Arris Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E W6B review: Can we finally get rid of Ethernet?

A multi-gig link keeps games running without lag and without running any wires.

Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator Wi-Fi 6E with PS5
(Image: © Samuel Contreras)

Android Central Verdict

The Arris Surfboard Thruster is about as close as tech has gotten to replacing a simple Ethernet cable for home devices. Whether you’re looking for the best possible ping times or want a multi-gig connection without running any cables, Arris has delivered a strong solution. That is, as long as you’re willing to pay for it.

Pros

  • +

    Ultra-fast multi-gig connection speed

  • +

    Wi-Fi 6E avoids interference

  • +

    Fast 2.5GbE ports

  • +

    Quick and easy setup

  • +

    Works with just about any router

Cons

  • -

    Wi-Fi 6E range is less than other types of Wi-Fi

  • -

    Expensive for an in-home solution

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Unless you buy a system with an upgradeable Wi-Fi card, you’re more than likely stuck with the sort of Wi-Fi you got when you bought your system. For some systems like the PS5, that’s not too bad with a Wi-Fi 6 connection with up to 1201Mbps. For older consoles, you might be stuck using Wi-Fi 5 or older, and when you’re looking for the best possible gaming connection, it’s just not good enough.

Arris built the Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E Gaming Acceleration kit to help speed up these older consoles, but since it uses the latest Wi-Fi 6E tech and 2.5Gbps Ethernet (2.5GbE), its real-world speeds more often than not beat even high-end Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E devices. That’s not to say you need 2.5GbE to use this. In fact, this review focused on using the Surfboard Thruster with a PS5 and, in many cases, saw improved performance over the built-in Wi-Fi.

Arris Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E W6B review: Price and availability

Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator Wi-Fi 6E sender and receiver

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras)

The Arris Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E Gaming Acceleration kit W6B, despite its overlong name, was released in mid-2022 with availability beginning in May. It has a suggested retail price of $309.99 though it can often be found on sale for under $300. It is compatible with most routers with an open Ethernet port and gaming devices with Ethernet as well. 

For your money, you get everything you need to get set up, including a sender, receiver, two power supplies, and two Ethernet cables. It’s all packed in a cardboard box with a cardboard tray for padding so most of the waste can go straight into the recycle bin.

Arris Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E W6B review: What I like

Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator Wi-Fi 6E ports single

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras)

Despite constant incremental updates to Wi-Fi tech over the past couple of decades, the sad fact is that it’s still slower and less stable than a copper Ethernet cable. In the past, I would have said that running Ethernet is a must to avoid latency spikes and connection speed fluctuations for gamers and streamers. Even if you’ve got a top-of-the-line gaming system and router, you still need to share spectrum with your neighbors, and 5GHz is simply running out of space.

The Arris Surfboard Thruster tries and succeeds at using the newly available 6GHz spectrum to deliver Ethernet-like performance without long wire runs, drilling holes in your wall, or crawling under the house. The sender plugs in via Ethernet to your existing router. If you have a 2.5GbE port, you can use that for the best speed, but if not, gigabit works fine. You’ll also need to plug in the power adapter.

The receiver is identical with the Ethernet cable linking to your console or PC rather than a router. A 160MHz Wi-Fi 6E connection will be established at up to 4804Mbps depending on the strength of the connection.

After that, the setup procedure on the console is simply setting it to connect using the wired connection instead of Wi-Fi. Some consoles and PCs will automatically prefer a wired connection, so there’s a chance you don’t need to do any software setup at all.

Still, you can download the SURFboard Central app (no relation) to fine-tune your connection. You shouldn’t need to mess with this, and I only used it to confirm my firmware was up to date. There was no update, so I used the Surfboard Thruster kit as it came out of the box.

Testing my PS5 on my gigabit Cox connection, I saw up to 800Mbps using the PS5’s connection test tool. This is about double what I saw using the internal Wi-Fi chip. While game downloads seemed to be limited by other factors, I had no trouble with a couple of large installations and some light online play. I’m by no means a competitive gamer, so I didn’t notice a huge difference, but I also didn’t have a single problem.

To be clear, since plugging the Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator, I didn’t have to reconnect, fiddle with settings, or diagnose performance issues. I hate this phrase, but it really just worked.

If you’ve been following us, you may have noticed a very similar product from Arris in the Surfboard Wi-Fi 6E Network Upgrade Kit W6U review. It looks nearly identical with the same plastic molding for the housing, the same connectors, and wireless specs, but importantly, the Thruster Game Accelerator is black. The black color looks a lot better than the drab gray of the Network Upgrade Kit, and I’m much happier keeping it in the open where people can see it, which can be very important for Wi-Fi 6E.

