While pricey, the Netgear Orbi (RBK50) is among the fastest, most effective routers we’ve tested, even without its mesh extension.
Dedicated router-to-extension data channel
Choice of iphone app or browser setup
Relatively large devices
Limited functionality on mobile iphone app for now
The Netgear Orbi RBK50 AC3000 mesh-router system has gone out of this world, in a position to fill a big house with high-speed Wi-Fi. It’s simple to create and has more range and power than nearly every other router. The Orbi’s dedicated channel for router-to-extension data traffic helps the machine squeeze the utmost throughput for your family’s online wants and needs.
Starting at $329 for a two-pack kit, that is among the pricier home Wi-Fi kits. But when you have a whole lot of ground to cover, the premium is really worth it. That is why the Orbi made our set of the very best mesh Wi-Fi products.
Netgear Orbi RBK50 review: What’s included
The two-pack kit (model number RBK50) starts at $329 and is rated to cover 5,000 square feet. A supplementary satellite costs $249 for a typical unit and adds another 2,000 square feet of coverage; you can even add the Orbi Voice ($99) as an extension, which not merely offers more coverage, but also adds Amazon Alexa voice control and audio. Have a look at our Netgear Orbi Voice review to find out more.
(Image credit: Netgear)
None of the other mesh-router systems available cost quite as much. Google Wifi costs $299/£329 for three units, while Eero and Luma three packs each cost $400. The Linksys Velop system, most likely the closest match to the Orbi, runs $500/£500 for a three-pack, nevertheless, you will get two units for $350/£350. However, the Orbi claims greater per-unit area coverage than these.
Two other mesh-router systems, the $300 two-piece Amped Wireless Ally Plus and the $350 three-piece Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD, claim coverage regions of an impressive 15,000 square feet and 20,000 square feet, respectively. We’re attempting to confirm those numbers inside our lab tests.
Netgear Orbi RBK50 review: Design
Rather than tiny easy-to-stash devices, that you get with the Luma and Google Wifi, the oval-cross-sectioned Netgear Orbi host and extensions are big towers, measuring 8.9 inches x 6.7 inches x 3.1 inches. You can put one in a bookshelf and make usage of it as a bookend, but each Orbi unit is too huge to easily hide.
(Image credit: Netgear)
Like Google Wifi, the Orbi units have color-coded LEDs. When an Orbi device glows white around the oval at the top, it’s starting up. If it is blue, everything is OK. But if it glows amber, your web connection is weak; whether it’s magenta, your connection is fully gone.
The Orbi transmits Wi-Fi data on three radio-frequency bands. The principal 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz radios give a theoretical peak throughput of just one 1.2Gbps of data flow to user devices.
There’s a twist, though: Netgear adds another 5-GHz, 1.7Gbps radio that’s exclusively focused on the backhaul, the info being transmitted from the router Orbi unit to the satellite Orbis and again. Due to this side channel, the key links between your Orbi units as well as your devices stay strong and fast.
To aid this configuration, each Orbi device has six high-performance amplified antennas around its perimeter. Gleam Bluetooth radio and antenna, but they’re dormant for the present time.
Although they look the same, the Orbi’s router unit and satellite units aren’t interchangeable. You can’t randomly decide which unit ought to be the router and that ought to be the repeater.
The router are designed for up to three satellites, but each satellite communicates directly with the host router in a hub-and-spoke arrangement, instead of in a genuine mesh topology that could let data pass in one satellite to another.
Update: This is no more the case, and the Orbi RBK50 has already established true mesh capability because the firmware was changed in late 2018. Newer models in the Orbi line have all been true mesh systems.
(Image credit: Netgear)
Each Orbi’s backside includes a power input, an on/off button and four gigabit Ethernet ports. On the router, one port is yellow and connects to your broadband modem. You need to use the other LAN ports to hook up to printers, network-attached storage drives and stationary PCs.
Additionally, there are buttons to reset a device and synchronize the router with extra satellites. (Orbi units sold in packs emerge from the box synchronized.) Each Orbi sports a USB 2.0 port aswell, but, just like the Bluetooth radios, they’re awaiting activation by another software update.
Netgear Orbi RBK50 review: Performance
Like Google Wifi, the Orbi is a 2×2 router, and will handle two simultaneous streams of data to properly configured devices, per frequency band. (The dedicated backhaul channel uses 4×4 radios.) However the Orbi adds the most recent MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple input and multiple output) Wi-Fi technology for sending focused data streams to many devices simultaneously.
With the Orbi router 30 feet and two walls away, the Orbi extension projected 429.1 Mbps to a notebook computer one floor above it – a lot more than double Google Wifi’s performance.
Each Orbi device has Qualcomm’s IPQ4019 Wi-Fi control chip and radio in addition to a 710-MHz quad-core ARM-based processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of solid-state space for storage. A QCA9984 chip controls the backhaul data channel.
MORE: Best Wi-Fi Extenders
Make no mistake about any of it: All this makes the Orbi a robust beast. Using IxChariot software, Purch Labs’ real-world testing showed a single Orbi router could deliver a combined average throughput of 552.1 megabits per second (Mbps) at 5 feet. It had been 19 percent faster as of this distance than Google Wifi, 34 percent faster compared to the Linksys Velop and 50 percent faster compared to the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD.