Companies usually introduce new products--especially first-in-category / next-generation / top-of-line routers--with as much fanfare as they can muster. But NETGEAR is taking a different approach with its first two draft 11ax routers.
The company isn't issuing a press release to spread the news. Instead, they briefed me yesterday and provided the briefing deck to write coverage from. They also are taking a similar approach to ASUS with availability, letting product initially trickle out to retailers.
The Nighthawk RAX80 AX8 8-stream AX6000 WiFi Router and Nighthawk RAX120 AX12 12-stream AX6000 WiFi Router are worst-kept secrets anyway, at least to SNB readers. Both were outed from FCC filings back in August and September. But now, instead of pulling information from commented-out website source code, you can now see the official story from product pages.
The RAX80 was the first draft 802.11ax (now aka Wi-Fi 6) router NETGEAR was going to reveal back in September. But they decided to hold off to let its firmware bake some more. The RAX80 is based on the same Broadcom platform, which features a 1.8 GHz 64 bit quad-core processor, as ASUS' RT-AX88U that was first announced about a year ago at IFA 2017.
At an MSRP of $399.99, the RAX80 sells for 50 bucks more than the ASUS, which Wi-Fi eager beavers have been able to buy for a few weeks now. It looks like NETGEAR has given Best Buy a 30 day (or so) exclusive on the RAX80. An SNBForum member yesterday shared he saw them in his local Best Buy and I also confirmed mine also has a few at full list price. You can also pre-order from Amazon if you want to wait until it is released there on December 21. You can buy the RT-AX88U from Amazon, NewEgg and many other sites now.
The RAX120 is the "newer" of the two routers and is based on Qualcomm's IPQ8078 "Hawkeye" chipset. This one isn't as far along as the RAX80 and, for now, will be available only through a NETGEAR Premier Membership Beta program.
The bullet points of the program are shown below, with no pricing given. It looks like the 90-day free trial means that, this time, you won't have to pay to be a beta tester, instead of the usual drill of paying full MSRP and being stuck if you end up with a buggy product.
It also means that NETGEAR has until February 2019 or so to reveal MSRP, which you can expect to be higher than the RAX80. Hit the program page link above if you want to be a guinea pig. NETGEAR told me retail availability is expected "later in Q1 2019".
Both routers have a unique antenna design, with four antennas encased in two foldable gull wings. If the antenna positions shown in the cutaway view below are accurate, it looks like NETGEAR has angled the 5 GHz antennas to land somewhere between horizontal and vertical polarization.
The wings have two fixed positions shown in the images above and below, although the folded position is not recommended. This design ensures optimum antenna positioning and eliminates the guesswork of how to position the router's eight antennas. The can be wall or ceiling mounted thanks to mounting screw slots built into its bottom.
So why would you want one vs. the other? A read through the comparison table below might help or just confuse you. The tldr; is that the RAX120 has a faster processor, "Multi-Gig" 1/2/5 Gbps LAN port and supports WPA3. It doesn't, however, currently support DFS channels. The lack of WPA3 support on the RAX80 and lack of DFS support on the RAX120 are both likely to be remedied in future firmware updates, however.
What you don't get for buying the higher-priced RAX120 is higher link rate. While NETGEAR has included the usual total-of-unachievable-by-most-devices-rates-in-both-bands "class" number of "AX6000" in both router names, that's not where the spin is being applied. Instead, they're trying to differentiate products by counting MIMO streams, i.e. number of transmit/receive pairs. Of course, they're adding 2.4 and 5 GHz sides together, so the RAX80's eight streams come from four from each radio.
The RAX120's twelve streams come from totaling four for 2.4 GHz and eight for 5 GHz. So if the RAX120 has more streams than the RAX80 and more streams means higher link rate, why isn't the RAX120's "class" number higher than AX6000?
The answer is that the 5 GHz maximum link rate of 4.8 GHz is achieved differently in the two routers. The RAX80 gets there by using four streams and 160 MHz bandwidth, while the RAX120 uses eight streams and 80 MHz bandwidth. When the Qualcomm 5 GHz radio switches to 160 MHz bandwidth, it uses one of its two 5 GHz radios tuned to one 80 MHz channel and the other to another 80 MHz channel. This creates a four-stream radio capable of creating both an 80+80 or contiguous 160 MHz channel.
In contrast, the RAX80's Broadcom-based radio can create a 160 MHz contiguous channel only. So it's more dependent on UNII-2 and -2e DFS channel availability.
Which is better? Time will tell. But NETGEAR's first whack at positioning the RAX120's eight streams is that it improves 5 GHz transmit beamforming gain "for mid-range performance improvement" and "helps long range stability and reliability due to diversity".