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NETGEAR Nighthawk RAX50 Review

The RAX50 is a decent pick if all you need is better Wi-Fi speeds.

Front shot of NETGEAR Nighthawk RAX50

Is the Nighthawk RAX50 right for you?

So, here’s the thing. The Nighthawk RAX50 is a good, affordable upgrade. It’s best used for internet plans of 940Mbps or slower and mid-sized homes that don’t have a lot of devices fighting for bandwidth.

But when we stand back and gaze out into the (seemingly) vast sea of routers we’ve traversed to date, we can rightfully say there’s a better bang for your buck. The TP-Link Archer AX6000 is a good example of that, which packs more features under the hood for around $40 more.

Pros:

  • OpenVPN server
  • Media server
  • File sharing

Cons:

  • No multi-gig support
  • No free security
  • Subscription-locked features

Fastest internet plans for the RAX50

The RAX50 uses Gigabit Ethernet for internet, so it’s not compatible with internet plans of 1,000Mbps and faster. To see if you have the best internet speeds for the RAX50, run our speed test first:

If you’re in need of an upgrade, here’s a list of the best plans to get you started:

PlanSpeedTypePriceOrder online
Astound Broadband 940 Mbps InternetUp to 940MbpsCable$50.00/mo.*
AT&T Internet 500Up to 500MbpsFiber$65.00/mo.
CenturyLink Fiber GigabitUp to 940MbpsFiber$75.00/mo.
Cox Go Even FasterUp to 500MbpsCable$89.99/mo.§View Plans for Cox Communications
Frontier Fiber 500Up to 500MbpsFiber$44.99/mo.||
Mediacom Internet 300Up to 300MbpsCable$49.99/mo.#View Plans for Mediacom
Optimum Internet 1 GigUp to 940MbpsCable/fiber$45.00-$55.00/mo.**View Plans for Optimum
Spectrum Internet® UltraUp to 500Mbps
(wireless speeds may vary)
Cable/fiber$69.99/mo.††
for 12 mos.
View Plans for Spectrum
Verizon Internet 1 GigUp to 940MbpsFiber$89.99/mo.‡‡
Xfinity SuperfastUp to 800MbpsCable$65.00/mo.§§View Plans for Xfinity

Nighthawk RAX50 standout features

Close up of front of router showing Nighthawk logo and buttons

The RAX50 has a limited feature set for the price. It has some basic level of security (like all routers do), but you need a subscription for malware protection and the VPN client.

The best features at a glance:

  • OpenVPN server
  • Media server
  • File sharing

Compare the Nighthawk RAX50 to the competition

ProductWi-Fi versionMax throughputPrice*Order online
NETGEAR Nighthawk RAX50Wi-Fi 65400Mbps$242.05View on Amazon
TP-Link Archer AX5400 ProWi-Fi 65,400Mbps$149.99View on Best Buy
NETGEAR Nighthawk XR1000Wi-Fi 65,400Mbps$268.99View on Amazon
TP-Link Archer AX6000Wi-Fi 66,000Mbps$249.99View on Amazon

All four routers listed above have similar speeds, so we’ll ignore that for now—we talk more about speeds in the Performance section. These routers are differentiated by their features, and honestly, we think the TP-Link Archer AX6000 is the best deal in the batch.

Of the four, the Archer AX6000 has the highest device capacity. It also offers eight wired ports, two USB ports, free security, free parental controls, and multi-gig support. Sure, it’s around $7 more than the Nighthawk RAX50, but you get more bang for your buck. Plus, with the RAX50, you need subscriptions for security and parental controls.

See our full coverage of the best Wi-Fi routers.

Our Nighthawk RAX50 scoring breakdown

Category Score* Summary
Performance 4 Matches the speeds of other tested AX5400 routers.
Features 3 Lacks many features provided free on other routers.
Design 3 Supports 940Mbps internet and slower.
Setup 4 Gets you up and running with a 12-step process.
Ease of use 4 Presents a clean design across desktop and mobile.

* out of 5 points

Close up of side of router with antenna detached

Performance

4

Wi-Fi configuration:

  • 2.4 GHz band: 574Mbps (2 x 287Mbps)
  • 5 GHz band: 4,800Mbps (4 x 1,200Mbps)*

The RAX50 did well matching the speeds of other AX5400 models we’ve tested to date, such as the TP-Link Archer AX5400 Pro and NETGEAR’s own Nighthawk XR1000 gaming router. All three started off strong at close range and tested around 600Mbps when we stood outside on the porch (40 feet). They also pushed speeds above 240Mbps when we walked across the street and tested at 120 feet. Nice.

Our Wi-Fi 5 results were similar to what we tested with the Archer AX5400 Pro and Nighthawk XR1000 routers using a smartphone with an 866Mbps cap. Again, we generally see similar numbers on non-budget routers, starting around 650Mbps average at close range to around 120Mbps average at 120 feet outside.

Up close image of indicator lights and buttons on Nighthawk RAX50

Features

3

Notable features:

  • Built-in OpenVPN server
  • Media server
  • File sharing

For the price, the RAX50 isn’t packed with a lot of extras. The only callouts here are the built-in OpenVPN server and ReadyShare. With the latter, you can plug in a USB drive and share files locally or over the internet. You can stream media locally, too, using the router’s built-in DLNA media server.

What we wish the Nighthawk RAX50 did better

  • More free parental controls
  • Free security

The RAX50 supports NETGEAR’s standalone Smart Parental Controls platform. It wasn’t available to us at the time of the review—the tile wouldn’t display in the Nighthawk app—but as we’ve seen on other NETGEAR routers, the free features are minimal at best.

Free security is another item on our wishlist. Routers from ASUS and TP-Link provide free security, whereas you need a NETGEAR Armor subscription for basic malware prevention and more.

Rear of Nighthawk RAX50 showing ethernet and USB ports

Design

3

Buttons:

  • 1x Power button (back)
  • 1x Reset recessed button (back)
  • 1x Wi-Fi on/off button (top)
  • 1x WPA button (top)

Ports:

  • 4x Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports (back)
  • 1x Gigabit Ethernet WAN port (back)
  • 1x USB 3.2 port (back)

The maximum 4,800Mbps bandwidth on the 5 GHz band stems from using 160 MHz-wide channels, which means higher speeds if you have devices that support superwide channels and radar isn’t a major show-stopping issue. You get more channels but half the bandwidth if you select the “Up to 2400 Mbps” mode.

The router’s overall design lacks multi-gig support, making it best used with internet plans of 940Mbps and slower. Link aggregation isn’t supported either, but the USB port comes in handy for streaming media and sharing files across your local network.

Setup

4

Inside the box:

  • 1x router
  • 4x antennas
  • 1x power adapter
  • 1x Ethernet cable
  • 1x Quick Start Guide

We used the router’s web interface to set up our network, a nearly painless 12-step process that took several minutes to complete. It’s a little lengthy due to the security questions, speed test, and firmware update, and at the end, the setup prompted us to create or sign in to a NETGEAR Account—which was a little annoying and forced us to open a new tab to log into the router’s interface (after a moment of head-scratching).

Unfortunately, you can’t ignore NETGEAR’s cloud account requirement if you plan to use the Nighthawk app. Even if you never intend to manage your network outside your home, you must have a NETGEAR Account and your admin credentials to use the Nighthawk app. Go figure.

Web interface of Nighthawk RAX50 router

Ease of use

4

Router interface:

NETGEAR pushes its Nighthawk app front and center, but the web interface is where you’ll find all the settings. NETGEAR uses the same two-tab (Basic and Advanced) layout across all its non-gaming standalone routers and mesh systems. It’s not eye-meltingly attractive, but it gets the job done, and that’s what matters.

The Nighthawk app is simplistic at best. It presents a similar tile design on the home screen but offers the most basic controls, like rebooting the router, sharing the Wi-Fi login credentials, and so on. User profiles are locked to the parental controls, which allow you to assign devices to a specific user so you can manage them in a single group.

Are there any additional costs?

The RAX50 is compatible with the NETGEAR Smart Parental Controls subscription service that costs $7.99 per month or $69.99 annually. The NETGEAR Armor subscription is also optional, costing $99.99 per year. The NETGEAR ProSupport for Home service starts at $19.99 for a two-year extended warranty or $49.99 for the extended warranty and pro support services.

Side view of NETGEAR Nighthawk RAX50

Our Nighthawk RAX50 review: The verdict

The Nighthawk RAX50 is a decent pick if you’re upgrading from Wi-Fi 5. It matches other AX5400-class routers we’ve tested to date, hitting an 857Mbps average at close range and over 240Mbps when we stand outside at 120 feet. Most non-budget routers linger in this speed range anyway, so speed shouldn’t be your deciding factor.

Our problem here is there’s not much else making the RAX50 stand out in a crowded router market. It includes a built-in OpenVPN server, a media server, and file sharing, but that’s it. Very (very) basic parental controls are at your disposal—which you can still use for device management if you don’t have kids.

That all said, TP-Link’s cheaper Archer AX5400 Pro packs a multi-gig internet port for internet plans 1,000Mbps and faster, as does the meatier Archer AX6000 for $40 more. Overall, NETGEAR’s RAX50 feels more like a platform to sell services versus a great value you’ll appreciate for years to come.

