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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Fantastic speeds over 802.11ac and 802.11ax
Expandable system ideal for large homes
Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant
Easy to control via app
Base station and satellites are huge
Advanced features require a subscription
Takes too long to set up
The Netgear Orbi AX6000 mesh system is impressively fast and robust, boasting fantastic speeds via Wi-Fi 6 and surprisingly good performance when used with Wi-Fi 5 devices as well. This is an expensive system, but don’t let that scare you off.
The Netgear Orbi AC6000 is a Wi-Fi 6 mesh router system that allows you to custom tailor your Wi-Fi network according to the specific requirements of your space. As a Wi-Fi 6 system, it supports 802.11ax while remaining backward compatible with 802.11ac, and it comes with some useful features that might make your life easier like parental controls and malware protection.
I recently unboxed an Orbi AX6000 system and swapped out my regular mesh system for some hands-on testing. I checked out everything from ease of setup and use to perform with both Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 devices. The results were impressive.
The basic Orbi AX6000 system consists of a base station and a satellite unit that look identical from the front. The main body of each unit is made up of silver plastic, while white panels standoff from the base a few centimeters to create an interesting layered look. The antennas, four each, are entirely hidden away inside. When plugged into power, a soft light glows through the lower gap between the white panel and the gray body.
The satellite unit omits the internet connection jack but keeps the four gigabyte Ethernet jacks, providing you with the ability to semi-hardwire additional components.
The front of each Orbi is otherwise featureless, aside from a simple application of the Orbi logo, as are the top, sides, and bottom. The connectors are all located around the back, including a 2.5G/1G internet connection, four Gigabyte Ethernet jacks, and a DC power input. The satellite unit omits the internet connection jack but keeps the four Gigabyte Ethernet jacks, providing you with the ability to semi-hardwire additional components. Both the base station and satellite also feature sync buttons for adding additional units, but that’s it for buttons.
Setting up the Orbi AX6000 isn’t difficult, but I did find it to take far longer than it needed to. The whole process can be accomplished through the Orbi smartphone app, which walks you through the process every step of the way. The issue I ran into was that the app stumbled on several occasions and took a surprisingly long amount of time with wait screens between steps.
The first issue I ran into is that each Orbi satellite has a QR code you can scan with the app to add it to your mesh network. It took me several attempts to get the QR reader to recognize the QR code, and then an error in the app a few minutes later booted me back to that step to start all over again.
The other main issue I ran into during setup was that after setting up the base station and satellite, the app started searching for the Orbi’s wireless network. Instead, it found my Nighthawk M1 cellular modem that I use for failover when my main internet connection goes down. It complained that the Nighthawk network isn’t compatible with the Orbi app and forced me to start setup all over again. That’s fine, but I didn’t ask it to connect to the Nighthawk network, and why would it even try?
By the time all was said and done, and I was finally ready to start testing the Orbi, the setup process had eaten up about 30 minutes of my day. Not that big a deal in the long run, but far more time than it needed to.
The Orbi AX6000 is a tri-band mesh router system that broadcasts three simultaneous channels, with one over the 2.4GHz band and two over the 5GHz band. It’s rated to handle 1200Mbps over the 2.4GHz network and 2400Mbps over each 5GHz connection, although only one is actually dedicated to wireless devices. The other functions as a dedicated backhaul between the satellites and base station.
There is a bit of a discrepancy there compared to most routers. For example, if you buy any other AX6000 router, you can expect 6000Mbps worth of data to be available at any given time for your wireless devices to transmit back and forth across the network and download from the internet. With this mesh setup, only 3600Mbps of bandwidth is dedicated to your wireless devices, while 2400Mbps is set aside for the satellite and base station to send data back and forth.
The way that the Orbi AX6000 is set up, with four Wi-Fi 6 streams of dedicated backhaul, makes for a remarkably fast and responsive network. Devices connected to the network can transfer data on the network with great speed, but there is less available bandwidth than you might expect just looking at the rating.
The Orbi AX6000 also supports MU-MIMO for simultaneous data streaming, with both implicit and explicit beamforming for both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. This technology allows multiple devices to connect at once without waiting in line to transfer data, and it can also provide a stronger connection at greater distances.
For physical connectivity, the Orbi AX6000 hits a lot of the right marks. The base station includes a 2.5Gbps WAN port for connecting to your modem and four Ethernet ports for connecting devices. You also have the option of adding one of the 1Gbps ports to the 2.5Gbps port via link aggregation for even greater speeds, providing that you have an internet connection that fast.
Each satellite unit also has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, which is a nice touch. Since the base station and satellite units are linked via a dedicated 5GHz connection, connecting to these ethernet ports provides a rock-solid connection that’s also pretty fast. Mission-critical hardware should still be connected directly to the base station, but it’s nice to have the option.
The Orbi AX6000 doesn’t have any USB ports or any other ports at all. So while the Ethernet port coverage is pretty decent for a mesh router system, the last of any way to connect a USB hard drive, printer, backup cellular modem, or anything else is a bit of a letdown for a product with such a high price point.
I tested the Orbi AX6000 system on a 1 Gbps Mediacom cable internet connection, testing both wired and wireless speeds, and Orbi’s automatic system that combines both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks into a single SSID and automatically selects the best one based on speed and performance.
As a control, I first tested the Eero system I normally use. The Eero registered 842Mbps down at the router and 600Mbps down using a wired connection to my desktop.
