From consoles to computers, smart thermostats to smart toasters, everything is connected wirelessly… when the connection is good. In a perfect world, we would run cables to all of our devices that need a stable connection. However, some locations are simply impossible to do that within. Into this impossibility, the NETGEAR Orbi goes to work. Promising a wireless solution that offered true signal integrity over a mesh network with the option to strategically place satellites for extra wired connections. Does it live up to the promise of “mesh as intended” or is the gap between promise and reality too wide? Let’s find out together in our review of the Orbi AX6000 Mesh WiFi 6 System from NETGEAR.
- MSRP: $699.99 (Router + Satellite), $999.99 (Router + 2x Satellites)
- WiFi Bands: 2.4GHz, 5 GHz, dedicated 5 GHz for satellite units
- Antennae: 8x internal with high-power amplifiers
- Ports: 2.6 Gbps WAN port and 4x LAN Gigabit ethernet (base), 4x LAN Gigabit ethernet (satellite)
- Wireless Connection Speeds: 1200Mbps at 2.4 GHz, 2400Mbps at 5 GHz
- MU-MIMO: Yes
- Coverage Distance: 5000 sq. ft.
- Processor: Quad-core 2.2 Ghz
- Memory: 512MB NAND Flash, 1 GB RAM
- Dimensions: 10H x 2.8D x 7.5W inches
- Weight: 2.86lbs
- In the box: 1x Orbi Router (RBR850), 1x Orbi Satellite (RBR850), 1x 2m ethernet cable, 2x 12V 3.5A power adapters
With 4K video streaming growing into the new standard for high definition video streaming (with talks of 8K on the horizon) and game streaming services (such as NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW, Microsoft’s xCloud, Google’s Stadia) making their ways into the mainstream, it has never been more important to have network stability over wireless connections. In recent years, this type of connectivity has improved thanks to mesh networking. While this mesh networking is nothing new, NETGEAR’s Orbi AX6000 mesh ecosystem seeks to kick things up a notch in reliability and in the anticipation of wide scale WiFi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax) acceptance and integration.
Using three WiFi bands (or Tri-band), the Orbi AX6000 system uses 2.4GHz and 5GHz signal frequencies to connect to devices at estimated speeds up to 1200 Mbps and 24 Mbps, respectively. Alongside these bands, there is a dedicated 5GHz band for communication between the router and satellite units. By doing this, NETGEAR advertises that the Orbi AX6000 system is capable of handling gigabit internet speeds (if you are fortunate enough to have that in your area) with as little signal degradation as possible within the covered area.
Speaking of covered areas, did I mention it has a really, really long throw distance? At a coverage proximity of around 5000 square feet and bandwidth to boot, the Orbi AX6000 seeks to cover dead zones while providing the types of connections needed for your devices. Want wired connections for your consoles and streaming boxes? Orbi has four of those… four gigabit ethernet to be exact, per satellite.
When it comes to wireless connections, where older systems might require users to choose signal speed of 5 GHz versus signal strength over distance of 2.4 GHz, the Orbi system intelligently prioritizes the connection type in a single SSID for the device connecting based off of proximity to the points of access and the connect needs for each device. No more swapping between connections at the far end of the house.
The units are a bit large, but they have a modern design to them. All of the antennae are internal, so you don’t have to worry about depth so much as height for placing each unit. In the right setting, it may just blend in with the rest of your aesthetic. Each unit has an LED indicator near the bottom of each unit to communicate the health of their connection - blue means all is well, magenta means there is trouble!
All of this sounds great on paper, but how does it function in the real world?
Putting Orbi to the Test
The overall setup time for the Orbi system took between 10 to 15 minutes. This included a firmware update and the setup of NETGEAR’s Orbi mobile app. Once the update was completed and an account was created, we began our tests! As we talk through some data points, here are some details about the testing methodology used for these tests:
Each wireless system appearing in the graphs was set up in the same location with testing taking place at the same physical location. The one exception to this was the NETGEAR Nighthawk. The Nighthawk system included two satellite units - one was positioned in the same location as the other test satellites with one in a room equidistant between the router and the other satellite.
On each wireless system, an internet speediest was run via Speedtest.net (to the same server) at around 10 feet, 25 feet, and over 50 feet away from the router. At each of these locations, a file transfer test was also run, using a 2.79 GB video file between the remote testing system (using 802.11ac) and a desktop connected (via gigabit ethernet) to the test router. Each test was run with and without satellites connected to the network.
Here are our findings:
What was absolutely stunning about the Orbi AX6000 system is that the integrity of the connection remained, whether at 10 feet and over 50 feet! Internet speeds were blazing fast at download speeds around 470Mbps. This held true whether 10 feet away from the router or over fifty - even with the satellite sitting roughly 40 feet away from the router!
Transferring files, the connection was virtually unhindered by the distance with the system operating as intended. While it did take 50% more time to transfer the file at its furthest distance versus the shortest testing distance, that only equated to ~20 seconds more. Simply put: it took less than a minute (~57 seconds) to transfer the 2.79 GB test file.
Of course, removing the satellite altogether told a different story. While it did take a significantly longer time to transfer (~12 minutes), of the networking systems tested, the Orbi AX6000 showed the best overall timing, even in the worst conditions. When it came to internet speeds, the download speed to drop to around 20% of the full strength at over 50 feet, but that still operated twice as fast as the AmpliFI HD. Even still, upload speeds stayed consistent, regardless of the presence of a satellite unit, and ping stayed low.
Not too shabby!
What is kind of shabby is that upon opening the app, NETGEAR immediately hits you with advertisements. One option is to purchase NETGEAR’s ProSupport extended warranty for $49.99 - for the first two years. The other option is to purchase a subscription to the NETGEAR Armor service by Bitdefender. A free 30 day trial of Armor is included, but, beyond that, the service costs $69.99 annual (reduced from $99.99). While no antivirus or data theft protection is free and warranties are limited, this feels a bit poor form for a network ecosystem that costs as much as it does to get into.
While it leaves us scratching our heads a bit to be immediately hit with extra potential costs upon setup, the option to have router-end security can be a really great option for your network - especially if you handle any banking or personal data on your systems. Perhaps, NETGEAR can consider adding a longer trial period for customers buying into some of their higher-end products to help increase the value proposition of this purchase.
The NETGEAR Orbi AX6000 system is an enthusiast-grade wireless solution that offers lossless coverage along with expandability. In our testing, signal degradation was nearly non-existent, providing high internet speeds and transfer speeds across a decent distance.
We highly recommend this setup for anyone who needs to spread a wireless signal across a home, retain the integrity of that connection to the internet, and if you are in need of extra wired connections to your access point. The coverage offered is more than enough for small to medium-sized homes with just one extra satellite, but if your house is notorious for having dead zones, opting for the extra satellite might be advised.
With its consistent coverage, signal integrity, and options for connectivity, the NETGEAR Orbi AX6000 delivers mesh networking as intended.
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.