RAXE500 Tri-Band WiFi Router Review: Fast but Flawed

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The Netgear RAXE500 is an early entry into the Wi-Fi 6E router space, and on paper at least it looks like a wireless networking powerhouse. It also looks good and is easy to install – at least on the hardware side – with no antennas to attach. But as we’ll see in testing, it struggles a lot on a congested network. And despite its hefty price tag, Netgear charges extra for ongoing security support.

But before we dive into router details, a quick primer on cutting-edge Wi-Fi: while it might seem like Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is still new, Wi-Fi 6E is the latest generation of standards to power our wireless data needs. The names for these standards can certainly be confusing, in part because Wi-Fi 6E is also referred to as 802.11ax. However, 6E has potential even faster speeds on the 5 GHz frequency. The big change, however, is an entirely new frequency – 6GHz – which should be a lot less crowded, at least until all your neighbors upgrade their gear as well. But don’t expect any of your existing technologies to benefit much from 6E. Until you upgrade to device-side Wi-Fi 6E, you won’t be able to take advantage of these advancements. Check out our feature to learn more about the differences between Wi-Fi 6 and 6E.

Netgear RAXE500 design

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Netgear RAXE500 Tri-Band WiFi Router

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)
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Netgear RAXE500 Tri-Band WiFi Router

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

The body of the Netgear RAXE500 is solid black plastic, simple to deploy as there are no antennas to screw onto the body. Hardware setup is as simple as unfolding both wings – the design certainly saves time and effort. The overall aesthetic appears somewhere between an Imperial TIE fighter and an oceanic manta ray. In case you’re worried the quantity will affect performance, the wings hide a total of 8 antennas inside.

The size of the router isn’t the biggest we’ve seen, but it’s by no means small. At 11.7 x 3.07 x 8.3 inches (298 x 78 x 211 mm) and weighing 3.2 lbs (1.45 kg), the Netgear RAXE500 looks substantial, without being too bulky.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

The rear of the router includes four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, as well as a Gigabit Ethernet WAN port and a 2.5G multi-gigabit port. The Netgear RAXE500 also supports Gigabit port link aggregation, for speeds even faster. For adding network-accessible storage, there are also a pair of USB 3.0 ports.

Netgear RAXE500 Specifications

Beneath its plastic shell, the RAXE500 houses a 1.8 GHz quad-core processor with 512 MB of NAND flash memory and 1 GB of DDR3 SDRAM. With its formidable hardware and support for Wi-Fi 6E, the router has impressive speed specs. We are talking about 2.4 GHz up to 1.2 Gbps, 5 GHz up to 4.8 Gbps and 6 GHz up to 4.8 Mbps, for a total theoretical bandwidth of 10.8 Gbps. This makes it a tri-band router, with three separate frequencies.

Netgear’s RAXE500 also includes some of the latest, lesser-known wireless technologies, such as 1024-QAM support (which has 25% better data efficiency and faster speeds than 256-QAM routers), additional DFS channels to reduce interference, support for WPA3, and 4X4 MU-MIMO.

Netgear RAXE500 Setup

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Setting up this router could definitely have been smoother. We chose the browser for ourselves, but there is also an option to install and use a smartphone app.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Things started out great as the router notified us of the initial setup for a firmware update and started downloading it. We were then notified that the upgrade was complete after waiting a few minutes on the setup screen. However, when we returned to the router software, the firmware was actually on the same version number as when we started. We had to trigger it manually and wait for the upgrade process all over again. It would be really easy to miss if you were new to it or weren’t paying close attention. For a router in this price category, one would expect much better. This is a sentiment to which we will return soon.

Security

(Image credit: Netgear)

The RAXE500 is secure, but we were disappointed that it incurs an extra charge, despite claims that it’s “integrated” into the router. After a 30-day trial period, it’s an annual fee of $69.99. The software can work at the network level through the router to analyze all traffic and secure it. However, some competitors, especially on higher-end equipment, offer security without additional payment. That said, paying users not only get Bitdefender Security, but also Bitdefender VPN, so if you had to pay for a VPN anyway, the price is pretty fair.

