In late December 2021, I realized that Netgear had been quietly and 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, the rating or recommendation might no longer fully apply.
The Netgear Nighthawk AX12 12-Stream AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Router (model RAX120) is my second Wi-Fi 6 router after the Asus RT-AX88U, yet it feels like the first. That's because I didn't have a Wi-Fi 6 client to test the Asus. I do now, thanks to Intel's newly released AX200 adapter card, which is an easy Wi-Fi 6 upgrade.
It's important to note that the Intel AX200 is a mid-tier dual-stream (2x2) Wi-Fi 6 client, while the RAX120 is a faster 4x4 Wi-Fi 6 router. (No typo here, I'll explain the router's 8x8 specs below). That said, the Wi-Fi performance reported in this review is potentially only half of the router's top speed.
Even with this constraint, the Netgear RAX120 is one of the fastest routers I've used -- its multi-Gigabit Ethernet port is a game-changer. And the router is cool-looking to boot. Place it in the open, and you'll get yourself a great conversation starter.
On the downside, with a current cost of somewhere between $400 and $500, the router is too expensive considering its lack of gaming, mesh capability, and cyber-security features.
But, if you're looking to upgrade your small or medium home to Wi-Fi 6 immediately, the Netgear Nighthawk AX12 is definitely worth consideration.
Netgear Nighthawk RAX120: Beautiful design
The AX12 is a huge router, but that only means there's more to love. It looks fantastic, taking the shape of a spaceship with two delta wings and a smooth aerodynamic body. Hidden inside the "wings" are the antennas, which can collapse to make the router less bulky.
You want the antennas up for better Wi-Fi coverage, but the router works fine with them folded down. And then, the package looks like a futuristic race car. So, no matter how you put it, this is a neat piece of hardware.
On the back, the RAX120 has the standard four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN (Internet) port. The first and second LAN ports can work together in a Link Aggregation mode to deliver a 2Gbps connection -- excellent for a NAS server like the Synology DS1019+. Nothing new here, though -- I've seen many routers with this feature.
What makes the RAX120 stand out is the Multi-Gig LAN port, which can connect at up to 5Gbps -- this port can also work in 1Gbps and 2.5Gbps modes. Thanks to this port, the router's wired connection is no longer the bottleneck when working with Wi-Fi 6 clients.
Other than that, there are two USB 3.0 (5Gbps) ports to host storage devices. Again, considering the Multi-Gig port, the RAX120 has the potential to deliver ultra-fast network-attached storage performance when hosting a storage device.
Internal fan, non-mountable
Though not evident, the RAX120 does have an internal fan under the top cover -- it's not easy to reach. Fans are generally associated with noise and tricky maintenance in long-term use.
During my ten days of testing, the router got warm enough to trigger the fan several times. It wasn't noisy, but I could purposely hear it from a few feet away in a quiet room.
By the way, the router is not wall-mountable. It has four rubber feet on its underside to stay securely on a surface.
Powerful hardware, complicated Wi-Fi specs
Not only the Netgear RAX120 router looks the part, but it also packs a big punch. The router sports a 64-bit 2.2GHz quad-core processor with 512MB DDR3 RAM and 1GB of internal flash memory. That's a lot of raw power.
As for Wi-Fi, on the 2.4GHz band, the RAX120 features the 4x4 setup and has a top speed of 1.2Gbps. Despite the high spec, chances are you won't get a much faster rate than a high-end Wi-Fi 5 router on this band. That's because, for years now, the 24GHz band has been mainly used to make a router backward compatible with legacy clients.
|Wi-Fi 6 Stream||Speed at 80 MHz||Speed at 160 MHz||Applicable Netgear Router Models|
|1x1 (single stream)||600 Mbps||1.2 Gbps||All|
|2x2||1.2 Gbps||2.4 Gbps||RAX40, RAX80, |
|4x4||2.4 Gbps||4.8 Gbps||RAX50, RAX80, |
On the 5GHz, things get a bit complicated. The RAX120 features the 8-streams (8x8) Wi-Fi 6 setup on paper. However, this is only true when you use the 80MHz channel width -- where a single stream can deliver 600Mbps.
If you use the new 160MHz channel width -- where a single stream can deliver 1.2Gbps -- the RAX120 now only works in a 4x4 setup. It can only handle 160MHz in 80+80 mode). So, in terms of number, no matter how you want to define its streams, this router always has the top speed on the 5GHz band of 4.8Gbps.
In real-world usage, it gets a bit thorny when Wi-Fi 5 clients are involved.
Nonetheless, as marketing goes, combining the number of streams on both bands (12 streams), we have AX12. And combining the top speeds of both bands (6000Mbps), we have the AX6000 designation. Now you know why the router's full name is such a mouthful.
Netgear RAX120 vs RAX80
The complicated 5 GHz Wi-Fi 6 specs above is the only significant difference between the RAX120 and RAX80. The latter has straightforward 4x4 specs, meaning it has the regular top 5 GHz bandwidth of 4800 Mbps via the support for the 160 MHz channel width.
