Netgear Nighthawk Mesh Wi-Fi 6 AX3600 (MK83) evaluation: bright and beautiful, but insufficient performance
In many places, whether it is a multi-storey house, a loft office or an outdoor terrace, there are challenges in obtaining good wireless coverage. As the number of people working and studying at home hit a record high, a stable Wi-Fi signal has changed from “very good” to a “must have” category. From business transactions to birthday parties, the dead zone between streaming services and Zoom meetings is far less unbearable than it used to be.
There is no shortage of wireless accessories to repair blind spots, including wireless extenders and powerline networks with wireless access points that can transmit signals to where they are needed. But instead of frantically trying to make all these devices play well together, it can be a waste of time even for network experts, but a major challenge for novices. Now a simpler solution (although It’s usually far from cheap) is a mesh network kit. Using the mesh kit, the manufacturer has done the heavy lifting, putting multiple wireless devices in a beautiful box, all of which are compatible and designed to be used out of the box, requiring only a set of instructions to get up and running.
This is our focus on the Netgear Nighthawk Mesh Wi-Fi 6 AX3600 (MK83) system. It consists of three parts: a router and two satellites, which technically makes it a “hub and spoke” system, rather than a “true mesh network” with all the same wireless nodes.But aside from pure considerations, this setup is expected to cover 6,750 square feet of wireless advantage Wireless network 6 speed.
AX3600 is a three-piece or four-piece system (we tested the former, MK83), if you need to cover more space, you can choose to add additional satellites.Each consists of smooth black plastic sides and a textured top (this reminds me of classic arcade games from the 80s Q*Bert), the size is 5.51 x 5.51 x 3.62 inches, the router and the satellite have the same size, and the three units each weigh 1.4 pounds. Smooth plastic is easy to get fingerprints and smudges, so we strongly recommend textured plastic here.
The router (center in the figure above) has three Gigabit Ethernet ports and one WAN port. The simple way to distinguish the router from the satellite box is that the satellite (top left) has no WAN, only two LAN ports. The latter is a good feature, and wired devices (such as a set-top box or console) must be connected to a satellite access point.
Although there are no external antennas, each unit has five internal antennas. One LED lights up blue when connected, flashes white when starting, and orange when ready to synchronize. Unfortunately, the light cannot be turned off, which is not ideal for bedroom applications (unless you want to put a piece of black electrical tape on the LED).
Both the router and the satellite unit use a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, and the router has 256 MB of flash memory and 512 MB of RAM. The wireless is tri-band, namely Wi-Fi 6 AX3600 (5 GHz 1800 Mbps + 5 GHz 1200 Mbps + 2.4 GHz 600Mbps). This amounts to a theoretical bandwidth of 3600 Mbps, hence the name of the kit, but what makes us strange is that there are two different bandwidths for the 5 GHz radio. In addition, it is not clear whether one of them is a backhaul between the router and the satellite, unless it is directly connected to the router, this will become a bottleneck for the faster 5 GHz speed.
At least on paper, the AX3600 does have all the wireless features you would expect from high-end home networking equipment-the three-piece kit we tested currently sells for less than $400. The list is long and includes MU-MIMO for synchronized data streams, explicit beamforming on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, OFDMA for uplink and downlink, and seven-stream WiFi for 4K video streaming .
AX3600 does have switchable QoS (Quality of Service) and “performance optimization database”. We also use SpeedTest to determine the available bandwidth, and then let this grid kit optimize it. In other words, there is absolutely no way to control QoS, either through the type of traffic (such as providing video streaming or game priority) or being able to provide specific device priority (such as gaming equipment). We believe that the shortcomings of this granular control at least partly explain the poor QoS performance below. But first, let’s start the system and routing.
The setup of a mesh system is usually a chore, but the AX3600 performs well in this regard. Although it can also be done through a smartphone app, we do it through a web interface, and it’s very easy.
As part of the setup, the firmware of the system has been upgraded to the latest version available. This is an important step to ensure that the latest patches are applied and any known security vulnerabilities are resolved.
Once the router is connected and started, the next step is to add satellites to the system. This is easier than most mesh systems, because we just plug in the satellite, wait for the flashing white LED to turn orange, and then click the “Sync” button on the satellite, then click the “Sync” button in the software, and the satellites are all Configured.
AX3600 does support the latest encryption standard WPA-3, which has become more and more important as all previous standards have been cracked at this time.
AX3600 does support network-level anti-malware security, here called “Netgear Armor”. However, although there is a free trial version, it is limited to 30 days, even on this high-end mesh kit. In addition, you also need to pay an annual subscription fee of $69.99 (although it currently sells for a lower price). Buyers should include this factor in the cost of AX3600, because some competing products have network-level anti-virus functions during the product’s life cycle at no additional cost.
We ran into connection problems right away. The Acer Aspire laptop with a Wi-Fi 6 card (AX201, driver version 126.96.36.199) we are using cannot connect to the router at all. We did find that this is not the latest Intel driver for the card, which was later upgraded to 188.8.131.52, but this did not solve the problem. Our test was done using a standard ASUS gaming laptop G512L, which also uses the same AX201 card, but without any connection problems.
|Near 2.4 GHz||2.4 GHz far||Near 5 GHz||5 GHz away|
|Bandwidth (Mbps)||Unable to||Unable to||315.2||286.7|
The AX3600 emits a single SSID, and we cannot separate it into separate 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz signals. Therefore, we cannot test the throughput on the 2.4 GHz frequency. We got 315.2 Mbps in the short-range test and 286.7 Mbps in the long-range test. The 5 GHz speed is good, but there is nothing special in the Wi-Fi 6 device.
|Test configuration||service quality||FRAPS average||minute||Maximum||8k dropped frames||Pingplotter spike||Latency (Overwatch milliseconds)|
|Ethernet||Do not||119.8||100||142||Not applicable||0||69|
|Ethernet + 10 8k videos||Do not||36||0||82||16.20%||6||189|
|Ethernet + 10 8k videos||Yes||20.2||2||42||34.80%||13||124|
|The router is only 5 GHz||Do not||126.2||103||152||Not applicable||0||67|
|The router is only 5 GHz||Do not||13.4||0||51||3.40%||1||151|
|5 GHz + 10 8k videos||Yes||16.1||0||59||50.80%||1||118|
|Satellite (5 GHz)||Do not||136.1||107||163||Not applicable||1||68|
|Satellite + 10 8k videos||Do not||24.9||0||50||9.20%||0||100|
|Satellite + 10 8k videos||Yes||37.6||0||90||17.80%||3||87|
It turns out that the stress test on the AX3600 mesh kit is disappointing, and its QoS is almost non-existent, resulting in lower frame rates for our games Overwatch, And a high frame loss rate. But let us not surpass ourselves.
Things started fairly well. When connected via an Ethernet cable, the frame rate of 119.8 is stable, and the game delay is as low as 69 milliseconds. However, when we added ten 8K streaming videos, we saw that the frame rate dropped to 36.0 FPS, and the game would sometimes freeze at zero frame rate. Our latency has also increased to 189 milliseconds, and the frame rate of streaming video has dropped by 16.2%, plus six PingPlotter peaks. Enabling QoS does not help us at all-in fact, the FPS is even lower to 20.2, and the frame loss rate on the video stream is even higher, reaching 34.8%, and the overall performance is worse.
In short, the AX3600 mesh kit does not perform well in congested environments, and QoS does not effectively manage congestion. Then, when connecting directly to the router via 5 GHz, as well as when connecting to the satellite unit, this will be replicated.
In terms of appearance and promotional features, Netgear Nighthawk Mesh Wi-Fi 6 AX3600 (MK83) sounds promising. But considering the price, coupled with our experience on congested networks, the value of AX3600 is quite low, the suggested retail price is 499 US dollars, and the current market price is 396 US dollars. At this price, this device is clearly at the high end of routers and mesh kits, and lacks throughput and congestion test performance.
Regardless of the price, the AX3600 does have some advantages, such as easy setup, automatic firmware upgrade during setup, support for WPA-3 security, and compact size of the device. But add the high price and the extra cost of lack of effective QoS, normal throughput, and anti-malware protection, and there are obviously better options. I hope Netgear can learn from the working principle of AX3600 and develop on the basis of this experience.