Ignore Netgear’s promoting: Its Orbi Wi-Fi router is not a mesh community system. Orbi satellites don’t talk with one another, they ship and obtain knowledge to and from the Orbi router solely. In networking parlance, that’s a hub-and-spoke system, not a mesh. But mesh networking is what has everybody so excited this yr, so that’s how Netgear is billing the Orbi. The firm is doing itself a disservice: The Orbi may be the most effective inside-decorator-permitted router available on the market.

About that industrial design: The Orbi shouldn’t be almost as small or unobtrusive because the Eero, Google Wi-Fi, or Linksys Velop. Those first two merchandise strike a very low profile, and the Velop seems to be like a bud vase. A hollowed-out Orbi is large enough maintain a bouquet of flowers, measuring eight.89 inches tall and 6.67 inches broad. It’s not ugly, if you’re into trendy aesthetics, but it’s not going to vanish into the background as simply as these different routers do. And that’s okay, as a result of Netgear is the one router firm that hasn’t taken away the ethernet change and USB port to be able to make its product smaller and extra trendy.

The competitors places simply two ethernet ports on their routers and satellites, which suggests you’ll want to purchase an ethernet change if you need to hardwire multiple gadget to them. And many new-faculty routers don’t have USB ports in any respect (the Securifi Almond three is an exception on each counts, it has three ethernet ports and a USB port). But earlier than you get too excited concerning the presence of a USB port on the Orbi, know that it’s at present dormant. You can’t use it to attach a USB onerous drive or a USB printer that you need to share over your community.

router size comparison Michael Brown

The Netgear Orbi has a comparatively giant footprint in comparison with the competitors. From left to proper: Linksys Velop, Eero, Luma, Google Wifi, and Securifi Almond three (black).

But it’s there—as is an equally dormant Bluetooth radio—so Netgear should have plans for it. My guess: Netgear will both launch a firmware replace that permits it for storage, or they’ll come out with a ZigBee or Z-Wave radio dongle and make a play within the Internet of Things/sensible-residence area. But if USB help is in your should-have record, don’t purchase an Orbi till you know for positive what it can help. And if you want community storage, purchase a NAS field—you’ll be a lot happier. We lately reviewed seven and located some real bargains.

Feature set

The Netgear Orbi is a tri-band router with six inner antennas, making the Linksys Velop its closest competitor. But the Orbi’s three networks are very totally different from the Velop: The Orbi operates one community on the two.4GHz band (with a 2×2 radio—two spatial streams up and two spatial streams down—providing speeds as much as 400Mbps), one community on the 5GHz band (with a 2×2 radio providing most velocity of 866Mbps), and a second 5GHz community with a 4×4 radio providing most velocity of 1733Mbps. You’ll by no means see actual-world speeds that prime—as distance, protocol overhead, and different elements eat away at these theoretical maximums—but you can use them for the sake of comparability.

The Velop’s two 5GHz networks, in distinction, every supply the identical max theoretical velocity: 866Mbps. And a Velop community will mechanically steer shoppers to at least one or the opposite community, selecting on the fly which 5GHz community can be used for knowledge backhaul (i.e., sending packets again to the node that’s configured as a router). The Orbi dedicates its larger-bandwidth 4×4 radio to backhaul, even when you function it with out a satellite tv for pc. The backhaul community makes use of the upper 5GHz channels (149 and up), leaving the decrease channels (36 and up) to the router.

Netgear Orbi back panel Michael Brown

The Netgear Orbi is exclusive amongst new-faculty routers in that it has a three-port gigabit ethernet change. The satellite tv for pc has a 4-port change.

Netgear says an Orbi router with out a satellite tv for pc will blanket a 2000-square-foot house with Wi-Fi, and that every satellite tv for pc will add one other 2000-square ft of protection. My house is about 2800 sq. ft, so the corporate despatched me a two-pack for this assessment. You also can buy the Orbi in a three-pack (one router and two satellites), and Netgear will quickly supply the satellite tv for pc by itself for pairing with an present Orbi router.

Since the Orbi isn’t a mesh community router, every satellite tv for pc connects to the router and to not one other satellite tv for pc. Netgear tells me they’ll ultimately allow a daisy-chain mode that may present satellite tv for pc-to-satellite tv for pc communication, but not till it’s attainable for the community to routinely steer shoppers between the router and the satellite tv for pc(s) as shoppers transfer about the home.

