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Best mesh routers for 2021

A good mesh router will spread fast, reliable internet speeds throughout your entire home. These are the best we've tested.

The past couple of years have made it clear that having a dependable Wi-Fi network at home is essential -- especially if you're working or learning from home, gaming online with friends or calling up loved ones for regular video chats. And, if you've established such networking habits over the course of the pandemic, you might've noticed that the signal from your router isn't as strong as you'd like it to be in some parts of your house. Those wireless signals can only travel so far on their own before your speeds drop off, especially if your home's layout and construction are creating obstructions that those signals struggle to penetrate.

This is where mesh routers come in. With multiple devices spread throughout your home, a good mesh router is more like a team of routers that can relay your wireless signal back to the modem better than a stand-alone traditional router, especially when you're connecting at range. With the right system quarterbacking your connection, you could enjoy total wireless coverage and speeds that are about as fast as your network is capable of throughout the majority, or entirety, of your home. Better yet, you won't have to juggle your connection between your main network and a separate extension network like you will with a simple range extender -- the mesh router will automatically route your connection accordingly within a single network.

Now playing: Watch this: Which router upgrade is right for you?
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The rub is that mesh Wi-Fi systems are more expensive than range extenders and typically costlier than traditional, stand-alone routers, too. If your home is large, it might take a mesh setup with three devices or more to offer strong speeds in every room. The good news is that we've seen lots of new mesh competition hitting the market in recent years, and that's driven prices down significantly. Though we'd recommend aiming a bit higher, you can even find basic, entry-level mesh systems for as little as $20 per device.

Some of the best mesh Wi-Fi models include systems from Eero, which popularized mesh networking before being bought by Amazon in 2019, as well as the latest setups from AsusNetgear Orbi and Google Nest. Mesh systems like those regularly sold for as much as $400 or even $500 a few years ago, but now all of these manufacturers and others offer multipoint mesh router systems -- including the main router and the additional satellite extenders -- that cost less than $300, if not less than $200.

We've still got lots of routers and mesh systems we'd like to try out -- including a growing number that use Wi-Fi 6 technology promising better performance and faster speeds. More mesh routers that support Wi-Fi 6E, which means they can access a newly unlocked mass of bandwidth in the 6GHz band, should be arriving in the coming months, too, but it's probably much too early to invest in a system like that (and believe me, they won't come cheap).

Expect regular updates to this post as new Wi-Fi mesh routers like those make it to market. For now, here are the top mesh routers we'd recommend right now for anyone ready to make the upgrade.

Chris Monroe/CNET

For a mesh router upgrade that really feels like an upgrade, you'll want to look for these things: Wi-Fi 6 support, and a tri-band design with the usual 2.4 and 5GHz bands, plus a second 5GHz band that the system can use as a dedicated backhaul connection for wireless transmissions between the main router and the satellites. The problem is that tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers like that are typically pretty expensive. Just last year, I was commending Asus and Eero for bringing the cost of a two-piece system like that down to around $400 or so.

Now, in 2021, TP-Link is doing even better and selling the Deco W7200 mesh router, a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 system that only costs $229 for a two-pack. That might be the best mesh router value I've ever seen -- and the even better part is that it performs like a champ, with fast, stable speeds, decent range and a setup process that's about as easy as it gets, with satellite extenders that automatically join the mesh as soon as you plug them in. In fact, the only mesh system that beat the Deco W7200 outright in my at-home speed tests, the Netgear Orbi AX6000, costs more than three times as much at $700 for a two-pack.

All of that makes the Deco W7200 an outstanding value, and the first mesh router I'd point people to if they asked for a recommendation.

Read our TP-Link Deco W7200 review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Several years ago, Google Wifi became a breakout hit thanks to its easy setup and its ability to spread a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection throughout your home for all of your connected devices. Now, there's the Nest Wifi, a second-gen follow-up that adds in faster internet speeds and a better-looking design, plus Google Assistant smart speakers built into each satellite extender. The price is a little lower this time around, too -- $269 for the two-piece setup above, with roughly the same area of Wi-Fi coverage as a three-piece, $300 Google Wifi setup from years back. That's less of a good deal now than it was when the system first launched, but there's still plenty of reason to consider Nest Wifi if you catch it on sale.

On average, the Nest Wifi notched the fastest top speeds that we saw from any Wi-Fi 5 mesh router (and faster speeds than the newest Linksys Velop system, which supports Wi-Fi 6 and costs more than twice as much). Plus, the two-piece setup offered enough signal strength to provide sufficient coverage at the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. It also aced our mesh tests, never once dropping my connection as I moved about my home running speed tests, and I never caught it routing my connection through the extender when connecting directly to the router was faster, either.

The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support might seem like a missed opportunity, but the Nest Wifi does include support for modern features like WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization and 4x4 MU-MIMO connections that offer faster aggregate speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro that can use multiple Wi-Fi antennas at once. It's also fully backward-compatible with previous-gen Google Wifi setups, which is a smart touch. All of it is easy to set up, easy to use and easy to rely on. Among dual-band mesh routers, I'd much rather have a top-of-the-line Wi-Fi 5 system than an entry-level Wi-Fi 6 system -- even among new competition, the Nest Wifi mesh router fits that bill.

Read our Nest Wifi review.

 

Amazon

Eero was an early pioneer of the mesh networking approach, and in 2019, it got scooped up by Amazon. Then, in 2020, we got two new versions of the Eero mesh router: the Eero 6 and Eero Pro 6, both of which add in support for -- you guessed it -- Wi-Fi 6.

Each system is priced at a value, netting you a three-piece setup with two range-extending satellites for about as much as some competitors charge for a two-piece setup. That's great if you live in a large home and you need your Wi-Fi network to cover a lot of ground -- the additional mesh Wi-Fi network extender will make a big, noticeable difference in your speeds when you're connecting at range.

But between the two of them, I strongly prefer the Eero Pro 6, which costs $599 for a three-pack or less if you can catch a sale. Unlike the regular Eero 6, which disappointed in my tests with poor band-steering, the Eero Pro 6 setup I tested worked like a charm, spreading fast, reliable speeds across my entire home. Plus, it features a tri-band design with two 5GHz bands, which is key for optimal mesh performance. It's also a great pick for Alexa users thanks to a built-in Zigbee radio that lets you pair things like smart locks and smart lights with your voice assistant without needing any extra hub hardware.

$599 isn't inexpensive by any stretch, but it's about as good a price as you'll find for a three-piece, tri-band mesh router with full support for Wi-Fi 6, and Amazon has a habit of putting it on sale. That makes it a worthy and sensible upgrade for large homes. Meanwhile, if you don't need a three-piece system, you could also consider the Eero Pro 6 two-pack, which costs $399.

Read our Eero Pro 6 review.

 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

At a retail price of $699 for a two-pack, the AX6000 version of the Netgear Orbi is too expensive to recommend outright -- but if you just want one of the fastest mesh routers money can buy, look no further.

With full support for Wi-Fi 6 and a second 5GHz band that serves as a dedicated backhaul connection for the router and its satellites, the powerful system was downright impressive in our tests, with top speeds of nearly 900Mbps at close range in our lab. That's one of the fastest numbers we've ever seen from a mesh router in that test, and it only fell to 666Mbps at a distance of 75 feet -- which is still faster than we saw from the Nest Wifi up close, just 5 feet away.

Things got even more impressive when we took the Orbi AX6000 home to test its performance in a real-world setting. With an incoming internet connection of 300Mbps serving as a speed limit, the system returned average speeds throughout the whole home of 289Mbps to Wi-Fi 5 devices and 367Mbps to Wi-Fi 6 devices, including speeds at the farthest point from the router that were 95% as fast as when connecting up close. That's an outstanding result -- no other mesh router I've tested in my home comes close.

Again, the problem is the price: $699 is simply too expensive for most folks, especially given that you'll need a connection of at least 500Mbps in order to notice much of a difference between this system and others we like that cost less than half as much.

There's also the less expensive AX4200 version of the Orbi mesh system that costs $350. It's still a tri-band Wi-Fi router that supports Wi-Fi 6, but you don't get the multigig WAN port that comes with the AX6000 model here. We'll keep an eye on that one and update this space once we've tested it out.

Read our Netgear Orbi AX6000 review.

 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

It isn't quite as fast as the Wi-Fi 6 version of the Netgear Orbi listed above, but the Editors' Choice Award-winning Asus ZenWiFi AX (model number XT8) came awfully close -- and at $450 or less for a two-piece system, it's a lot easier to afford.

In fact, the ZenWiFi AX offers the same multigig WAN ports as the Orbi 6, which is a great piece of future-proofing that you don't always get in this price range. It also boasts the same dedicated backhaul band to help keep the system transmissions separate from your network traffic, the same ease of setup and steady mesh performance, and the same strong speeds at range. All of that makes it a future-ready upgrade pick at a fair price. It even comes in your choice of white or black.

I also appreciated the depth of control in the Asus app, which lets you manage your network and customize that backhaul as you see fit. If $450 is a bit too much for your budget, know that there's a smaller version of this system called the Asus ZenWiFi AX Mini. It isn't as high-powered and it isn't a tri-band system like its big brother, but it comes with three devices that all support Wi-Fi 6 for $250, which makes it pretty interesting. There's also another new dual-band ZenWifi system in 2021 called the ZenWifi XD6 -- it was impressive but imperfect in my tests, and it doesn't cost much less than the XT8 here. Between the three of them, the XT8 is the one I'd buy.

Read our Asus ZenWiFi AX review.

 

Ry Crist/CNET

I did a double take the first time I saw the price tag for the slimmed down, dual-band version of the Netgear Orbi mesh router system. Currently available at just $106 for a three-pack, it's a clear value pick -- and a dramatic turnaround from the original Netgear Orbi, which was too expensive for most consumers at $400 for a two-pack.

Netgear brought the cost down by sticking with Wi-Fi 5, ditching the built-in Alexa speaker that comes with the Orbi Voice and skipping the tri-band approach and the dedicated 5GHz backhaul band that other Orbi systems use to connect each device in the mesh. I wonder if Netgear missed an opportunity by not branding this system as "Orbi Lite."

It all makes for a less robust mesh system than other Orbi setups, but I hardly noticed in my tests. Among the Wi-Fi 5 systems I've tested, the dual-band Netgear Orbi actually notched the fastest top speeds at close range, it kept up with the Nest and Eero in our real-world speed tests and it offered excellent signal strength in the large-sized CNET Smart Home.

Netgear's app isn't as clean or intuitive as Nest's or Eero's, and the network didn't seem quite as steady as those two as it steered me from band to band in my tests, but those are quibbles at this price. If you just want something affordable -- perhaps to tide you over until you're ready to make the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 -- then the budget-friendliest Netgear Orbi definitely deserves your consideration.

Read our Netgear Orbi AC1200 review.

 

This graph shows the top speeds of a single router from each system we've tested in our lab, no extenders. The Eero Pro 6 was the only one to notch a top speed higher than 1,000Mbps (1Gbps), with Wi-Fi 6 systems from AmpliFi, Arris, Netgear and Asus close behind. Meanwhile, the Nest Wifi router had the fastest average download speeds of the Wi-Fi 5 systems we tested. (Lab testing was suspended during the pandemic and will resume in 2022, so stay tuned for updated top speeds from the models we tested in 2021.)

Ry Crist/CNET

Top speeds

As I said, we've already run a good number of speed tests with these systems. When we clocked the top wireless transfer speeds for a single Wi-Fi router from each system, it was the Eero Pro 6 that led the way with a close-range top speed of 1,008Mbps. That makes it the only mesh router we've tested that was able to top out above gigabit speeds in this single-device test. Meanwhile, the AmpliFi Alien, the Arris Surfboard Max, the Netgear Orbi AX6000, the dual-band Netgear Nighthawk and the Asus RT-AX92U performed well, too, each with top speeds comfortably north of 800Mbps at close range. No surprise there, as those all support Wi-Fi 6, the fastest version of Wi-Fi yet.

Behind those came the Nest Wifi, which holds the top spot in this test among Wi-Fi 5 mesh routers. The budget-friendly, AC1200 version of the Netgear Orbi impressed us, too -- it was even faster than the Nest at close range.

Just know that these top speed tests take place in our lab. We wire each router to a MacBook Pro that acts as a local server, then we download data from that MacBook to another laptop connected to the router's Wi-Fi network. That lets us see how fast each router can move data without the variables and limitations that come with connecting via your home internet service, where your ISP essentially sets the speed limit.

One other note -- we were forced to suspend lab testing during the pandemic, but plan to resume those tests in early 2022, so stay tuned for updated top speeds from the models we've tested over the past year and a half.

With a fiber internet connection of 300Mbps in my room, these are room-by-room average download speeds for each mesh router I've tested with a Wi-Fi 6 client device. The Netgear Orbi AX6000 is our top performer, but the TP-Link Deco W7200 is right behind it and costs less than a third as much.

Ry Crist/CNET

Real-world speeds

Top speed tests are one thing, but it's important to also take a close look at how well these mesh routers perform when you add in the range extenders and pull data from the cloud, the way they'll be used 99% of the time. So, I took each one home, set it up on my 300Mbps AT&T fiber network and spent quite a bit of time running speed tests in order to find out.

Up until 2020, I ran the majority of these at-home tests using a Dell XPS 13 laptop that uses Wi-Fi 5. Then, once Wi-Fi 6 became available, I started running two separate sets of tests: one to measure speeds to that Wi-Fi 5 laptop, and another, separate set of tests to measure speeds to a client device that supports Wi-Fi 6. That means that there are some routers listed in this post that were tested before we were able to run our at-home tests to a Wi-Fi 6 device (I've starred them in the leaderboard graph below).

After running countless speed tests in multiple spots throughout my home, where I have fiber internet upload and download speeds of 300Mbps, I average the results together to get these aggregate speed ratings for each mesh router I test. Here's the leaderboard as it currently stands. (Routers with stars were tested with a Wi-Fi 5 client device, before we were using Wi-Fi 6 devices for our at-home tests. Routers without stars were tested with a Wi-Fi 6 client device).

Ry Crist/CNET

The biggest names that are still waiting for Wi-Fi 6 speed test data are the Nest Wifi mesh router and the Asus ZenWifi XT8, both of which performed well when I tested them with my old Wi-Fi 5 laptop. The latter is a tri-band router with support for Wi-Fi 6, so it would likely be a spot or two higher on that leaderboard (and potentially higher than the dual-band ZenWifi XD6) if we had tested it with a Wi-Fi 6 device.

I'll update this post when I'm able to add those results, and I'll also continue to run tests on both types of client devices in order to get a good sense of how well these routers perform with both current- and previous-gen hardware. You can check out my full reviews for more information on that breakdown. 

The short version is that newer client devices that support Wi-Fi 6 will typically be able to hit sustained speeds that are noticeably faster than what you'll get with older, Wi-Fi 5 devices -- but previous-gen devices like those can still benefit from a mesh router that supports Wi-Fi 6.
(Watch this: Wi-Fi 6: What the heck is it?) 

Specifically, my data shows better performance at range, with speeds that didn't dip as much in the back of my house. With the top-performing Netgear Orbi AX6000 system and others like it, speeds hardly dipped at all. Connecting my old laptop near the satellite in that master bedroom and back bathroom was almost as good as connecting near the router itself in the living room.

That likely stems from the fact that the router and the satellite are able to use Wi-Fi 6 to relay signals back and forth more efficiently and at faster speeds. The Orbi AX6000's tri-band design does some heavy lifting here, too, as that allows the system to dedicate an entire 5GHz band to the backhaul transmissions between the router and satellite.

