The Netgear Nighthawk X4S and X6S offer impressive performance while requiring essentially no setup
As we add more and more connected devices to our homes, the availability of quality wireless signal has become increasingly important. Many folks often use a router that’s good enough to provide adequate wireless signal strength in a few rooms, but many people still have sections of their homes where signal strength constantly drops or may be nonexistent. Up until recently, there haven’t been many ways of fixing this, outside of relocating the router of course, but the advent of mesh networks and competent range extenders are quickly changing the landscape of possibilities. For this review, we’ll be taking a look at the Nighthawk X6S (EX8000) and the Nighthawk X4S (EX7500), both of which are designed to offer ultra-fast 802.11ac wireless connectivity to any existing router with little to no configuration on the user’s part. How well do they live up to the task? Let’s take a look.
Nighthawk X6S Specs and Design
The Nighthawk X6S (EX8000) looks more like a traditional router, with a long, rectangular wedge-shaped body that’s designed to stand vertically. On the front, near the top, is a series of status LEDs indicating the link status, maximum throughput, 2.4GHz and 5GHz output, client link, USB connection and the Ethernet connections as well. A half-moon shaped stand sits at the back to keep the Nighthawk X6S from falling backward, and just above that, you’ll find all the ports and buttons. From left to right you’ll find the WPS button, 4 Ethernet ports, a USB 2.0 Type-A port, power button, A/C power port, and a reset button. The X6S measures in at 227mm tall, 170mm wide, 93mm thick and weighs 1.9lb/806g.
It’s capable of tri-band wireless distribution, where band 1 is [email protected], band 2 is [email protected] and band 3 is [email protected] All three bands are 256QAM modulation and support dense data throughout the home. All four ethernet ports support 10/100/1000Mbps speeds with auto-sensing technology for maximum compatibility with all your wired devices. All you’ll find in the box is the range extender itself, and a power cable, giving you a hint at how simple the product’s design really is. The Nighthawk X6S retails for $279 and can be found at common retailers such as Amazon or Best Buy.
Nighthawk X4S Specs and Design
Following more in the footsteps of what people might expect when they think of a range extender, the Nighthawk X4S is a smaller device that plugs directly into an electrical outlet somewhere in the home and features no ports or wires to plug in. Being a fully wireless device, the only button you’ll find on the unit is the WPS button for instant configuration, and little else outside of the LED Status indicator lights up top. These LED status lights indicate the link between the extender and router, power status, 2.4GHz and 5GHz client links, and the WPS indicator.
It’s capable of tri-band wireless distribution, where band 1 at [email protected], band 2 at [email protected], band 3 also at [email protected] Like the X6S, All three bands are 256QAM modulation and support dense data throughout the home. The X4S is fairly large for something that plugs straight into a wall outlet but is designed to plug into the top-most outlet without blocking the bottom port. It measures 83.82mm tall, 76.2mm wide and 161.04mm thick, with a weight of 0.67lb/304g
Installation and Setup
Netgear has clearly done a lot of work to make installation, configuration, and setup as clear-cut as possible, all while somehow still maintaining maximum compatibility with nearly all existing routers and networking systems. In fact, Netgear primarily sells both of these as range extenders, which are designed to work with your existing wireless router without any real configuration. Folks who primarily rely on their Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) router will understand the pain that we’re talking about when we mean poor wireless signal throughout the home. Many ISP routers are as barebones as they come, with little to no tweakable features, and generally not the best signal strength or range. While many people will purchase a separate router to do the job, this isn’t always the most feasible option, or the easiest either, and it doesn’t always solve the problem of coverage or speed.
Using either Netgear Nighthawk X6S or X4S as a WiFi range extender is as simple as it comes. Plug the extender in, press the WPS button on the extender, and then press the WPS button on the existing router in your home. In a matter of seconds the extender syncs up to the router, configures all available wireless access points, and everything just works. It was literally the easiest networking setup I’ve ever done in my life, without a doubt. If you so choose to configure more options, it can be done quickly through a web browser on a computer, smartphone or other Internet-connected devices with a browser.
The Netgear Genie software is used for configuration of the extenders and can configure the ability to toggle the NightHawk X6S between a Range Extender, or a full-fledged access point. Netgear Genie is available on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, and is completely free of charge. This is used in place of the traditional web-browser URL/IP address that many routers use and provides a more user-friendly way of finding and configuring the router on your network. Initial setup can be done with the WPS switch, as described above, or by connecting to the NETGEAR_EXT SSID that is broadcast, followed by navigating to www.mywifiext.net. A few quick questions will determine how the extender is to be used, and most default options can be kept without worry.
