Zyxel NWA90AX review: Wi-Fi 6 at a bargain price

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There’s never been a better time to upgrade your network to the latest Wi-Fi standard. Prices for enterprise-grade Wi-Fi 6 access points (APs) have come down steadily, and Zyxel has pushed take it to the next level with its NWA90AX unit, which costs just £79. As you’d expect at this low price, it’s only an AX1775 rated AP, but the NWA90AX can be managed in standalone mode or remotely using its cloud-based Nebula Control Center (NCC ).

It’s also the smallest Wi-Fi 6 hotspot we’ve ever seen; This palm-sized plastic slab measures just 140 x 140 x 38mm (WDH) and weighs just 290g. Its Gigabit port supports PoE+, but don’t worry if you don’t have a suitable source, as the price includes a power adapter.

The NWA90AX is simple to deploy in standalone mode, with its web-based console wizard guiding you through setting the country of operation and changing the default administrator password. An SSID on each radio is also enabled, but you should change the encryption key immediately, as the default one is very easy to guess.

Profiles and objects are used to configure other wireless settings, and both radios can broadcast up to eight SSIDs. Each can be assigned their own profile with options for strong WPA3 encryption, upload and download rate limits, and quality of service (QoS) to prioritize voice or video traffic.

You’ll have to switch to cloud management if you want to use captive portals to authenticate guest users, but it’s easy to do; we logged into our cloud account using the NCC app on an iPad, selected our site and scanned the QR code on the AP label. The app instantly grabbed its MAC address and model name, added it to the site, and five minutes later the AP started broadcasting our cloud-managed SSIDs.

The basic NCC cloud service is free, but logging is limited to 24 consecutive hours with features like email alert and scheduled firmware updates disabled. These features and more are available in the NCC Plus and Pro packages, but unlike Zyxel’s high-end access points, the NWA90AX price does not include a trial subscription.

It’s worth noting that Zyxel offers an NWA50AX model which costs just £61 and, to the casual observer, looks identical. However, it does not support Layer 2 isolation, WPA Enterprise encryption, or any of NCC’s Captive Portal features.

There are no such issues with the NWA90AX, as we could create up to eight SSIDs per site in the NCC Portal, each with its own encryption scheme, and enable captive portals on selected SSIDs. These can be personalized with company logos and configured to feature walled gardens, while guest authentication methods include NCC-managed usernames and passwords or usage policies. acceptable (AUP) per click.

The performances initially seem disappointing. Copies of large files between a Windows 10 Pro workstation equipped with a TP-Link Archer TX3000E Wi-Fi 6 PCI-E adapter and a server on our 10GbE LAN returned near speeds of just 56.4MB/ sec, dropping slightly to 53.9MB/sec at ten meters.

The reason is that all Zyxel Wi-Fi 6 access points see the copy test as a single stream and allocate a CPU core to this activity. To cut costs and reduce heat generation, the NWA90AX uses a less expensive MediaTek quad-core processor, which isn’t as powerful as Qualcomm models of Zyxel’s high-end access points.

When the access point handles multiple streams, it assigns them to different processor cores so that the aggregate performance is higher. We confirmed this by running iPerf on the workstation and server with ten streams returning a total of 86MB/s, while an SSH session to the AP confirmed that the workload was evenly distributed across the four processor cores.

Small businesses looking to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 will be very tempted by the low price of the NWA90AX. It packs plenty of features into its tiny shell, including cloud management, and while performance isn’t quite as good as more expensive Wi-Fi 6 access points, it’ll suffice for small offices serving multiple clients.

Zyxel NWA90AX Specifications

Band Support

AX1775 dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz Wi-Fi 6

radio stations

2×2 MU-MIMO

Ports

Gigabit LAN/802.3at PoE+

Additional Features

Ceiling/wall mounting kits, external power supply included, limited lifetime warranty

Dimensions (LDH)

140x140x38mm

Mass

290g

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