Furthermore, the RAX80 has no multi-gig ports, a big downer for a Wi-Fi 6 router.
Netgear Nighthawk RAX120: Hardware specifications
|Full Name||Netgear Nighthawk AX12|
12-Stream AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Router
|Wi-Fi Technology||Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) AX6000|
|2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs||2.4GHz AX: Up to 1.2Gbps|
(4x4 at 20/40MHz)
|5GHz Wi-Fi Specs||5GHz AX: Up to 4.8Gbps|
(8x8 at 20/40/80/80+80MHz)
|Network ports||4x LAN ports, 1x WAN|
|Link Aggregation||Yes (LAN ports 1 and 2)|
|Multi-Gig Port||1x 5Gbps LAN/WAN|
|USB Port||2x USB 3.0|
|Processing Power||64-bit quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,|
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
|Dimensions||12.2 x 7.48 x 1.77 in |
(310 x 190 x 45 mm)
|Weight||3 lbs (1364g)|
Wi-Fi 6: Backward compatibility vs. performance
Considering Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and older clients generally don't work with a 160MHz channel, for compatibility, you will need to use the RAX120 -- or any other dual-band Wi-Fi 6 routers, for that matter -- in 80MHz, or lower, channel width.
Consequently, in this case, Wi-Fi 6 clients will connect at half the speed. More specifically, the 2x2 Intel AX200 client will get a top speed of 1.2Gbps instead of 2.4Gbps. To have a Wi-Fi 6 network that's compatible without compromising the performance, for now, you'll need to use a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router and dedicate a 5GHz band solely for Wi-Fi 6 clients.
There's also another minor compatibility issue. For example, for security, the Netgear RAX120 and most Wi-Fi 6 routers support more robust Wi-Fi password protection with WPA3 encryption. However, most existing clients can only handle WPA2 or older. That said, you'll need to use the Wi-Fi 6 routers with WPA2 for a long until legacy clients have updated software drivers.
Netgear RAX120’s detail photos
Netgear Nighthawk RAX120: A familiar, standard router
Despite the new look, the RAX120 is a conventional router in setup and ongoing management. If you have worked with a Netgear router before or any router with a web interface, for that matter, you'll find yourself right at home with this one.
Familiar setup process
The Netgear RAX120 has the same setup process as any router with a web user interface. Here are the steps:
- Connect the router's WAN port to an Internet source, such as your modem, then turn it on.
- Connect a computer to the router, either to one of its LAN ports with a cable or to its default Wi-Fi network printed on its underside.
- From the connected computer, open a browser, such as Chrome, and point it to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1, or routerlogin.net
- Follow the wizard to create an admin password and the Wi-Fi network(s).
And that's it. From then on, you can repeat step #3 each time you need to change a setting or manage your home network. Alternatively, you can also use the Netgear Nighthawk mobile app. I prefer the web interface, however.
Responsive user interface
The router's web UI is similar to that of previous Netgear Wi-Fi 5 routers. It has two tabs, Basic and Advanced. I noted that Netgear no longer used the bloated Netgear Genie branding, which is a welcome change. The interface is now much leaner and more responsive.
The interface is relatively self-explanatory. Most people won't need to go further than the Basic tab. It's where you can view connected clients and set the router's basic settings, like Wi-Fi names/passwords, guest networks, and so on. The Advanced tab is for savvy users who want to customize their home network.
A standard feature set with Access Point and client modes
And the RAX120 has all the usual settings you'd want from a router. You can easily view connected clients, reserve an IP address for a particular client, block its access via MAC address, and so on. The router also supports Dynamic DNS, which is very helpful if you want to set up remote access services at home.
The router can work as a VPN server or a VPN client. VPN features are helpful for those wanting to connect securely when out and above without worrying about their privacy. The RAX120 supports OpenVPN, which is easy to set up and use.
There's also a handy Quality of Service (QoS) engine. You can quickly prioritize connected clients or applications, though you do have to add one at a time.
By the way, the RAX120 can work as a router (default), an Access Point, or a (very expensive) client (Bridge Mode). To change its roles (or modes), log in to the web interface to the Advanced tab, navigate to Advanced Setup, and click on "Router / AP / Bridge Mode."
I tried out all these roles, and they worked as intended. The RAX120 has all the features and settings for home users and some extra for advanced users. But it doesn't have everything I'd expect from a router of its caliber.
Netgear RAX120: What you’ll miss out on
Considering the cost, I'm disappointed that RAX120 doesn't include some valuable features available in other high-end routers, including:
No built-in cybersecurity protection: The real-time ability to protect the entire network against online threats. The omission of the online protection feature is surprising, considering Netgear has been rolling out the Armor feature for other routers, including the Orbi. It's my educated guess that, eventually, Netgear Wi-Fi 6 routers will get Armor via firmware updates.