But what if your router is older and doesn’t support the newer, faster wireless standards like 802.11ac, or even 5GHz? The Nighthawk X6S is most certainly the product you’re looking for, as it’ll function exactly as you would expect by plugging an Ethernet cable from your router into the back of the X6S, and then setting up new wireless SSIDs in the configuration. While this sounds complicated, it’s really only 3 text boxes worth of information to input, as you give a name to each channel’s broadcast name (SSID), and hit save. I tested this with an inexpensive $20 router I had lying around, and also tested it with my ISPs cable modem. Both options worked exactly as expected, with the Nighthawk X6S performing exactly the way I had hoped, broadcasting all three channels to my home without having to use another router for the job.
Coverage and Speed
Netgear’s primary selling point is as a range extender to go with your pre-existing router, and as such Netgear utilizes the 802.11r and 802.11k wireless standards to tell devices which wireless access point to connect to. Many devices support these standards, but it’s incredibly difficult to find a reliable list of device compatibility from anyone. Apple and Microsoft both have excellent support in their devices for this standard, and many Android manufacturers do as well, however, there are a number of devices that simply don’t support the standard and will not play as nicely with multiple access points utilizing the same name. In our testing, the Huawei P20 series worked like a champ and never encountered any issues when operating throughout the home, however, the LG V30 would sometimes have hiccups in loading anything from the network.
There is a bit of a workaround on Android in the developer options labeled “Always allow Wi-Fi roaming scans,” but this may be a battery killer in some circumstances, and may not be worth enabling. As such your mileage will vary based on what devices you own and use, and where in your home you use them. 802.11r and 802.11k are two industry standards that are designed for homes or offices where multiple available access points all use the same broadcast name (SSID) and help the device understand where it’s at in the building in relation to access points (AP). This two-way communication allows the access point, in this case, either Netgear Nighthawk, to help the client (a phone, laptop, etc) determine which AP to connect to. The result is seamless wireless connection without stutter or long waiting times while the device switches between APs.
As such you’ll find the Nighthawk X6S and X4S work best in homes where devices support these standards, but they will still work just fine in homes that don’t. Larger homes may need more than one extender, and in that case, it’s great to have multiple X4S units in particular, as they function in a way that’s both unobtrusive and simple to set up. The X6S’s biggest improvements lie in the addition of the upper 5GHz band for faster speeds and better traffic separation for clients that support these higher frequencies, as well as the ability to connect wired clients through the Ethernet ports on the back, utilizing the convenience of a wireless connection to the AP for devices that might perform better on a wired connection (or just don’t have wireless options).
Utilizing Netgear’s own WiFi analyzer app, we tested signal strength throughout the home before and after installing either Nighthawk product. For this setup the ISP router, which is capable of up to 802.11n speeds at 2.4GHz, is in the front of the house, which delivers great coverage to the room it’s in, as well as adequate coverage to the closest adjacent rooms. Rooms further away had significantly degraded signal strength, to the point where we saw random disconnections from devices as the signal would regularly drop out of acceptable strength ranges, despite the actual signal strength numbers appearing reasonably high. After installation of the Nighthawk X4S halfway through the house, signal strength increased to 100% in every single room of the home, with no disconnections or any kind of connection issues whatsoever.
Turning off my ISP router’s WiFi and utilizing only the Nighthawk X6S for wireless signal propagation resulted in the addition of the faster 5GHz channels and 802.11ac speeds, but in this particular scenario didn’t improve the signal strength since it was already at 100% with the Nighthawk X4S. Removing the X4S from the middle of the house proved to be an interesting experiment though, as we still saw significantly increased signal strength in all rooms. While the back rooms no longer featured 100% signal strength, due to the X6S being all the way in the front of the house, the signal was more than usable and never incurred a drop from any device we tested. It’s also well worth noting the significant speed increases throughout the house; from an average of 130Mbps with the old router to 234Mbps with the Nighthawk X6S only, and over 300Mbps with the Nighthawk X4S added to the mix.
For reference, we tested several phones and other devices for signal strength and quality, including the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro, LG V30, Samsung Galaxy S9+, Oppo R11s, Google Pixel and Pixel XL, Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Surface 5, and the Dell XPS 15 9550.
Both the Netgear Nighthawk X4S and X6S significantly improved wireless signal strength and speed, all while requiring no configuration of any kind to set up. A simple press of the WPS button on either side is all that’s needed to hook up to your existing router, and provides a dedicated wireless link to the extender, bringing significantly improved wireless coverage throughout your home. Choosing between the two is fairly simple, as the addition of Ethernet ports on the X6S allow it to both operate as a simple router, as well as plug in any wired devices you might have that don’t have wireless options for network connection. These certainly aren’t the cheapest products on the market by any means, but their ultra simple configuration coupled with the incredible performance of both units qualifies them as the gold standard in wireless connectivity throughout the home and would benefit anyone who needs enhanced signal strength and speed in every spot.Buy the Netgear Nighthawk X4S at Amazon Buy the Netgear Nighthawk X6S at Amazon