In the world of wireless networking, after using numbers and initials for years—802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac—we’re suddenly using a simple, single digit: Wi-Fi 6. Yes, the new generation of wireless networking is still part of the Ethernet-compatible IEEE 802.11 protocol, so it’s also known as 802.11ax, but its more consumer-friendly name is just one of its benefits. That’s why it’s showing up not only in the latest routers, but the newest notebook PCs. And at PC Labs, you know what that means: It’s time to put the technology to the test and see what kind of performance boost you can expect from the revised standard.
To do so, we secured a Wi-Fi 6-capable laptop, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which is equipped with a Killer AX1650s network adapter, and three new Wi-Fi 6 routers. We compared the routers’ throughput to that of our 802.11ac Editors’ Choice router, the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300. We tested all four routers using both the Dell convertible and a Lenovo ThinkPad T450 with an 802.11ac Intel Dual-Band Wireless AC8260 network adapter for comparison’s sake.
What Is Wi-Fi 6?
Before we dive into the test results, let’s talk a little about the new wireless standard. Wi-Fi 6 routers employ several new technologies that are designed to deliver throughput theoretically nearing 10Gbps, versus max speeds of about 3Gbps for 802.11ac. The spec takes advantage of previously unused radio frequencies to provide faster 2.4GHz performance, and it uses refined bandwidth management to provide enhanced Quality of Service (QoS) options.
Just as important, Wi-Fi 6 aims to relieve network congestion, mainly through the use of orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) modulation. This invention allows up to 30 clients to share a channel at the same time, thereby improving efficiency by boosting overall capacity while reducing latency. Think of the effect this could have on a home full of laptops, phones, and smart home and streaming devices all being used at the same time.
Wi-Fi 6 also uses Target Wake Time (TWT), which allows devices to determine when they will normally wake up to begin sending and receiving data. This extends the life of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, as well as battery-powered smart home devices such as security cameras and video doorbells.
For more on Wi-Fi 6 and whether you should jump to make the upgrade, check out our full explainer.
So How Fast Is 802.11ax?
We tested the routers on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, at close range in the same room, as well as from a 30-foot distance.
2.4GHz Band Testing
As shown in the 2.4GHz close proximity (same room) chart, all three Wi-Fi 6 routers proved significantly faster when paired with the Wi-Fi 6-enabled XPS 13 2-in-1 (the “AX client”) compared with their throughput scores when paired with the 802.11ac ThinkPad (the “AC client”)…
The Asus RT-AX88U was 58 percent faster when tested with the 802.11ax client; the Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 was 40 percent faster; and the TP-Link Archer AX6000 was 35 percent faster. The older Asus GT-AC5300 router was the slowest of the four when paired with the 802.11ax-capable Dell, but it improved by 32 percent when paired with the 802.11ac ThinkPad.
Long-range (30-foot) Wi-Fi 6 performance on the 2.4GHz band also showed improvement…
The Asus RT-AX88U router delivered a 44 percent increase in throughput when paired with the 802.11ax client versus its score when paired with the 802.11ac client. Similarly, the Netgear RAX120 was 21 percent faster and the TP-Link Archer AX6000 was 45 percent faster when paired with the Wi-Fi 6 client. Once again, the 802.11ac-based Asus Rapture router performed better when paired…