Netgear RAXE500 performance

2.4 GHz close 2.4 GHz far 5 GHz near 5 GHz away
Bandwidth (Mbps) 210.3 160.1 1398.5 951.8
Phone test (upload/download) 168/36.7 172/36.7 341/36.8 325/35.6

We put the RAXE500 through the usual battery of tests, starting with looking at throughput. The test is done with an Asus gaming laptop, with an Intel WiFi 6 AX201 card. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support WiFi 6E, so we can’t test performance on the 6GHz frequency. The 2.4 GHz speed was a solid 210.3 Mbps in the near test and dropped to 160.1 Mbps in the far test. The 5 GHz test was more impressive, with a close test at 1398.5 Mbps and a drop to 951.8 Mbps in the far test.

To make up for the lack of a 6E WiFi card on our laptop, we tested further with Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S21 Ultra 5g. This was done using the SpeedTest app which can measure both the download side and the upload side of the speed equation. While this confirmed this router’s fast throughput, on the 5GHz frequency we easily maxed out on the upload and download side, as our internet connection is officially a 300/35 connection, which is usually slightly overprovisioned to ensure bandwidth. This explains the speeds we got of 341 Mbps download and 36.8 Mbps upload using 6E on the test phone.

Test Setup QoS FRAPS avg min maximum 8k lost frames Pingplotter Tips Latency (Overwatch)
ethernet Nope 142.83 119 184 n / A 0 68
Ethernet + 10 8k videos Nope 21.88 0 83 42.20% 16 288
5GHz Nope 121.15 101 158 n / A 0 183
5GHz + 10 8k videos Nope 13.28 0 44 37.20% 2 243
2.4GHz Nope 112.55 106 118 n / A 0 187
2.4GHz + 10 8k videos Nope 31.68 0 110 39.20% 12 123

Network congestion testing showed that the RAX500 could really benefit from implementing robust Quality of Service (QoS), which allows a router to prioritize traffic to smooth the game and allow a video to play. slowly.

When this router is in an uncluttered environment, such as when connected via Ethernet with no background video, our set of Surveillance achieved a respectable 142.83 FPS, with no Pingplotter spikes (meaning dropouts). We also had an in-game latency of 68 milliseconds in Surveillance.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

However, add to the congestion, in our case, ten 8K YouTube videos, which saturate our Optimum Online cable connection, and the game’s FPS drops precipitously to 21.88 FPS, and even dropped to 0 FPS during gameplay, becoming essentially a frozen game. Confirming the congested situation, PingPlotter’s peaks jumped to a very high sixteen during our short gaming session, and the frame rate drop on 8K videos was 37.2%.

An analogous situation was created each time for the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wireless frequencies with a minimum FPS of zero and high frame rates on 8K videos.

We ended up with a situation where raw throughput was impressive, but congestion testing revealed a significant drop in performance. Of course, we wondered if there was something wrong with this particular router (whether in hardware or firmware). But after getting our hands on a second version of the Netgear RAXE500, things haven’t really improved.

We set it up again, including updating to the latest firmware, and put it through another round of tests to verify. With no QoS, we once again replicated the results, with the game crashing on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz network congestion tests, and this time with over 50% of dropped frames on 8K videos. Ouch.

Conclusion

Netgear RAXE500 Tri-Band WiFi Router

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

We expected better performance from the RAXE500, and that was before considering the price. While it’s of course true that ongoing Covid-19 issues have inflated the price of many products, the RAXE500’s $599 MSRP and $529 street price put it firmly at the high end of the premium category. range of consumer routers. Early adopters often pay too much for bragging rights. But in that case, you’d be paying more than double the price of a solid mid-range router, mostly for the privilege of being able to tell friends and family that you have a 6 GHz wireless network.

While this is important to you, keep in mind that even Wi-Fi 6 devices won’t connect on the 6 GHz frequency unless they specifically support Wi-Fi 6E. At present, such devices are rare, especially recent high-end phones. So you probably won’t be using this 6E network much, as most of your devices will still be stuck on the 5GHz band. Worse still, for such an expensive router, the RAXE500 lacks some features that we would consider fairly basic in a high-end router, such as QoS for better traffic control, and security included at no additional annual cost.

Overall, the Netgear RAXE500 is a state-of-the-art product that seems to need more work. It may have been rushed to market, but it simply lacks the high-end performance that a router of this level should offer. For now, this is a preview of the promise of next-gen Wi-Fi 6E wireless, with high throughput scores, but that promise proved to be unfulfilled when we tested performance in a crowded environment. . We don’t recommend buying this router based on our results, but we look forward to seeing how the next wave of 6E WiFi routers will perform as businesses overcome these 6E startup challenges.

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