Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 review: Impressive speed for a hefty price
Quick verdict: Netgear's Orbi Wi-Fi 6 promises incredible speeds and absolutely delivers on those promises, over and above what you're likely to get in a home broadband connection. However, it can be difficult to set up, and it's remarkably expensive, especially for a 2-node system. If you've got the money to invest in your home or small office Wi-Fi, however, it's a very well engineered mesh system.
- Incredible throughput for a 2-node system
- 4 wired ports per node
- Netgear Armor gives sensible security advice
- App or web configuration
- Very expensive
- Install can be infuriating
- Large nodes are hard to hide
In the past Netgear's mesh offerings have promised plenty but generally left us wanting. When the 2-node Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 landed in Finder's labs, I figured that it was going to be the same old story of simple configuration but less than stellar performance compared to the best-in-class mesh routers.
I was wrong, because it was exactly the reverse, with an installation process that was somewhat infuriating, but with end results that were simply amazing.
If you're after pure speed then the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 is an excellent choice for overall coverage, but its premium pricing will put it out of reach for many. Plus, the speed is only going to make sense if you have particular throughput needs.
Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 review: Design
We're increasingly seeing a trend towards more subtle mesh nodes, designed to fit into home décor with less fuss.
I say increasingly, because absolutely nobody told the designers of the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 this in any way whatsoever.
While other Orbi systems have tended towards small block designs, the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 ships by default as 2 mesh nodes that are positively monolithic. Each node measures in at 25.4x7.1x19.05cm with a tapered top that gives it the impression of a shark fin rising up from whatever surface you place it on.
They're not subtle, and critically they're not small. This undoubtedly gives them some advantages in a radio antenna sense, but it also means that they're going to be harder to place if you don't like an overly "technical" look.
That's accentuated further by the glowing light at the base that acts as your single point of reference for what the router and node are actually doing. I can't imagine placing one of these in my bedroom, because the eerie glow would easily keep me awake at night.
The Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 comprises of 1 primary and 1 satellite node, technically the RBR850 and the RBS850 if you like codenames. Both have 4 gigabit LAN ports, with the primary node differentiated by a bright yellow WAN port, which is where your NBN connection would hook in. Depending on your connection type, this could be a direct connection, or via an intermediary router.
Installation: Should be easy (except when it isn't)
Like every other Mesh networking manufacturer, Netgear tries to make installation of the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 as simple as possible, with an app-driven interface as the default and a simple walkthrough process for set-up.
An unusual quirk here is that while many other Mesh set-ups get your connection live and then add nodes to a working system, Netgear's Orbi app wants it all done at once, with all satellites plugged in and waiting for the master connection.
This should all work quite seamlessly, even if you're not particularly au fait with networking technology or terminology.
Except when it doesn't, and I know this, because it's what happened to me.
In my case, I was setting up with an NBN HFC 250 connection, which meant I should have been able to directly connect to my NBN NTD. That should also be true for NBN FTTP connections, but those on NBN FTTN will still need an actual router to handle that end of matters.
I'm long used to the switchover/handshaking routine for changing mesh networks, because I do these tests a lot, so I was ready to wait 10–15 minutes while NBN Co and my telco (in this case Aussie Broadband) work out that I've changed connection devices.
(Disclaimer: Aussie Broadband sponsors my podcast, Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News. It had no input into this review, but transparency matters.)
However, even after stepping through that hurdle, I then hit another. The Orbi app could see my connection and run a satisfying speed test, but no connected devices could access the Internet at all. The Orbi app was convinced that I was connected online, but it wouldn't let me do anything at all.
Netgear includes its own security suite, Netgear Armor with the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6, and I suspected that this might have been the issue. However, heading into the app section for Netgear Armor, I was hit with a message telling me that it couldn't activate Netgear Armor, and that I should try again in a few minutes.
This was not helpful, because even after multiple retries, just in case there was a remote server somewhere with blue smoke escaping from it, I was no closer to getting online. Searches via mobile broadband suggested trying restarting remote management, but that made no difference.
I then checked the firmware and there was an update that hadn't downloaded but that could be manually forced to download, which was what I did. Once that had taken effect, another 10–15 minutes later, I could then access Netgear Armor and indeed the wider Internet on any connected devices. All up, getting the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 up and running took a little over 2 hours, which is way less than optimal.
I can 100% accept that my install experience might not be everyone's, and that in some cases the Orbi app should do what it's meant to do for a seamless set-up experience. However, what it does highlight is that it can be confusing and challenging if you don't know where to look or what's going wrong, especially when the Orbi app insists that you're online when you're not. This can and should be better explained for instances where a part of the system malfunctions, because novice users would have been totally lost here.
A nice touch that you don't see with every consumer-facing mesh system currently is a full web interface. Many will only talk to their companion apps, but if you do want to get into the networking nuts and bolts through a web browser, that's totally feasible with the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6.
Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 review: Performance
It's worth pointing out that Netgear has a number of different boxes with "Orbi Wi-Fi 6" on the front. You can buy the system with 2, 3, 4 or 5 nodes at increasing price points. That's easy enough to understand, but there's also a bigger technical difference. The higher end Netgear AX6000 system (as tested) supports up to 6Gbps (sort of) of data throughput, but the cheaper AX4200 and AX1800 systems drop those speeds markedly. They also drop down the number of connected clients and claimed coverage areas remarkably, and they're not what I've tested here. Netgear's claims aren't as expansive as they are for the premium AX6000 system.