Just be aware that adding an extra band to the mix really brings the price up. The Asus ZenWifi XT8 and Eero Pro 6 each cost about $400 or so for a two-pack, while the Linksys Velop MX10, AmpliFi Alien, Arris Surfboard Max Pro and Netgear Orbi AX6000 systems each cost about $600 or $700 for a two-pack. Meanwhile, our top pick, the TP-Link Deco W7200, only costs $229 for a two-pack.

If you live in a large home and need more than one satellite extender, the Eero Pro 6 is worth considering. At $599 for a three-pack, it's expensive, but it still costs less than most other tri-band 3-packs with support for Wi-Fi 6.

vilo-mesh-router-3-pack-promo

The Vilo mesh router is the slowest I've ever tested, but it's functional, and it only costs $20 per device, plus shipping.

Ry Crist/CNET

If you're living with a slow ISP connection and you don't need Wi-Fi 6 or a fancy tri-band build, then there's nothing wrong with skipping those upgrades and going with something simpler in order to save some money. I've tested a number of bargain picks like that -- among them, the AC1200 version of Netgear Orbi, currently available in a three-pack for $115, is my top recommendation, with the right balance of performance and value. If you really want to get dirt cheap, you could opt for a system like Vilo, which costs just $20 per device, plus shipping. It's the slowest mesh router I've ever tested, which wasn't surprising, but it was still functional and able to maintain average download speeds above 100Mbps in that back bathroom of mine. 

Mesh routers worth skipping

Router recommendations are all well and good, but what about the mesh routers I don't recommend? Glad you asked -- let's run through the ones I'd pass on save for a good sale.

Let's start with the dual-band Netgear Nighthawk mesh Wi-Fi system, which supports Wi-Fi 6 but doesn't include an extra backhaul band. That means that your network traffic has to share bandwidth with the transmissions between the router and the satellite, but it also brings the cost down. At $230 for a two-pack, it's tempting, but the performance was too shaky for me to recommend it.

Another dual-band option is the TP-Link Deco X20 mesh router. Currently available at $200 for a three-piece system with full support for Wi-Fi 6, the Deco X20 is similar to Amazon's standard, non-Pro Eero 6 system, but it did a better job in my at-home tests of steering me to the right band, which raised its overall speeds. It's a decent pick if you want a Wi-Fi 6 system with two extenders and you don't want to spend too much, but a two-pack of the top-recommended Deco W7200 tri-band system costs just $30 more. Even without a third device, I'd rather have that tri-band two-pack than the X20's dual-band three-pack.

Here's a peek at some of my speed test data for the standard Eero 6 mesh router. In the top batch of tests, I started my connection close to the router and moved towards the back of the house. In the bottom tests, I connected in the back of the house and moved closer to the router. The results were wildly inconsistent, which wasn't an issue I found with the Eero Pro 6.

Ry Crist/CNET

Speaking of the standard Eero 6 system, it was a disappointment when I tested it out, with weak, inconsistent speeds between my various rounds of testing. Specifically, I saw a night-and-day difference in my speeds depending on whether or not I started my connection in the same room as the router. If I connected from afar, the system would keep my connection on the slower 2.4GHz band even after moving closer to the router.

Among the other routers I'd pass on are fancier models that actually finished pretty high on that leaderboard. For instance, I was impressed with the Asus ZenWifi XD6, a dual-band mesh router that managed to keep up with the tri-band models I've tested, but the upload speeds were a bit weak, and the value wasn't strong enough for me to recommend it outright.

The Arris Surfboard Max AX6600 was another strong performer that I'd skip. It aced my Wi-Fi 6 tests, finishing with the third-best average download speeds in my home of any system I've tested, but performance was much less consistent with Wi-Fi 5 devices, which makes it hard to recommend at its full price of $400 for a two-pack.

amplifi-router-6

It isn't a top performer or a value pick, but the Amplifi Alien is a great-looking Wi-Fi 6 mesh router that lets you create a VPN-style connection to your home network when you're travelling, which is a nice, unique feature.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Setup, security, features and other considerations

Performance and value are probably the first things you'll look for as you shop for a mesh router, but there are other factors worth taking into consideration as well. Take features, for instance. Mesh routers typically don't come with very many unique bells and whistles, but there are some standouts. The Amplifi Alien mesh router from Ubiquiti is a good example -- apart from a unique-looking build, it features touchscreen controls on the front of each device, along with a feature called Teleport that lets you establish a VPN-style connection to your home network when you're travelling. That's a useful trick that lets you leverage your home network's security capabilities when you're connecting to a public Wi-Fi network.

