of the spectrum.

In fact, it’s even hard to just set it up. At least in my case.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Setup App
The ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600’s setup process starts out easy but can be a pain to finish.

Terrible setup process

I’ve reviewed many app-enabled, vendor-assisted mesh systems, and generally, one of their few perks is the ease of use. That’s not the case with the SURFboard mAX AX6600’s initial setup.

Frankly, the SURFboard Central app is terribly designed on this front.

First of all, the app itself didn’t load on my Pixel 3 XL. It got stuck at the flash screen. I had to remove it, re-installed it, then restart the phone for it to fully launch.

Secondly, it doesn’t use Bluetooth, so to start the setup process, you’ll first have to manually connect your phone to the W21’s default open Wi-Fi network, aptly named “SURFBoard-Onboarding.” That’s not a huge deal. But during the process, the router would restart for various reasons, such as “connecting to the Internet” or “optimizing the connection.”

When this happens, the phone gets disconnected, and the app shows an error. You have to reconnect the phone to the Wi-Fi network and tap “Try again” to continue.

Once you’ve created your own Wi-Fi network, which was “Dong-Knows-Tech” in my case, you have to connect to that new network again manually.

And then, you have to repeat that with the satellite unit.

In all, it was an awkward, weirdly designed process in my experience, almost the opposite of user-friendly. I reset the mesh couple of times and ran into the same shenanigans each time. It was like the errors were part of the deal.

And here’s the kicker: The setup wizard has a rather lengthy section on how to open mesh the retail box, plugging it into power, etc. That was nice. But somebody didn’t get the full memo on ease of use.

In all, it took me some 30 minutes to get the mesh up and running. Not really a long time longer and not as good of an experience compared with similar systems.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600: Detail photos

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Box
ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600’s retail Box

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Adapter
The ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 comes with two identical W21 router, each has a large power adapter.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Front
the ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 W21 router’s front

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Back
The W21 router’s back. Note the opening for the wires to go through.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Side
Here’s a view of the side.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Base
All of the router’s ports are on its underside.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Label
The ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600’s label

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Top
The ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 mesh system’s hardware look quite nice.

Anew level of spartan Wi-Fi and network settings

In reviewing the mAX Pro, I lamented the fact it had zero customization. Well, the mAX AX6600 is even worse.

With the new app, you have nothing at all other than picking up a Wi-Fi name and password (and those of the Guest network.)

Sure, the app now has a “Parental Control” section, but it’s just an Internet blocking feature on a schedule. And that’s it.

The app does allow for viewing connected clients, doing speed tests, and so on, but those are just gimmicks. If you want to customize your network to any extent at all, that’s impossible.

In fact, you can’t even use the app to reset the hardware. For that, you need to use a pin on the reset button on the underside. In short, don’t expect anything more than Wi-Fi coverage out of this mesh system.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Mobile App
The SURFboard mAX AX6600 has little to offer in terms of customization and features.

SURFboard mAX AX6600: Good but fluctuating performance

And the SURFboard mAX AX6600 does have excellent coverage. In fact, quite impressively, it had about the same range as that of the mAX Pro, in my trial.

When statically placed, a 2-pack can handle about 5000 ft² (465 m²) of space. Of course, your mileage will vary, and you can’t expect fast performance at the far end.

Speaking of performance, as a standalone router the W21 was quite fast for a router that doesn’t support the 160MHz channel width or have a Multi-Gig port.

SURFboard mAX AX6600 Router Performance

Its throughputs fluctuated quite a bit, however. At a close range, my 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client connected at between 800Mbps to 1.2Gbps and averaged some 860Mbps of sustained speeds. Farther out, at 40 feet (12 m) away, it now registered close to 500Mbps. That was a big dop.

My Wi-Fi clients seemed to do better with this router, registering some 680Mbps at the close range and some 605Mbps at the far range.

SURFboard mAX AX6600 Mesh Performance

I experienced a similar pattern with the SURFboard mAX AX6600 in mesh setup. The satellite unit did more consistently with Wi-Fi 5 clients than did it Wi-Fi 6 ones as you can see on the chart above.

One thing is for sure: There was almost no signal loss. Clearly, the system’s dedicated backhaul was effective.

As a mesh, the SURFboard mAX AX6600 passed my 3-day stressed with no issue. It proved to be a reliable Wi-Fi solution.

Conclusion

The SURFboard mAX AX6600 is just a lesser and less expensive version of the SURFboard mAX Pro. And that’s a good thing. In real-world usage, the two are quite similar anyway.

Compared with other systems on the market, though, neither is a must-have. They will work out, but if you’re looking for better features or more customization, almost any other will give you more.

So, get this ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 if you’re looking to cover a large home. But if you decide to skip it, you won’t miss out on anything, either.

READ  Best Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Systems of 2021: The Real-Deal Collection

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