NETGEAR Orbi Wifi System (RBK50) Review
Pros: Very easy to use, good throughput
Cons: Expensive, limited LAN ports
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The NETGEAR Orbi is easy to set up and configure, with a very convenient and user-friendly interface. It has some very comprehensive parental controls and all the features you need to get the most out of your network for all the internet-enabled devices you might own.
We began our assessment of the NETGEAR Orbi's performance by comparing and scoring all the different features it has. While this router may be missing a few things compared to some of the other top models, it still ranked well, finishing roughly in the middle of the group.
We love that the NETGEAR Orbi has both MU-MIMO and beamforming capabilities, drastically improving network performance when you have lots of devices connected. MU-MIMO means that this router will split all of your devices' requests for data into multiple streams and can service them simultaneously, significantly reducing the wait time for each device. Beamforming means that the NETGEAR Orbi can focus its signal strength on the areas of your home that need it most, so you aren't devoting unnecessary bandwidth to areas that lack device.
Unfortunately, there isn't a button to turn the wireless network on or off or a way to turn off the network traffic indicator LEDs. However, you can reset your network remotely.
It doesn't have any USB ports on the main router or any of the nodes but does have 4 LAN ports on the main router. The satellites only have 3 ports each, so you might be limited if you have lots of devices to wire in directly.
Ease of Use
Next, we compared and scored how easy it is to use the NETGEAR Orbi, basing the score on how much work it took to get ready to go out of the package, how easy the interface is to use, if the router can prioritize types of network traffic, and if there is the option to enable parental controls. The NETGEAR Orbi did very very well, earning one of the better scores of the group.
We loved how easy it is to set up the Orbi, though you do need to go through the mobile app on a compatible smartphone or tablet. This mobile app quickly and easily guides you through the setup process. You just need to follow the directions for connecting the cables and configuring the network name, password, and administrator settings. It can take a little bit of time to work through all the prompts but we never ran into any difficulties or issues when getting the primary node set up.
After that, it's equally easy to add additional satellites by following the directions in the app and then pressing the "Sync" button, with the rest of the install done automatically. We did have to update the firmware for this router once the setup was completed but the app automatically prompted us and made it very easy to do so.
Overall, we liked the interface on the mobile app for this router much more than the web-based interface, even though it has fewer options. Everything is clearly labeled and easy to find, with a very intuitive layout. You will need to go to the browser-based page for some of the more advanced settings though.
We also liked that the NETGEAR Orbi has very extensive and customizable parental controls, though you do have to download a separate app — Circle — to manage them. There are pre-made filtering profiles for different age groups, as well as the option to filter by content or platform. You can also block certain keywords for scheduled amounts of time if, for example, you wanted to limit social media use after bedtime or something similar.
Unfortunately, we did not find a way to enable Quality of Service (QoS) with the default configuration of the NETGEAR Orbi. This allows you to prioritize certain types of traffic over another, such as video conferencing over entertainment. You do have some options in the Circle app to do things like this but only if you pay a fee.
2.4 GHz. Throughput
Our remaining groups of evaluations looked at the data transfer performance of the Orbi and the other routers. For both the 5 GHz. and 2.4 GHz. bands, we conducted the same series of tests using the iPerf3 software, with the average result of three separate trials for each test being used for the final score. We ran a test with a short distance (10'), medium distance (35'), and a long-distance (70') between the router base and our test computer, including a line of sight and an interference test at the short and medium distances for a total of 5 different throughput tests for each router at each bandwidth. The NETGEAR Orbi got off to a great start in the 2.4 GHz. metric, outperforming many of its competitors.
The NETGEAR Orbi got off to a great start in our pair of close-range throughput tests, averaging 55 Mbits/s in the line of sight test and — interestingly enough — 64 Mbits/s in the obstructed version of this test.
This router again did well with the medium distance tests, following a similar pattern to the short distance tests. It recorded an average of 52 Mbit/s in the unobstructed test and 53 Mbits/s when some walls were separating the router from the test laptop.
We only had an obstructed version of our long-distance test, with the NETGEAR Orbi unfortunately delivering some relatively lackluster results.
We only recorded an average throughput of 8.9 Mbits/s, definitely showing that we were starting to get to the extent of this router's range.
5 GHz. Throughput
The NETGEAR Orbi performed slightly worse in the 5 GHz. metric compared to its results in the 2.4 GHz. metric but it still did pretty well overall.
We measured an average throughput for the Orbi of 216 Mbits/s with a direct line of sight between it and the computer and 194 Mbits/s when there were a few walls in the way.
Performance didn't drop too much when we moved to the medium distance, with the Orbi averaging 193 Mbits/s in the obstructed test and only dropping 10 Mbits/s to 183 Mbits/s with the added interference.
The NETGEAR Orbi finished out are throughput tests with an average of 19 Mbits/s in the long-range test, with multiple walls between the computer and router.
Our final set of evaluations looked at the maximum effective range of these routers, as determined by how far away we could stream a video without buffering or lagging on our test computer when connected to each router's 2.4 GHz. network. We used this network since it will typically have much more range than its higher frequency counterpart. The Orbi rounded out our tests with another good performance, placing in the middle to the upper portion of the group.
We were able to successfully stream our test video with a whopping 142' between the laptop and the primary node of this mesh network, more than enough for most uses.
Unfortunately, while the NETGEAR Orbi is an excellent product, it is also one of the most expensive, making it a tough sell to anyone shopping on a limited budget.
If you want the expanded coverage of a mesh network for your home internet solution and are looking for the best of the best — and are willing to pay for it — then we highly recommend the NETGEAR Orbi. It's got good throughput and range, all while being very easy to set up and use along with just about all the features most people want.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer