In late December 2021, I realized that Netgear had been quietly and even retrospectively removing major features from its existing Nighthawk and Orbi devices via firmware updates, effectively reducing the hardware’s capability.
I published this review before that time. Consequently, while the hands-on experience remains largely relevant today, the rating and recommendation might no longer fully apply.
The 3-pack Netgear MK63 Nighthawk Dual-Band AX1800 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System (or MK62 for a 2-pack) is, for now, a one-of-a-kind mesh system despite the fact it’s supposed to be a universal one.
Considering Netgear’s other well-known Orbi mesh family, it’s a bit hard for me to find the right place to put the MK63 at first. After all, it’s a dual-band system seemingly without anything new to offer.
So here’s the bottom line: If you’re looking for a budget Wi-Fi 6 mesh system for a wired home or one with a modest Internet connection, the Netgear Nighthawk MK63 can be an excellent buy.
Just make sure you have a little patience for its potentially problematic initial setup process.
Table of Contents
Netgear MK63 Nighthawk: First Wi-Fi EasyMesh System
If you’re wondering why Netgear makes the MK63, you’re not alone, considering its well-known Orbi brand. The thing is, with this entirely new mesh, Netgear tries to achieve a couple of meaningful objectives it can’t do with the completely proprietary Orbi.
But first, let’s take a look at the MK63’s hardware.
A familiar mesh design
The Netgear MK63 includes two types of hardware: router (model MR60) and satellite (MS60). Similar to the case of any Orbi set, you can’t use these interchangeably. When you buy a 3-pack, you get one router and two satellites. A 2-pack (MK62) includes just one of each.
The MS60 satellite is also available as a single add-on unit. Netgear says you can use up to four MS60 units with an MR60 router for a total of five broadcasters in a system.
The two hardware units look the same from almost any angle. Each is a compact square box with shiny plastic chassis that’s a fingerprint super-magnet. Touch it once, and you can never make it look clean again.
On top, the box has little openings for ventilation. On the back, you’ll note that the router unit has one gigabit WAN port and one Gigabit LAN port. The satellite unit has one Gigabit LAN port to host a wired client or the wired backhaul link.
Again, the system supports wired backhaul, but considering the limited number of ports, you will need a switch in between if you want to use two or more satellite units. Specifically, you can connect just one satellite to the router, and that’s it. There’s no way to daisy-chain them with network cables.
Netgear MK63 Nighthawk’s detail photos
Why Netgear makes the MK63
Now, here’s the big picture behind the MK63. There are two things of note.
The first Nighthawk mesh system
First, with the new system, Netgear wants to bring a mesh option to its robust Nighthawk brand, which is often associated with performance and geared toward advanced users.
In this regard, the Netgear MK63 hits these notes:
- It shares the same familiar web interface and mobile app as existing Nighthawk routers, such as the RAX120, RAX200, or RAX50.
- By being super-simple to use, probably even too much so, the new system makes the Nighthawk brand feel more user-friendly.
- Soon, there’s a chance the MS60 satellite (and alike) will work with existing Nighthawk routers. Considering everyone wants to turn their standalone routers into part of a mesh system — Like Linksys with its Velo Intelligent Mesh, Asus with the AiMesh, etc. — it only makes sense if Netgear decides to do the same. And that’s a good thing.
And secondly, this is the very first mesh system that’s design based on the EasyMesh concept.
EasyMesh is the Wi-Fi Alliance’s new certification program that aims to simplify the building of mesh systems. The idea is any EasyMesh-certified hardware from any vendor will work with one another to form a Wi-Fi.
For that to work out, we need to wait until more vendors participate. For now, the MK63 is only in this space. But starting in 2021, when the EasyMesh program gets certified, chances are you’ll see more supported hardware.
So why does Netgear want to be ahead of this game so badly? Well, that’s because the company has been introducing its own “universal” mesh-like add-on hardware that works well with (almost) any router.
Examples are the Nighthawk extenders that can replicate the Wi-Fi settings of any existing network, such as the EX8000 or EX7500. Considering the networking vendor is part of the Wi-Fi Alliance, it’s probably safe to say these Nighthawk extenders are how the concept of EasyMesh came to life.
