The Netgear Nighthawk AX12 12-Stream AX6000 WiFi 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 (2×2) Wi-Fi 6 client, while the RAX120 is a faster 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 router. (No typo here, I’ll explain the router’s 8×8 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 by far 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, 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. Also, the fact there aren’t many Wi-Fi 6 clients out there means you can’t enjoy it much, yet.
But, if you’re looking to upgrade your small or medium home to Wi-Fi 6 right away, the Netgear Nighthawk AX12 is definitely worth the consideration.
NETGEAR Nighthawk AX12 12-Stream WiFi 6 Router (RAX120)$384.77
- Powerful hardware, fast performance
- Beautiful design
- 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
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 space ship 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 thing sure is a neat piece of hardware.
On the back, the RAX120 has the usual 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 this feature.
What makes the RAX120 stand out is the presence of 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 no longer is the bottleneck when working with Wi-Fi 6 clients.
Other than that, there also are two USB 3.0 (5Gbps) ports to host storage devices. Again, considering the Multi-Gig port, the RAX120 has the potential of delivering 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 get to. Fans are generally associated with noise and tricky maintenance in long-term use.
During my some ten days of testing, the router did get warm enough to trigger the fan a couple of 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. On its underside, there are four rubber feet for it to stay put on a surface, which is what you’ll need to place it.
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 4×4 setup and has the 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 is used mostly to make a router backward compatible with legacy clients.
On the 5GHz things get a bit complicated. On paper, the RAX120 features the 8-streams (8×8) Wi-Fi 6 setup. 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 4×4 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 Nighthawk RAX120’s hardware specifications
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 2×2 Intel AX200 client will get the 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, as well as most Wi-Fi 6 routers, support stronger 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 time until legacy clients have updated software drivers.
Netgear RAX120’s detail photos
Netgear Nighthawk RAX120: A familiar, standard router
Despite the completely new look, the RAX120 is a conventional router in terms of setup and on-going 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 port 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, including 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 quite self-explanatory. Most people won’t need to go further than the Basic tab. It’s where you can view connected clients, 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 to the max.
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 useful 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 set the priority for connected clients or applications, though, you do have to add one 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), just log in the web interface, to the Advanced tab then navigate to Advanced Setup and then click on “Router / AP / Bridge Mode.”
I tried out all these roles, and they worked as intended. In all, 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 ability to protect the entire network against online threats in real-time. 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, too, 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 that of the Asus RT-AX88U or even 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, with it to create a pseudo mesh, Netgear doesn’t have anything close to Asus’s AiMesh or Synology Mesh. If you’re looking to have 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 rather simple. You can pick the channel for each band and set it to work in a mode of “up to” certain Wi-Fi speed.
In other words, you can’t configure much 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, just like any server, and access it without using any 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. What’s more, 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 tested other Wi-Fi routers, but this time using both 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. I had to change its Wi-Fi settings at times to make sure 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 quite 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 the 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 at between 1.2Gbps and 1.7Gbps with the average sustained speeds of more than 900Mbps, also among the fastest.
But you don’t need Wi-Fi 6 clients to enjoy the router. When used with 4×4 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 both with the Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 clients as well as 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. When placed in the middle, it can cover a home of some 2000 ft² (185 m²) with a relatively strong signal throughout.
The router was reliable in my testing. For more than a week, there was no unexpected disconnection or any other issues at all.
Unprecedented network storage speed
When it comes to 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 the sustained data copy speed of more 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.
When I switched to use one of the RAX120’s regular Gigabit LAN ports the router was also quite impressive. 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 kind of 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.
With the Netgear Nighthawk AX12 12-Stream AX6000 WiFi 6 Router RAX120, one thing is clear: The age of Multi-Gig is here, and it’s pretty. This router an awesome-looking piece of hardware that will take your home network up a huge notch. It’s pricey, but it delivers.
Keep in mind, though, that we’re still in the early stage of Wi-Fi 6. There aren’t many clients out there, and none right now that can fully take advantage of the RAX120.
Also, while Wi-Fi 6 supports earlier Wi-Fi standards, mixing them up will result in slowing Wi-Fi 6 devices down, quite significantly. 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.