The Orbi immediately impressed, notching a maximum download speed of 939Mbps when measured at the router. That’s remarkable, as no router I’ve tested has managed to beat the Eero in this measurement, so the Orbi is the new king in that particular domain.
The Orbi immediately impressed, notching a maximum download speed of 939 Mbps when measured at the router.
When measured at my desktop rig, connected via Ethernet, I recorded a maximum download speed of 650Mbps and a maximum upload speed of 65Mbps. That, again, is right up there with the fastest wired routers I’ve tested, and 50Mbps faster than the baseline from my Eero.
Moving on to wireless testing, I booted up my HP Spectre x360, which is Wi-Fi 6 compatible, meaning it’s able to connect to 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks using both the 802.11ac and 802.11ax standards.
In a close proximity test, using the Ookla Speed Test app, I measured a maximum download speed of 642Mbps. My next test was carried out about 10 feet away from behind a closed door, where I measured a download speed of 637Mbps. I then took the laptop out into my kitchen, about 50 feet away, with several walls, appliances, and furniture in the way. It managed a maximum download speed of 358Mbps at that range. Finally, I took the laptop down to my garage, about 100 feet from the router, where it managed a connection speed of 80Mbps.
All of that testing was carried out using just the base station. For my final phase of testing, I plugged a satellite unit into my kitchen, about 40 feet away from the base station, and performed my 50-foot test again. The result was that the connection speed jumped from 358Mbps up to 500Mbps. I also plugged the satellite unit into an RV parked about 50 feet from the router and measured download speeds of 500 plus Mbps out there as well, allowing guests to stream high definition video, access teleconferencing, and perform other data-heavy tasks.
The verdict here is that just one base station is powerful enough for a moderately sized house, and adding a satellite can vastly improve speeds and range. If you have a large house, or suffer from dead zones due to the way your house is constructed, this system is definitely up to the task of spreading high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the entire structure.
The verdict here is that just one base station is powerful enough for a moderately sized house, and adding a satellite can vastly improve speeds and range.
Orbi has an app that’s exceedingly simple and easy to use, which may be a selling point or a big turn off depending on your point of view. If you aren’t a networking expert, and you just want things to work, then this system will work just fine for you. Aside from some time-wasting annoyances during setup, the app itself is very easy to understand and navigate, to the point where networking experts may feel frustrated at the lack of options.
The home screen of the app provides some basic options, like settings, a quick link to add more satellites, and a link to manage your account. Most of the options are dead ends or relatively featureless, like the Add Ons option that provides a single option to add pro support for a fee.
The settings menu is similarly sparse, with some basic router and Wi-Fi settings, guest network settings, and security options, but there’s nothing really in-depth or very customizable here. The security option allows you to turn Netgear Armor on or off, but that’s it. The inclusion of Netgear Armor, powered by Bitdefender, is appreciated, although you only get it for free for one month. After that, you have to pay.
Similarly, this router does have parental controls, but not integrated into the app. If you want to use the parental controls, you’re directed to download the Circle app. This provides you with some basic controls, or you can pay for a subscription to gain access to Circle’s entire slate of controls.
The inclusion of Netgear Armor, powered by Bitdefender, is appreciated, although you only get it for free for one month.
With an MSRP of $700, the Orbi AX6000 is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. It’s significantly more expensive than other mesh systems out there, with the important caveat that it’s Wi-Fi 6, while cheaper mesh systems are only Wi-Fi 5. It also outperforms other mesh systems in every category. You shouldn’t just dismiss this system out of hand because of the price, but it is perfectly sensible to ask whether this system is really worth the money.
If you want to future proof your network so that you don’t need to upgrade again in a few years, or you already have a bunch of Wi-Fi 6 devices, then this system becomes a lot more attractive, even at such a high price point. Aside from the hit to your bank account, this system will not disappoint you.
Coming in at an MSRP of $400, the Eero Pro (view on Amazon) is significantly less expensive than the Orbi AX6000. It also comes with two satellites, or beacons, in the $400 configuration, compared to just one with the Orbi system. That means it can cover more ground for less money. In fact, you could buy two Eero Pro base stations and three beacons for the cost of a single Orbi base station and satellite, making the Eero a better choice if you have an extremely large space to cover and few Wi-Fi 6 client devices.
The Orbi AX6000 is just superior hardware to the Eero, and to the Nest Wi-Fi system, and to every other mesh system that lacks support for Wi-Fi 6.
When you look at the capabilities of these systems, the Orbi wins hands down. It features Wi-Fi 6 while the Eero Pro only has Wi-Fi 5, so it will naturally provide higher speeds to Wi-Fi 6 devices. However, in my testing, it also provided higher speeds to Wi-Fi 5 devices. The Orbi hardware also includes more Ethernet ports, with four per unit. The Eero Pro only has a single Ethernet port, and the beacons have none.
The Orbi AX6000 is just superior hardware to the Eero, and to the Nest Wi-Fi system, and to every other mesh system that lacks support for Wi-Fi 6. Whether that superiority is worth the extra cost is up to you.
Future proof your mesh network with Wi-Fi 6.
The bottom line here is that the Orbi AX6000 is a fantastic mesh system. It outperforms every mesh system I’ve tested, and it has some truly great features built in. Unfortunately, it also has a price tag that’s tough to argue for. For about one half to one third of the price, you can get into an Eero Pro system or Nest Wi-Fi system that performs well enough for Wi-Fi 5 hardware, and that’s going to be a tough leap for some people to make.