January 30, 2023

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Netgear A8000: A Solid USB Wi-Fi 6E Adapter

Netgear has some good news for those looking to upgrade a computer to the latest Wi-Fi standards.

The networking vendor today unveiled the Nighthawk AXE3000 Wi-Fi 6E USB 3.0 Adapter, model A8000 — you can call it Netgear A8000 for short. Plug it into a USB port, and you instantly add Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E capability to the host computer.

The new dongle is a perfect fit for those who have already had or are about to buy Netgear’s Orbi RBKE963 mesh system, as well as any of the company’s Wi-Fi 6E broadcasters or any other Wi-Fi 6E solution, for that matter. And it’ll work with legacy routers, too.

Netgear A8000 AX3000 USB Wi Fi 6E Adapter 1
The Netgear A8000 AX3000 USB Wi-Fi 6E Adapter has a large integrated antenna, making it relatively bulky.

Netgear A8000: One USB dongle to support them all

While there have been Wi-Fi 6 USB adapters on the market — such as the Asus USB-AX56, the D-Link DWA-X1850, or the TP-Link Archer TX20U Plus — for quite some time, the Netgear A8000 is the first that also supports Wi-Fi 6E.

Before this, the only way to get Wi-Fi 6E to a computer is via PCIe-based upgrade, which can be a lot of work. With the Netgear A8000, all you have to do is insert the adapter into the computer’s USB port. And you can even move it from one computer to another with ease.

To qualify as a Wi-Fi 6E adapter, the A8000 needs to be a selective Tri-band adapter. It has all three Wi-Fi bands and can connect to a broadcaster using one at a time.

Besides the novelty 6GHz band, the adapter must also support 5GHz and 2.4GHz for backward compatibility. Consequently, it’s the first USB Wi-Fi adapter designed to work with all existing Wi-Fi broadcasters (routers and access points) and future ones.

Regarding Wi-Fi specs, the A8000 is standard for a USB adapter. It’s a dual-stream (2×2) adapter totaling 3000Mbps in bandwidth — 600Mbps on its 2.4GHz band and 1200Mbps on each of the other two bands.

Keep in mind that, like all adapters, the A8000 can connect on only one band at a time, so theoretically, the fastest speed you can get from it is 1200Mbps.

Netgear told me that the A8000 is based on the popular Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E chip, which can deliver up to 2400Mbps per 5GHz or 6GHz band. However, due to the constraints of the USB application, the adapter doesn’t support the 160MHz channel width and, therefore, can handle only half of the 5GHz and 6GHz bands’ bandwidth — 1200Mbps or 1.2Gbps.

While it’s disappointing that you can’t get the same performance grade as a PCIe add-on Wi-Fi 6E card, the ease of use makes up for the reduced performance. Furthermore, 1.2Gbps is generally the speed of all other Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 USB AX1800 adapters (600Mbps + 1200Mbps).

In terms of security and features, according to Netgear, the A8000 supports WPA3 security, which is required for any Wi-Fi 6E device, and features “Explicit Beamforming that boosts the speed, reliability, and range”.

Appearance-wise, the new dongle shares a similar physical design as the previous A7000 Wi-Fi 5 USB adapter, which is relatively bulky. It’s about twice the size of a typical USB thumb drive.

And like its older cousin, the new adapter also features USB 3.2 Gen 1, a.k.a USB 3.0, that caps at 5Gbps. You might be able to connect it to a USB 2.0 port, but in this case, the speed will be significantly below 500Mbps.

Netgear A8000 USB AX3000 Wi Fi 6E Adapter 1
The Netgear A8000 USB AX3000 Wi-Fi 6E Adapter comes with a cradle to accommodate a desktop computer — you won’t need to fumble with those obscure USB ports on the back.

The adapter comes with a cradle to accommodate a desktop computer. On a laptop, you can insert it directly into a USB-A port. After that, open up its integrated antenna, and you’re all set.

Unfortunately, the A8000 doesn’t feature USB-C, likely because the connector would be too small to hold its weight. But you can probably fix this, albeit loosely, with a USB-C to USB-A adapter.

Availability and pricing

Netgear says the new Nighthawk AXE3000 Wi-Fi 6E USB 3.0 Adapter (A8000) will be available in the US starting sometime this month for the suggested retail price of $89.99. You’ll be able to find it on Netgear’s website or retailers.