Get the NETGEAR Nighthawk RAX50

FAQ about the Nighthawk RAX50

Can I use the Nighthawk RAX50 for gaming?

You can use any router for gaming, but there’s nothing about this Nighthawk router that’s specifically geared to gamers. The XR1000 model is your best bet if you want to stick with NETGEAR.

What’s included in the NETGEAR Armor subscription?

For $99.99 per year, you get the following added features:

  • Antivirus protection (Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS)
  • Anti-malware protection (Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS)
  • Bitdefender VPN (client only)
  • Smart home vulnerability scans
  • Anti-theft protection
  • Anomaly detection
  • Brute-force protection
  • Exploit prevention
  • DDoS detection and protection
  • Sensitive-data protection

What’s included in the NETGEAR ProSupport for Home subscription?

ProSupport for Home offers two tiers. Here are the features you’ll get.

Plan: Warranty Warranty + Support
Features:
  • Repair and replacements
  • Accidental damage coverage
  • Free express replacement service
  • Repair and replacements
  • Accidental damage coverage
  • Free express replacement service
  • Exclusive phone support
  • 24/7 access to expert tech support
  • Software support via chat, email, and phone
Duration: Two years Two years
Price: $49.99 (one-time fee) $119.99 (one-time fee)

What's included with Smart Parental Controls?

Plan: Basic Premium
Features:
  • Profile creation
  • Device assignment
  • Profile and network pause
  • All Basic features
  • Internet and app usage reports
  • Website history
  • Profile automatic time limits
  • Profile bedtime schedules
  • Profile rewards
  • My Time companion app
  • Profile content filter
  • Scheduled automatic internet breaks
Price: Free $7.99/mo. or $69.99/yr.

How many devices does this router support?

NETGEAR’s literature states 25 devices, but we assume that’s concurrent—it probably supports more than 70 altogether. Technically, it can transmit to six Wi-Fi devices simultaneously at any given second.

What does AX5400 mean?

This router class represents the specification used and the maximum amount of bandwidth delivered across both bands. In this case, the AX50 is based on Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and pushes 5,400Mbps total. You can also break the number down to see how many devices it can transmit to in any given second:

Band and channel width Total bandwidth Stream config Max device bandwidth Max device count
2.4 GHz (40 MHz) 574Mbps 2 x 287Mbps 1 at 574Mbps 2 at 287Mbps
5 GHz (160 MHz) 4,800Mbps 4 x 1,200Mbps 2 at 2,400Mbps 4 at 1,200Mbps
5 GHz (80 MHz) 2,400Mbps 4 x 600Mbps 2 at 1,200Mbps 4 at 600Mbps

Methodology

We test router speed by setting up each router in an office and connecting it to a local test server. Then, we transmit test data between our wireless devices and the server, taking numerous measurements to account for fluctuations in Wi-Fi speeds.

The first tests occur close to the router, without obstructions—so the Wi-Fi is as strong and fast as it’s gonna get. We repeat the process straight out at 10, 20, and 30 feet, with only a glass door obstructing our view of the router. The same glass door and an exterior door blocks our path when we test outside at 40 and 50 feet.

We also run tests in a hallway to the left of the TV room and office—where there’s a glass door, three walls, and an air handler unit blocking our view of the router. The dining room, another testing point, sits to the right of the kitchen, TV room, and office—two walls and a glass door block the path in this test.

To test video streaming, we connect a fast storage device to the router and stream a 4K video to six wireless devices simultaneously—two phones, three tablets, and a laptop—connected to the same wireless band.

Client devices used in testing

iPhone 12 Pro MaxGoogle Pixel 3
Wi-Fi versionWi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 5
Stream configuration2 x 22 x 2
Max channel width80 MHz80 MHz
Max 5 GHz speed (AX)1,200 Mbps
Max 5 GHz speed (AC)866 Mbps866 Mbps
Max 2.4 GHz speed (AX)195 Mbps
Max 2.4 GHz speed (AC)195 Mbps144 Mbps

Nighthawk RAX50 benchmarks (5 GHz only)

iPhone 12 Pro Max*Google Pixel 3*
2 feet857634
10 feet849578
20 feet821524
30 feet751495
40 feet (porch)610395
120 feet (across street)244126
20 feet (hallway)583306

Disclaimer

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Best internet plans for the RAX50

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Author -

Kevin Parrish has more than a decade of experience working as a writer, editor, and product tester. He began writing about computer hardware and soon branched out to other devices and services such as networking equipment, phones and tablets, game consoles, and other internet-connected devices. His work has appeared in Tom’s Hardware, Tom's Guide, Maximum PC, Digital Trends, Android Authority, How-To Geek, Lifewire, and others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on network equipment testing and review.

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