Netgear provides a setup app, or you can set up and configure the Orbi the previous-original means, by way of a net browser. I a lot favor the latter as a result of I can use a bigger display (my eyesight has by no means been nice, and it will get worse the older I get). Orbi is just not at present suitable with Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant, but Netgear tells me they’re simply ready for that certification to return by way of.

Floorplan for mesh network tests Michael Brown

This floorplan exhibits the place the router, mesh nodes, and shoppers have been positioned for benchmarking. The Orbi satellite tv for pc was deployed within the nice room.

Performance

At shut vary—with the shopper in the identical room because the router, separated by 9 ft of air—the Orbi’s TCP throughput of 592.4Mbps completely crushed the 5 mesh routers I in contrast it to. The Luma Surround WiFi got here closest, but it was almost 100Mbps slower. The Google Wifi got here in third with throughput of 490.3Mbps and the Linksys Velop delivered 475.3Mbps.

When I moved the shopper to my nice room, 33 ft from the router with an insulated wall, some plywood cupboards, and a variety of kitchen home equipment within the sign path, the Orbi dropped to 3rd place behind the Securifi Almond three and the Linksys Velop.

Netgear Orbi solo with a Mac Michael Brown

Adding an Orbi satellite tv for pc to the equation barely decreased throughput at shut vary, dropping it to second place behind the Google Wifi. But throughput considerably elevated on the different three check places, as you’d anticipate after putting the satellite tv for pc so a lot nearer to the place the shopper MacGuide Pro was situated.

Still, the Linksys Velop with two nodes was significantly quicker when the shopper was within the nice room and within the residence theater (within the chart under, take a look at the inexperienced and pink bars respectively). The Orbi regained the benefit in my lengthy-distance check, with the shopper 65 ft from the router with three insulated inside partitions and two fireplaces within the sign path, ending in first place (see the blue bars within the chart under).

Netgear Orbi plus one satellite with mac Michael Brown

And if you look at the chart under, you’ll see that the Orbi with one satellite tv for pc was significantly quicker at shut vary than all the mesh community routers working a router and two nodes. The Linksys Velop was quicker within the nice room (inexperienced bars) and the house theater (pink bars), but the Orbi was considerably quicker than all the things else at lengthy vary.

The typical routers I used for baselines—the Linksys EA9500 and the Apple Airport Time Capsule—have been a lot quicker at shut vary, but the Time Capsule couldn’t attain the shopper within the solar room in any respect.

Netgear Orbi plus satellite vs. three mesh nodes Michael Brown

My last efficiency chart exhibits how every router performs underneath strain. For this check, I run wi-fi TCP-throughput benchmarks on three pairs of computer systems (4 Windows machines and two MacOS computer systems) positioned 33 ft from the router whereas concurrently streaming 4K video from a Roku Ultra streaming field that’s wirelessly related to the community.

The Linksys Velop gained that competitors with the MacGuide Pro, delivering a lot quicker TCP throughput. The MacE-book Pro, it ought to be famous, is likely one of the few laptops available on the market to return from the manufacturing unit with a 3×3 802.11ac adapter on board. The incontrovertible fact that the Velop was working with three nodes, in comparison with the Orbi having a single satellite tv for pc, shouldn’t have factored into the efficiency equation as a result of the shopper computer systems can affiliate with just one node at a time. I presume they might have related to the closest node, which was positioned in the identical spot the place I put the Orbi satellite tv for pc. The efficiency delta among the many Windows shoppers wasn’t almost as vital.

Netgear Orbi 4K test Michael Brown

The backside line

Don’t get hung up on the truth that the Netgear Orbi operates on a hub-and-spoke topology versus mesh; the underside line is that that is an impressive Wi-Fi router. By together with a three-port change on the router and a 4-port change on the satellite tv for pc, it strikes a higher stability between unobtrusive industrial design and traditional router options than any of the mesh routers I’ve examined so far.

If you reside in a small condominium, then again, the extremely low cost Google Wifi may be the higher selection—if you can discover one. It’s priced at simply $129, but appears to be out of inventory all over the place. A single Linksys Velop ($200 road) or a single Eero ($180 road) can be my subsequent suggestions. Or if you don’t thoughts the look, you’ll discover loads of typical routers with exterior antennas that ship terrific efficiency.

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