No online gaming support: While you can customize the RAX120's QoS to support online gaming, the router doesn't have any game-specific features like the Asus RT-AX88U or Netgear's own XR500.
No mesh capability: The RAX120 is a standalone router and will remain that way. While you can use some extenders, like the EX8000, to create a pseudo mesh, Netgear doesn't have anything close to Asus's AiMesh or Synology Mesh. If you want a Wi-Fi 6 mesh from Netgear, you'll need to wait for the Orbi RBK 152's release.
Simple Wi-Fi settings, advanced network storage options
Similar to previous Netgear routers, the RAX120's Wi-Fi settings are relatively simple. You can pick the channel for each band and set it to work in a mode of "up to" a certain Wi-Fi speed.
In other words, you can't configure much more than that. As a result, by default, RAX120 is easy to set up but generally favors compatibility over performance.
On the other hand, when hosting a storage device, the RAX120 offers multiple options for users to access the storage space. You can share it locally, like any server, and access it without using third-party software.
If you're willing to install Netgear's ReadyShare applications, you'll have the option to back up data and access files via the Internet. Moreover, there's also a Media Server function that turns the router into a streaming server for local network streamers.
Netgear Nighthawk RAX120: Excellent performance
I tested the RAX120 the same way I tried other Wi-Fi routers, but this time using Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 clients -- namely an Intel AX200 and a Killer 1650x upgrade add-on cards. I also used the router's 5Gbps network port to connect to my test server, which has a 10Gbps network card.
It was a bit tricky to test the RAX120. At times, I had to change its Wi-Fi settings to ensure it delivered the fastest possible Wi-Fi 6 speeds and, at others, to make it work with Wi-Fi 5 and older clients. In the end, though, I was pretty happy with the router's performance.
Fastest Wi-Fi speeds to date, familiar range
For Wi-Fi 6 tests, at a close distance of shorter than 10 feet (3 m), the Intel AX200 clients showed that they connected at 2.4Gbps, and I had a sustained copy speed of more than 1300Mbps (1.3Gbps), noticeably faster than any Wi-Fi 5 routers.
When I moved the clients to some 40 feet (12 m) away from the router, they now connected between 1.2Gbps and 1.7Gbps with average sustained speeds of more than 900Mbps, among the fastest.
But you don't need Wi-Fi 6 clients to enjoy the router. When used with 4x4 Wi-Fi 5 devices, the RAX120 impressively averaged almost 950Mbps and some 820Mbps at close and long distances, respectively -- better than any Wi-Fi 5 routers I've used.
On the 2.4GHz, as expected, the RAX120 did about the same as most Wi-Fi 5 routers. I tested it with the Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 clients and some Wi-Fi 5 clients, and the scores were similar. Overall, it registered around 120Mbps and 320Mbps for long and short ranges, respectively.
The RAX120 has about the same wireless coverage as a high-end Wi-Fi 5 router. It can cover a home of some 2000 ft² (185 m²) with a relatively strong signal throughout when placed in the middle.
The router was reliable in my testing. For more than a week, there was no unexpected disconnection or other issues.
Unprecedented network storage speed
Regarding network storage speed, the Gigabit network port has generally been the bottleneck; the RAX120 bucks that trend with its Multi-Gig port.
I tested its network storage feature using a USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) My Passport SSD portable drive, and the router delivered a stellar performance. Via a 5Gbps wired connection, it registered a sustained data copy speed of more than 230 MB/s for reading and almost 190 MB/s for writing. -- by far the fastest I've seen in a router, even faster than most dedicated NAS servers.
The router was impressive when I switched to using one of the RAX120's regular Gigabit LAN ports. It now, impressively, delivered the copy speeds of around 112 MB/s for writing and reading -- virtually the cap real-world speed of a Gigabit connection.
With this speed, the RAX120 likely has no problem serving storage space to multiple network computers. However, it's still primarily a router. For a real network storage experience, I'd recommend a dedicated NAS server.
Netgear Nighthawk RAX120's Rating
Powerful hardware, fast performance
Multi-Gig network port (5Gbps)
Well-organized web user interface
Ultra-fast network storage performance
No online protection, gaming, or mesh features
A bit bulky
With the Netgear Nighthawk AX12 12-Stream AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Router RAX120, one thing is clear: The age of Multi-Gig is here, and it's pretty. This router is an awesome-looking piece of hardware that will take your home network up considerably. It's pricey, but it delivers.
Remember, though, that we're still in the early stage of Wi-Fi 6. There aren't many clients, and none right now can fully take advantage of the RAX120.
Also, while Wi-Fi 6 supports earlier Wi-Fi standards, mixing them up will significantly slow Wi-Fi 6 devices down. That's not to mention other compatibility issues.
For this reason, it's not a bad idea to wait for a while, at least till most legacy devices are either updated or phased out, before getting into Wi-Fi 6. But if you can't wait, well, there's the RAX120 that you can count on.