Speaking of security, if you're buying a new router, then it's worth looking for one that supports the latest encryption standards. Most of the new models released in the last year or two support WPA3 for stronger defense against things like brute-force hacking attempts -- I'd want a model like that if it were me making the upgrade.

Most mesh routers are a cinch to set up, with companion apps that walk you through the process in a matter of minutes. Just plug everything in and follow the instructions.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

As for setup, don't worry too much about it, if at all. Just about every new router, mesh or otherwise, will come with a convenient companion app that'll walk you through the setup process in a matter of minutes. From there, you'll have simplified network controls just a few taps away, making it easy to turn a guest network on and off, manage parental controls, or change your network password.

There are a number of other factors that we take into consideration whenever we test a mesh router. Latency is a good example. I run each of my speed tests to the same, stable server on the other side of Kentucky, which gives me a good, comparative look at how quickly each one is able to send and receive data. Most of the mesh routers I'm testing these days do just fine, with average latency usually coming in between 15 and 20ms per ping, but some systems will see latency spikes when they're routing your connection through an extender.

These radar graphs show you the latency across all of my speed tests for each router I test. You're looking for results with fewer spikes that stick close to the center. Among these four top picks, the Eero Pro 6 (blue) performed the best.

Ry Crist/CNET

We also plan to resume testing signal strength at the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home in 2022 after putting those tests on hold during the pandemic. Using NetSpot software, we're able to make a map showing the signal strength of each device in the mesh, which gives you a good indication of the system's range and the quality of the connection.

In 2022, we'll resume our signal strength tests at the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. In a large home like that, adding a third device to the mesh is your best bet for a better connection at range.

Steve Conaway/CNET

It's worth pointing out that those maps show you the aggregate signal strength of each system throughout the house and not their actual download speeds. That said, better signal strength means better wireless speeds. My partner-in-testing Steve Conaway summed it up thusly: "Yellow means you're in heaven, green means good enough and blue means WTF." 

The main takeaway from those tests is that you'll want to prioritize getting a system with more than one extender if you live in a home as large as our Smart Home -- in most cases, those additional extenders will make a much more noticeable impact in the strength of your connection at range than an upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 or a tri-band design will.

What about Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E is a new designation for Wi-Fi 6 devices that are equipped to send transmissions in the 6GHz band, which is something routers couldn't do until recently, after the Federal Communications Commission voted to open that band for unlicensed use. The 6GHz band offers more than twice as much bandwidth as the 5GHz band and there aren't any older-generation Wi-Fi devices using it, so the pitch is that it's sort of like an exclusive, multilane highway for your internet traffic.

linksys-velop-atlas-max-6e-wi-fi-mesh-router-promo

The newest Linksys Velop mesh router supports Wi-Fi 6E, which means it can transmit on the 6GHz band.

Linksys

There are already a handful of routers that support Wi-Fi 6E available for purchase. Among them is the Linksys Velop Atlas Max 6E mesh system, which -- at $900 for a two-pack, or $1,200 for a three-pack -- is one of the most expensive mesh routers you can currently buy.

Wi-Fi 6E routers like that are certainly impressive pieces of hardware, but I won't be recommending that anybody buy one this year. Remember, the only devices that can connect over 6GHz are other Wi-Fi 6E devices and, aside from the Samsung Galaxy S21 and a handful of others, there are hardly any of those on the market yet. 

Even if you do own a device like that, you'll likely be better off on the 5GHz band than on 6GHz. Seriously. In most cases, both will top out at whatever max speeds you're paying for from your internet provider, but the 6GHz band has noticeably weaker range than 5GHz.