Arris Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E W6B review: What I don't like

Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator Wi-Fi 6E front and back

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras)

Wi-Fi 6E is the newest and fastest Wi-Fi out there, thanks to the 6GHz spectrum it uses, but that spectrum is also the key weakness of Wi-Fi 6E. Simply put, Wi-Fi 6E devices must operate at a lower power level than 5GHz devices, so coverage isn’t as strong. Thanks to the massive 4804Mbps wireless connection on the Thruster Game Accelerator, there’s plenty of overhead for loss within most homes. This is something to think about, however, if you are trying to reach the other side of a concrete wall or have an older home with plaster walls.

One thing that the Thruster Game Accelerator didn’t get quite right was automatic channel selection. I was a bit excited to try out multiple Wi-Fi 6E access points in my home since one of the headlining features of 6E is the sheer number of available channels with 160MHz support. In short, there are seven 160MHz-capable channels, so there shouldn’t be any overlap for some time. Unfortunately, placed right next to the Arris Wi-Fi 6E Network Upgrade kit, I found that both Arris devices had picked the same first channel.

There is no simple way to optimize your connection on these devices, so I just left them be. Over 24 hours later, there was no change. Fortunately, power cycling one of the 6GHz access points finally caused it to pick a new channel. Simply put, I would like an optimize button.

The last and probably biggest issue for many will be the price. The Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator comes in at over $300 at its suggested price. That’s the cost of a fast and new router. Getting one of the best Wi-Fi 6 routers or even splurging on one of the best Wi-Fi 6E routers might be a better use of funds for many people since it can improve speeds for all devices instead of just one.

That being said, the Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator does exactly what it says it does, and in my time testing it, gave me zero problems. If you’re looking for a quick wireless upgrade for a single device and don’t mind spending the cash, you’ll get every bit of what Arris has promised.

Arris Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E W6B review: Competition

Asus ZenWiFi ET8 Wi-Fi 6E mesh router review

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

If you need a fast connection a couple of rooms away from your router, Ethernet should be your first consideration as it’s cheaper, often faster, and more reliable than anything that requires multiple power adapters and wireless band negotiation. When you need to troubleshoot a problem with anything networked together, you need to understand and follow the signal flow. That is, where the signal starts, where it stops, and every step in between. The more numerous the steps, the longer it will take to identify any issues, and the more complex the solution will be. A single cable is as simple as it gets and sticks well to the principle of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) that was drilled into my head long ago.

Obviously, running a cable isn’t the right solution for every situation, and the task is made exponentially more difficult if you’re moving between floors or to a detached building. Even so, a 50-foot (a bit over 15 meters) Cat6 or Cat7 Ethernet cable will cost you less than $30, like this option from Mediabridge on Amazon (opens in new tab). If you’re able and willing to pass a cable under your floor or can find a non-obstructive route along the base of your walls, you can get excellent speeds for less money than any wireless solution. At 2.5Gbps, anything Cat6 or newer should have no trouble.

If wireless is your only option and you’re ready for a new router or want to improve connectivity for all of your devices at once, something like the ASUS ZenWiFi ET8 Wi-Fi 6E mesh system is a good choice. It has a similar 4804Mbps 6GHz connection with 2.5GbE on the remote node. It also comes with a 1201Mbps 5GHz band and a 600Mbps 2.4GHz band. While it likely won’t be quite as fast and may have slightly more ping fluctuation, for the majority of gamers, it will be more than quick enough. ASUS also includes QoS options for free, so you can prioritize your device if you’ve got a lot of wireless clients.

One last consideration that I can’t recommend is a power line adapter. While Ethernet over power line tech has continued to improve, and there are some interesting mesh options like the ASUS ZenWiFi AX Hybrid, it doesn’t solve the same problem as the Arris kit, as interference on power lines can lead to significant ping spikes and speed fluctuations.

Arris Surfboard Thruster Wi-Fi 6E W6B review: Should you buy it?

Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator Wi-Fi 6E with router and Switch

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras)

You should buy it if...

  • You need a fast wireless link within your home.
  • You’re stuck using a router provided by your ISP.
  • You only need to improve your connection on a single device.

You shouldn't buy it if...

  • You can run Ethernet instead.
  • You’re looking for a cheap internet upgrade.

The Arris Surfboard Thruster Game Accelerator W6B is an expensive solution to a common problem. While it’s by no means the most economical way to connect a gaming machine to the internet, it is one of the fastest. It’s also extremely easy for a novice user to set up with four things to plug in total. While the entire concept seems to be a complicated solution, when it comes to the actual implementation, it’s a quick and easy upgrade with very little necessary research.

If you’re into DIY projects and don’t mind a few scary cobwebs in your attic or crawl space, running an Ethernet cable is the preferred solution. If you want Ethernet-like performance on your console or gaming machine and only have 10 minutes to set it up before your next stream, the Arris solution could very well be money well spent.

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.