Netgear Nighthawk MK63 Review: A Modest but Reliable Performer

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 15
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The hardware of the Netgear Nighthawk MK63 mesh system is quite sleek.

The 3-pack Netgear Nighthawk Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System (model MK63, or MK62 for a 2-pack) is, for now, a one-of-a-kind mesh system despite the fact it’s supposed to be the most 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.

But at just around $280 (or less than $200 for a 2-pack) the compact mesh system is quite enticing. And its reliable performance can quickly grow on you.

So here’s the bottom line: If you’re looking for budget Wi-Fi 6 mesh system for a home with a relatively modest Internet connection, or one with wired with network cables, the Netgear Nighthawk MK63 is an excellent buy. Just make sure you have a little patience for its potentially problematic initial setup process.

Netgear Nighthawk Mesh Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 System (MK63)

8

Performance

8.5/10

Features

7.0/10

Design and Setup

8.0/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Reliable performance, excellent coverage
  • Affordable
  • First EasyMesh system
  • Wired backhaul support
  • Compact design, easy to use

Cons

  • Modest Wi-Fi specs, no dedicated backhaul
  • 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
  • Attracts and retains dirt and fingerprint easily
  • Finicky QoS, online protection require mobile app and not free
  • Not wall-mountable

Netgear Nighthawk MK63: First EasyMesh System

If you’re wondering why Netgear makes the MK63, considering its well-known Orbi brand, you’re not alone. 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 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) include 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. They are each a compact square box with shiny plastic chassis that 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 just one Gigabit LAN port, to host a wired client or the wired backhaul link.

Again, the system support wired backhaul, but considering the limited amount of ports, you will need a switch in between if you want to use two or more satellite units. Specifically, you can plug one satellite to the router, and that’s it. There’s no way to daisy-chain them with network cables.

Netgear Nighthawk MK63’s detail photos

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 1
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The Netgear Nighthawk MK63’s retail box.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 2
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Out of the box, the router unit has a label to distinguish iself from the two satellite units.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 3
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Without this label, you can’t tell which one is which out of the three. They look the same from most angles.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 12
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech And the top of each units are identical, too. Note the opening for ventilation.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 16
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Note the differences now?

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 6
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The only way to tell the harware units of the Netgear Nighthawk MK63 apart is by looking at their back side. You’ll note the router unit, MR60, has two network ports compared with just one of the satellites.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 9
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The MS60 router has one Gigabit WAN port and one Gigabit LAN port.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 10
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The MS60 satellite has just one Gigabit LAN port to host a wired device or the wired backhaul link. By the way, note how the device’s surface is a fingerprint magnet — it gets dirty really fast.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 11
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The bottom of the MR60 router unit.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 13
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The bottom of the satellite unit. Note how they share the same default Wi-Fi network information as an indication of the fact they are pre-synced out of the box.

Netgear MK63 AX1800 Mesh Wi Fi 6 System 14
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Each hardware unit of the Netgear Nighthawk MK63 doesn’t have a flat top, so in reality, you can’t stack them up like this. And there’s no use in doing so, either.

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 MK63 hits these notes:

  • It shares the same familiar web interface and mobile app as those of 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.


Netgear Nighthawk Mobile App
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The Nighthawk mobile app is a pleasant to use.

EasyMesh explained

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 2021, when the EasyMesh program gets certified, chances are you’ll see more supported hardware.

So why does Netgear want to be ahead of in 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 Nighthawk MK63: 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 very easy 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.

Negear Sync
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Out of the box, the MR60 comes with an older version of firmware that proved to be problematic. (Note the version number at the top right corner of the screenshot, under the Netgear logo.)

Specifically, the router setup part went well. I accessed its web user interface by pointing a connected computer to its default IP, which is 192.168.1.1, and follows the wizard. All took 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 ignore that and proceeded to manually add the satellites by following the onscreen step-by-step wizard.

The first satellite synced immediately. However, the second just 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, during my setup, the satellite performed a self firmware update 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.

Negear Firmware Update Warning
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Once the hardware units updated themselves to the latest firmware, all was fine.

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 MK63’s only hiccup during my testing.

A note of caution for those getting the 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.

Especially, in my case, the firmware that worked is V1.0.4.98_2.0.42 and the one that had issues is V1.0.2.76_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 Nighthawk MK63’s hardware specifications

Close to zero Wi-Fi settings

Netgear generally doesn’t offer a lot of Wi-Fi settings for its Nighthawk routers and the 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 if even if it doesn’t, there’s no way to make it to work in any channel width anyway.

Standard network settings, no noteworthy features

The 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.

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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.

MK63 QoS
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech I wasn’t able to turn QoS on using this setting. After hitting Apply, the router would work at it for a minute or so then unchecked the Enable Qos box. But if I choose to enter the Internet bandwidth manually, the QoS worked as intended.

I ended up having to punch in the download and upload speeds manually, only then I was 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 sort 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 Nighthawk MK63: Overall excellent peformance

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 the 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.

Netgear MK63 Router Performance Chart 1
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Wi-Fi 5 clients performed well with the router, too, averaging some 760 Mbps (4×4 client) at 10 feet (3 m) away, and some 550 Mbps (3×3 client) from 40 feet. Again, there were clearly faster than the Deco X60.

As a mesh system, I placed the MS60 at 40 feet away from the MR60, and it did comparatively well, too.

Netgear MK63 Satellite Performance Chart
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Without a dedicated backhaul band, the satellite indeed showed a signal loss, just like the case of any other dual-band systems. Still, my 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client was able to average 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 definitely 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 from 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.

Conclusion

As the first EasyMesh-based solution, the Netgear MK63 Nighthawk AX1800 Mesh Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 System is quite 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, who 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.

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4 thoughts on “Netgear Nighthawk MK63 Review: A Modest but Reliable Performer”

  1. If I’m going to use wired backhaul with 150mb Internet service, do you have any thoughts on how this Nighthawk mesh system compares against the others, particularly the Eero?

    I might just put them all in AP mode. If that’s the case, would I be better off using all-in-one routers as APs? Or actual APs?

    I’m not necessarily interested in managing a prosumer or business class system. I just need better coverage in our home and something that will reliably handle us all working/learning from home at the same time.

    Reply
    • I’d never use the Eero, nor will I ever recommend it. If you have wired backhaul, it’ll work out great. Don’t bother with the AP mode.

      Reply

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