My home is littered with Wi-Fi routers.
But like anybody else, I can only use one Wi-Fi network at a time. And the one router system to which I keep returning is Netgear’s Orbi, because it delivers fast, strong, and reliable signals throughout my home. It even extends into areas that with other routers would be the deepest and darkest of dead zones.
Part of the advantage of Orbi – and many of the latest router products – is it uses multiple access points to create a so-called mesh network. Previously, most consumers relied on a single Wi-Fi router for wireless internet access.
But single-router systems often leave dead spots, particularly in larger homes or older houses with thick plaster walls. To reach those dead spots, consumers have sometimes added on to their networks so-called Wi-Fi extender devices. But extenders can be difficult to configure, can slow speeds, and sometimes require users to manually switch their Wi-Fi connections.
Like router-and-extender combinations, the newer mesh systems offer much broader wireless coverage in your home than standalone routers. But they’re better than the ad-hoc router-and-extender systems in every other way. They’re easier to set up, they deliver faster internet speeds throughout your home, and you don’t need to manually switch connections.
The lowest performing mesh systems are better than any router-and-extender setup I’ve tested. Indeed, every mesh Wi-Fi systems I’ve tried out has been impressive.
But the best of the all is Netgear’s Orbi. Here’s why I keep returning to it:
Netgear’s Orbi router system offers the best coverage of any router product I’ve tested.
- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
Most of Orbi’s competitors offer three access points with their mesh router systems. Netgear gets by with just two, but each one is more powerful than the ones that come with rival router systems, and together they offer more than enough coverage to best the competition.
Orbi offers the best and most consistent performance.
- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
All the mesh Wi-Fi systems I’ve tried perform better than regular routers that are connected to extenders. But none performs as well as the Orbi system.
In mesh and router-and-extender systems, you can often see a performance hit when you move from the primary access point – the one that’s connected to your internet modem – to its satellite devices. That situation can be particularly noticeable if you have a relatively fast internet connection, like I do.
The limited throughput you get from the secondary access points in your mesh system can actually slow down your internet speeds when you’re connected to them. Your throughput can end up being significantly slower than the speed you’re getting from your internet provider into your house.
That slowdown may not matter in many cases. Even when throttled the speeds I saw through most mesh systems were more than enough for basic tasks, such as web browsing, and even for more data-intensive ones, such as streaming Netflix videos in ultra-high definition 4K resolution. But the limited throughput can be noticeable if you’re downloading large files, such as games.
I saw this slowdown on many of the mesh routers I’ve tested – but not on the Orbi. I get the same speeds from the Orbi satellite access points as I do from the primary Orbi unit that’s directly connected to my modem.
Take a look at the speeds in the screenshots above. At the time I did that test, my internet plan gave me 100Mbps download and 35Mbps upload speeds. The Orbi satellite devices were more than capable of delivering that throughput; the Eero ones, not so much.
The Orbi has a feature that most other mesh systems don’t, and it’s a key reason why it performs so well.
The Orbi relies on a so-called tri-band Wi-Fi system. Two of the bands are the standard 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi channels that it uses to connect to your smartphones and other devices. But additionally, the Orbi uses a third frequency band – also in the 5GHz range – exclusively as a back channel to send data between its primary and satellite access points.
The Orbi system keeps that third band is free of other traffic, such as when you stream Netflix to your phone or surf the web on your computer. With no interference to slow it down, that band acts as a kind of superhighway connecting the Orbi devices. The feature is a major reason why the Orbi satellite access points can deliver internet speeds as fast as the primary router.
The Orbi isn’t the only mesh router product that offers a tri-band system. Linksys’ Velop system also includes the feature and offers similar performance to the Orbi system. But it costs about $150 more than Netgear’s product.
The Orbi system is fairly priced — you might even consider it a bargain.
- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
At the time of this writing, you can get a standard Orbi two-pack for $320 from Amazon. That’s a great price, especially when you compare it to the Eero system ($325), the AmpliFi HD system ($312), and Google WiFi ($280), none of which offer similar performance. It also looks like a bargain compared to the $500 Linksys Velop.
To be sure, every mesh system I’ve tried is excellent. And if you’re not interested in spending more than $300 on a Wi-Fi system, I’d go with Google WiFi. It’s incredibly easy to set up, and its app is great. While it doesn’t perform quite as well as the Orbi system, it’s still better than any ad hoc router-and-extender setup.
But for my part, it’s hard to beat Netgear’s Orbi. I keep returning to it for its rock-solid performance.
The Orbi has another great feature — plenty of Ethernet ports.
Wi-Fi is usually fine to connect your devices to your network, especially with the Orbi router system. But a wired Ethernet connection can be both more reliable and faster than Wi-Fi, albeit not so portable.
I usually use Ethernet to connect my stationary devices, including games consoles, desktop PCs, streaming media players, and even home security cameras to my network.
The Orbi system is particularly handy for these wired connections. The main router comes with three Ethernet ports, in addition to the one you use to connect to your internet modem. The satellite devices, meanwhile, have four ports.
By contrast, the access points on most mesh systems have just two Ethernet ports, and the primary device in each system usually reserves one of its ports for its modem connection. That may not offer you enough ports to hard wire your devices.
But the Orbi system isn’t perfect.
- Netgear/Business Insider
While Orbi is the best performing mesh system I’ve tested, it does have some downsides.
Compared with rival router systems, it can be hard to set up. Of course, because setup is a one-time process, that pain can be easily forgotten.
A more significant shortcoming is that the app used to configure and control the Orbi product isn’t as capable as those of other mesh systems.
One of the benefits that many mesh systems offer over older routers is that they allow you to tweak their settings via mobile apps. Those apps can often be far easier to use than the special websites you typically had to log into to tune your router in the past.
Netgear’s Orbi app does offer some basic functions, such as allowing you to set up your network so guests can access it easily or showing a list of devices that are connected to your network.
However, its rivals’ apps offer more advanced features. Unlike the Orbi one, those apps frequently include parental controls, can show you the devices that are connected to each of your access points, and can help you limits certain devices’ access to your network to particular time windows
Netgear has been updating the Orbi app, so it may get some of these features in the future. But if you want more control over your router system, you may want to look at one of Orbi’s rivals.
For my part, the absence of such features in Orbi’s app wasn’t a deal-breaker. I’ve been consistently using the Orbi system regardless.