Just take a look below at my at-home test-data for that Atlas Max setup. I ran a full set of speed tests for each of the router's three bands using a Galaxy S21, with the main router hooked up in my living room and a single extender placed in my master bedroom. The router performed well -- but it's the green 5GHz band that performed the best. The 6GHz band, shown in yellow, saw its speeds dip as I moved away from the main router. They rebounded a bit as I neared the extender, but the speeds on 5GHz were faster overall and I didn't notice any appreciable difference between the bands in terms of latency, either.

My average download and upload speeds by room for each band with a two-piece Linksys Velop Atlas Max 6E router running my home network. The 6GHz band (yellow) offers decent speeds, but it was outperformed by the good ol' 5GHz band (green).

Ry Crist/CNET

That weaker range also undercuts the notion that the 6GHz band will improve mesh systems by serving as the backhaul band for the router and its satellites. With less range, you won't be able to spread those satellites out quite as much throughout your home if you're using the 6GHz band as the backhaul. That means you might need to buy an additional satellite to cover the space -- and with Wi-Fi 6E, that's an expensive proposition. Perhaps tellingly, the new Wi-Fi 6E mesh router from Netgear Orbi still uses a 5GHz band as the backhaul.

That's not to say that Wi-Fi 6E is a meaningless upgrade. It's just too early to buy in. With so much available bandwidth and so much less interference from other devices, the 6GHz band might prove ideal for next-gen, high-bandwidth connections -- things like wireless VR headsets, which need to move a lot of data at relatively close range with as little interference as possible. But that isn't a good argument for buying in now, before those devices even exist and when Wi-Fi 6E costs an arm and a leg. If you're at a crowded public venue like an airport or a stadium, a 6GHz network might be a real luxury with its relatively fast speeds, room for everyone's traffic and fewer devices competing for bandwidth. But that's an argument for getting a Wi-Fi 6E phone or laptop, not a Wi-Fi 6E router.

I'll continue testing Wi-Fi 6E systems as they hit the market (and I have more tests planned for the Atlas Max, too), so stay tuned. When I have more data to share on 6E, I'll post it here, but for now, don't rush out to spend big on a Wi-Fi 6E router, mesh or otherwise.

Mesh router FAQs

Got questions? Look me up on Twitter (@rycrist) or send a message straight to my inbox by clicking the little envelope icon on my CNET profile page. In the meantime, I'll post answers to any commonly asked questions below.

Is a mesh router better than a regular router?

With multiple devices working together to spread a strong, usable connection across a larger space, a mesh router is usually better than a single, standalone router, especially in medium to large homes. In a home or apartment that's smaller than 1,500 square feet or so, a mesh router might be more hardware than you need. 

Still, even small homes have dead zones, and mesh routers will help address problem spots like that better than regular routers. My home is 1,300 square feet, and a good example. With an average, single-point router like the one provided by my ISP, my 300Mbps fiber speeds typically plummet to double or even single digits in the back rooms farthest from the router. With a mesh router, I can still hit triple-digit speeds in those back rooms, which are about as fast as when I'm connecting closer to the router.

Does mesh Wi-Fi replace your router?

Yes -- a mesh router will replace your existing router. 

To set one up, you'll need to connect one of the devices in the system to your modem using an Ethernet cable, just like your current router. From there, you'll plug in the other mesh devices in the system elsewhere in your home, so they can start boosting the signal and relaying your traffic back to the modem-connected device whenever you're connecting from more than a few rooms away.

What are the disadvantages of a mesh network?

Mesh routers are good for offering consistent speeds throughout your entire home, and the best of the bunch are capable of hitting gigabit speeds. Still, single-point, standalone routers usually cost less than mesh routers with comparable specs, so they'll typically offer better top speeds for the price.

Mesh routers often have fewer ports than single-point routers, too. Some lack USB jacks, and others limit you to only one or two spare Ethernet ports for wired connections to media streamers, smart home bridges and other common peripherals. Some mesh routers feature no additional ports whatsoever on the satellite extenders.

You might also experience a very slight increase in latency when the system is routing your connection through one of the satellite extenders -- in my tests, it usually translates to a small-but-noticeable bump of a few extra milliseconds per ping.

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