Netgear MK63 Nighthawk: Pre-synced hardware, simple to use, spartan Wi-Fi settings
Out of the box, the MK63’s hardware is pre-synced. Thanks to that, the system can be straightforward to set up and use.
All you have to do is get the router unit up and running, the way you do any standard router with a web user interface, and then the satellites automatically become part of the system.
You only need to add them manually if you get additional add-on units. In that case, it’s quite easy to add them, too, using the web UI or the mobile app.
A bit of a setup hiccup
In my trial, though, I did run into some issues, mostly because my review hardware came with a problematic (pre-release?) firmware version.
Specifically, the router setup part went well. I accessed its web user interface by pointing a connected computer to its default IP, 192.168.1.1, and follows the wizard. In all, it took me less than 5 minutes.
(Alternatively, as an option, you can also use the Nighthawk mobile app for this process. In this case, you’ll need to have an account with Netgear. I always prefer the web user interface, however.)
I then checked for the satellites, but none appeared to be part of the system as expected. Instead, I saw a note that a new firmware is available. Thinking that updating the firmware only on the router might create issues. I ignored that and proceeded to add the satellites by following the onscreen step-by-step wizard manually.
The first satellite synced immediately. However, the second wouldn’t do, and I had to try for a long time via restarting, resetting, and so on before it finally hooked up.
Long story short, as it turned out, the satellite performed a self firmware update during my setup and was not available to the system. Unaware of that, I tried to “fix” it and made things worse. Good thing I didn’t brick it.
The whole experience reminded me of what I ran into while testing the Asus ZenWiFi AX Mini, which also shipped with a pre-release firmware version. And similarly, this was also the Netgear MK63’s only hiccup during my testing.
A note of caution for those getting the Netgear MK63
That said, if you get the MK63, make sure you set up the router unit, plug the satellites in around and wait for a while (like 10 – 15 minutes) for the auto firmware update process to finish before trying any troubleshooting.
Specifically, in my case, the firmware that worked is V126.96.36.199_2.0.42, and the one that had issues is V188.8.131.52_2.0.28.
Chances are yours might already come with the latest firmware. In that case, you can expect it to work smoothly. And the setup process, only necessary on the router unit, will take less than 5 minutes.
Netgear MK63 Nighthawk: Hardware specifications
|Unit Name||Nighthawk AX1800 |
Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router
|Nighthawk AX1800 |
Mesh Wi-Fi 6 Satellite
|Dedicated Backhaul Band||None||None|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||4.8 x 4.8 x 2.5 in |
(12.19 x 12.19 x 6.35 cm)
|Same as Router|
|Weight||0.63 lb (286 grams)||Same|
|5GHz Wi-Fi Specs||2 x 2 AX: Up to 1200 Mbps||Same|
|2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs||2 x 2 Wi-Fi 6 up to 574 Mbps||Same|
|Wi-Fi Security||WPA3 / WPA2 / WPA||Same|
|Channel Width Support||20Mhz, 40MHz, 80MHz||Same|
|Mobile App||Netgear Nighthawk||n/a|
|Web User Interface||Yes (Full)||n/a|
|AP Mode||Yes (as a single unit or a mesh)||n/a|
|Gigabit Port||1x WAN/LAN, 1x LAN||1x LAN|
|Processing Power||Quad-Code 1.5GHz CPU, |
128MB Flash and 256MB RAM
|Same as Router|
Close to zero Wi-Fi settings
Netgear generally doesn’t offer many Wi-Fi settings for its Nighthawk routers, and the Netgear MK63 brought this to a new level of modesty.
You can’t separate the two Wi-Fi bands into two SSIDs (Wi-Fi network names). In fact, the only settings you can change are the name and password of the single Wi-Fi network, as well as the channels of each band. And that’s it.
Again, note that the router doesn’t support the 160 MHz channel width, but even if it doesn’t, there’s no way to make it work in any channel width anyway.
Standard network settings, no noteworthy features
The Netgear MR60 comes with a standard set of network settings. It has enough for general setup, including IP reservation, port-forwarding, and Dynamic DNS. On top of that, you’ll also file a VPN server and a Traffic Meter, which is useful in case you’re worried about running over your monthly data cap.
And the router doesn’t have much else as features.
There’s a QoS engine that was quite finicky in my tests. The feature gives you the option of letting it figure out the broadband speeds via a speed test. But when I picked this option, the page just reset after the test, and QoS never turned on.
I ended up having to punch in the download and upload speeds manually. Only then was I able to prioritize the bandwidth to certain devices. There’s no way to do that by applications.
Like most new Wi-Fi 6 routers from Netgear, the MR60 supports Netgear Armor, a subscription-based online (and offline) protection service that costs some $70/year after a short free trial. To use Armor, though, you’ll need to resort to the Netgear Nighthawk mobile app. There’s no way to configure it using the web UI.
Netgear MK63 Nighthawk: Good performance
With modest dual-band hardware specs and no multi-gig port, the MK63 is not designed to wow anyone. And its number showed. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a formidable contender.
Among those of the same price point, it did well in my tests.
Comparatively fast Wi-Fi speeds
As a single router, the MR60 delivered a sustained speed of more than 870 Mbps to my 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client, which connected to it at 1.2 Gbps at a short distance. Farther away, at 40 feet (12 m), the pair now registered almost 695 Mbps. Both were faster than the router unit of the TP-Link Deco X60 and comparable to those of the Asus ZenWiFi XD4R.
Wi-Fi 5 clients performed well with the router, too, averaging some 760Mbps (4×4 client) at 10 feet (3 m) away and some 550Mbps (3×3 client) from 40 feet. Again, there were clearly faster than the Deco X60.
As a mesh system, I placed the Netgear MS60 40 feet away from the Netgear MR60, which did comparatively well.
Without a dedicated backhaul band, the satellite indeed showed a signal loss, just like the case of any other dual-band system.
Still, my 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client averaged 355 Mbps and 280 Mbps at the close range long-range, respectively. And my 3×3 Wi-Fi 5 registered some 250 Mbps and 220 Mbps at similar distances.
Netgear says the MK63 can deliver an Internet connection of 100 Mbps in full –that’s not an exaggeration.
One thing to note, I tested the MK63 in the star topology where the satellites were placed around the router. In a daisy-chain (linear) setup, the speed at the unit farthest away will get quite slow. I tried that out and generally averaged just around 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps.
Excellent range and reliability
What is so not an exaggeration on Netgear’s part is the system’s range.
I was impressed with the MR60 alone. By itself, it delivered a better range than many routers of the same or even better specs, such as Linksys MR9600. I’d say it alone can handle at least some 1800 ft² (167 m²) when placed in the middle.
So, with all three hardware units, chances are they can take care of 4500 ft² (418 m²), as Netgear claims. But with Wi-Fi, your mileage always will vary.
I used the MK63 for more than a week non-stop as my primary system and had no issue with it. So, the MK63 proved to be reliable.
Netgear MK63 Nighthawk's Rating
Reliable performance, excellent coverage
First EasyMesh system
Wired backhaul support
Modest Wi-Fi specs, no dedicated backhaul band
and limited number of ports; switch required for wired backhaul configuration
Lacks basic Wi-Fi settings, no 160 MHz channel width
No multi-gig port, Dual-WAN or Link Aggregation
Finicky QoS, online protection, require a mobile app and is not free
As the first EasyMesh-based solution, the Netgear MK63 Nighthawk Dual-Band AX1800 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System is exciting.
We’ll have to wait to see how EasyMesh pans out, but for now, by itself, the MK63 is a reliable Wi-Fi 6 system that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Coming from Netgear, which sells the Orbi AX6000 for an arm and a leg, the MK63 is a welcome affordable Wi-Fi 6 alternative.
Make sure you note the setup process above — hint: patience is a virtue. After that, if you have a modest Internet connection or have wired your home with network cables and have a switch, this new mesh system is an excellent buy.