The 6Gps figure would suggest that it's capable of speeds up to 6x faster than the current quickest fixed line NBN connections for consumers, although it's worth digging into the details. Netgear advises that the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 is capable of up to 2400Mbps on 2.4GHz, up to 2400Mbps on 5GHz and then a final 1200Mbps for the tertiary back channel that tri-band systems use for improved efficiency. Add all of those up and you do hit that 6Gps figure, but it's not quite the same as saying it could handle a direct 6Gbps connection if you could get one. Realistically that 2400Mbps figure will cover a home usage scenario very capably now and for quite some time. If you shuffle lots of video files for your home 3D rendering business, that might be a different story.
That being said, I didn't hold high hopes for the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6's performance, simply due to the fact that the review kit supplied came with 2 nodes. Finder's standard mesh network tests take place in a Sydney suburban home with an extension and internal brick wall that acts as a terrific (and terrifically annoying) Wi-Fi killer.
In most tests with 2-node mesh systems they've struggled with this set-up. My strong preference has long been for 3-node systems, because they allow me to place a primary node at my HFC router, a secondary node in a bedroom a few rooms away and then a final node in my home office behind that brick wall of doom.
Clearly I couldn't do that with a 2-node system, and I was curious to see how the Orbi app would handle that. Many competing systems have turned their noses up at putting just the 1 node behind the brick wall, but the Orbi app said nothing specific about good or poor placement. It could certainly see the satellite node, but would it produce any Wi-Fi signal worth bothering with.
To test that, I first measured basic RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) using a 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro. Here lower figures are preferable. While I had only 2 node points at close and far distances, I tested in the spot where I've tested for mid-range performance as well to provide comparative numbers for the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6. Here's how it compared:
The Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 presents well enough in this test, especially in the mid-range position where there wasn't a supporting node. This suggests that you should be able to see its network in most locations, even difficult ones.
Switching over to throughput, I ran Finder's broadband speed test in all 3 locations, first taking a fixed line speed test to determine what my connection was capable of at that time.
All speed tests were run at least 3 times, averaged and then converted into a percentage of that total line capability. That way, you're comparing like with like in performance terms. I wasn't expecting great results, simply due to the fact that most of the Wi-Fi 6 capable systems I've tested to date have tended to use triple-node set-ups.
Here's how the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 compared:
The Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6's nodes may be big, and set-up might be painful if you're unlucky, but there's no denying the sheer networking muscle that lies at the heart of this system. As expected, close and mid-range throughput was good, but then I could get that out of a cheaper Wi-Fi router, let alone a mesh system.
It's the long-range speeds that are really impressive, because they're over and above anything I've seen out of a mesh system to date, including impressive devices such as the Amazon Eero Pro 6.
I pushed this even further, testing out the Wi-Fi connectivity outside my home and even down the street, where I could still see my home network and connect, although with predictably diminishing returns. Still, there's absolutely nowhere on my own block that can't see and work with my home network, indoors or out. That's an impressive range of coverage.
Basically unless you live in a mansion, the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 will have enough grunt to push a very fast and capable signal to any devices. While you'll get better results with Wi-Fi 6 capable gear, the Wi-Fi specification is 100% backwards compatible, so even your very old Wi-Fi equipment should work without issues.
Netgear's Armor suite did trip me up in the installation phase, but it's also worth calling out as well placed if you do want an integrated level of network security. Netgear's not alone here with a bundled subscription tier security offering, although it might be nice to have a slightly longer trial period than 30 days given the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6's very premium pricing.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if: you want best-in-class mesh performance, and can afford it
- Don't buy it if: you don't need that level of performance, or can't take the wallet hit
On some level, the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 absolutely does deliver on its promises. It's wiped the floor with our existing mesh network test standards, dropping only a tiny quantity of data throughput from a fast NBN connection even under challenging circumstances. It's flexible for those who need wired connections with 4 gigabit ports per node, and configurable via a browser if you're inclined to do so.
However, all of this quality and speed comes with a price, and it's not a small one by any stretch of the imagination. The Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 is the most capable mesh router we've tested to date, but it's also far and away the most expensive by a margin that could buy several lesser mesh systems.
That means it's best suited to homes or small businesses that already have a fast data connection or needs to throw around lots of data packets at the highest possible speeds most of the time. For many consumers, it could be pricey overkill.
Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 review: Pricing and availability
The Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 as tested retails in Australia as a 2-node system for $1,199 outright. A 3-node system costs $1,799, 4 nodes can be yours for $2,399 and the big boy 6-node system will hit your wallet for a hefty $2,999.
Where to buy
How we tested
The Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 was tested in a standard Sydney home with a primary node located at the point where the NBN HFC NTD is located, and a satellite node located in a home office situated in an extension behind a brick wall that was at one time the exterior wall of the home.
The system was evaluated over a 2-week period testing installation routines, signal and throughput strength and system stability, as well as inbuilt security features. The Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 was supplied by Netgear for the purposes of review.
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