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Meet your mesh router options

Mesh routers are multipoint systems that consist of the usual base router plus range-extending satellite devices. Those satellites act like Wi-Fi repeaters that can help spread a speedy internet connection throughout your home.

That's a handy way to eliminate pesky dead zones, which is something that more and more people are looking to do as they fill their homes with smart gadgets that rely on a stable connection to the internet. Got a Wi-Fi camera keeping an eye on your back porch? A mesh router can help ensure that you've got enough signal strength back there for it to notify you when it detects motion.

All of that has industry analysts predicting big growth in the mesh category. Manufacturers have taken note, with a flurry of new mesh router options for consumers to choose from, many of which cost a lot less than previous, early-gen mesh systems. Some of those affordable options even support Wi-Fi 6 -- the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi.

Scroll through for a look at these new options, complete with information about what they cost and what they're capable of.

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Nest Wifi

Let's start at the top with our favorite mesh system from last year, Google's Nest Wifii. A second-gen replacement for the well-received Google Wifi mesh system, the Nest Wifi version adds faster top speeds, a new design that comes in your choice of three colors and Google Assistant smart speakers built into each satellite.

A Nest Wifi setup costs $269 for a two-pack of the base router and one satellite -- enough coverage for homes of up to 3,800 square feet. For larger spaces, a three-pack of the router and two satellites costs $349.

We liked the Nest Wifi system's simple aesthetic, as well its strong performance and ease of use -- just plug it in, open the Google Home app and scan a code on the bottom of the router with your phone's camera, and your new mesh network will up and running within minutes. On the other hand, Nest Wifi doesn't support Wi-Fi 6, and it isn't as good a value as some of its competitors, including some of the intriguing new options we're tracking in 2020 (more on those in just a bit).

$261 at Amazon
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Built-in smart speakers

A particular point of note with a Nest Wifi setup is that each of those satellite devices (Google calls them Nest Wifi Points) doubles as a Google Assistant smart speaker. Along with basics like asking it to play music and news or turn your smart lights on and off, you can ask a Nest Wifi to run a quick speed test for your network, or to pause the internet for a device or a group of devices. You can also tap the top to play and pause or to adjust the volume.

$261 at Amazon
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Netgear Orbi Voice

If you like the sound of that built-in smart speaker pitch, but you prefer Amazon's Alexa over Google Assistant, then check out the Netgear Orbi Voice mesh router. Each satellite features a full-size Harman Kardon smart speaker with full Alexa controls. With a much larger speaker, an Orbi Voice setup is a definite step up from Nest Wifi in terms of the sound quality, but its connection wasn't quite as stable in our speed tests.

A two-pack of the Orbi router and one smart speaker/range extender will currently cost you about $430, which is pretty expensive, given that this system has been out for about a year and a half. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some good flash sales for it this year.

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Netgear Orbi RBK852 Wi-Fi 6 mesh system

The Orbi Voice router doesn't support Wi-Fi 6, though. For that, you'll need to step up to the newest, fastest version of the Netgear Orbi, which does. 

No smart speakers in this system, mind you, but it does support new Wi-Fi 6 features like OFDMA and 1024 QAM that help it hit speeds as high as 2,400Mbps on the faster 5GHz band. And, just like with the original Orbi and the Orbi Voice, this is a tri-band mesh router with a second 5GHz band that's used as a dedicated backhaul connection between the router and the satellites. That helps keep your speed from dipping whenever you're connecting at a distance, through the satellite.

That makes this one of the fanciest mesh routers you can buy, and with a retail price of $700 for a two-pack, it's priced accordingly. As of when I'm writing this, the cheapest I'm seeing it is $640 on Amazon.

$630 at Amazon
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Linksys Velop MX10 Wi-Fi 6 mesh router

Not to be outdone, Linksys has a new Wi-Fi 6 version of its Velop mesh system, too. That one also retails at $700 for a two-pack, though B&H Photo currently has it listed for $100 less.

(And don't worry, I'll get to some less expensive options in just a bit).

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Asus RT-AX92U

But first, a couple of other high-end options. For instance, how about a two-piece Wi-Fi 6 setup from Asus? It's the RT-AX92U, and a two-pack currently retails for $400, though it's currently on sale for $370. It supports Asus AiMesh, which means you can use each device as a range extender for existing Asus routers that support the feature, too.

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Arris Surfboard mAX

Another new, high-end option is the aptly named Arris Surfboard mAX (the technical name for Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax, hence the "mAX" branding). Just announced at CES 2020 in January, the standard Surfboard mAX is a tri-band mesh router with a two-pack that promises to cover homes of up to 5,500 square feet.

The new Surfboard won't hit stores until later this year. No word on what it'll cost yet, but with the tri-band Wi-Fi 6 specs, I wouldn't expect it to cost any less than $400.

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Other Surfboards, too

Did you notice I said "standard" Surfboard mAX? That's because there're actually two other Surfboard mAX systems already in stores -- the Surfboard mAX Plus and the Surfboard mAX Pro, which offer two-piece setups for $550 and $650, respectively. The new, white version isn't quite as fast as either of those, but it's still pretty fancy, and it won't cost quite as much.

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Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Wi-Fi 6 mesh router

Meanwhile, here's yet another almost-$700 option that supports Wi-Fi 6 -- a two-piece AmpliFi Alien mesh system from Ubiquiti. Sporting a somewhat bulky cylindrical design, the Alien router and matching range extender feature a glowing ring of LEDs around the base, and the router even has a touchscreen display on the front, too (you can program all of that to automatically dim down or turn off during evening hours, though).

The Alien was the fastest mesh router we've tested in our lab-based top speed tests, but in our home-based real-world tests, it finished slightly behind other high-end Wi-Fi 6 routers in the same price range. Still, an appealing mix of features and strong ease of use make it a pretty interesting pick -- though I like it a little better as a single, standalone router for $379.

$379 at AmpliFi
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Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD Gamer's Edition

If $700 is more than you're willing to spend on a mesh setup, then maybe you'd prefer Ubiquiti's previous-gen mesh router, the AmpliFi HD Gamer's Edition. It doesn't support Wi-Fi 6 speeds, but the cubical router still includes a touchscreen display and LED base lighting, and the $380 starter kit gets you two plug-in range extenders, which we've tilted into a triangle for purposes of this promo shot.

I liked this system's design when I tested the AmpliFi HD Gamer's Edition alongside other routers aimed at gamers, and I also appreciated how easy it was to set the system up. The $380 is a lot to pay, but slightly easier to stomach given that you're getting two range extenders instead of one. But hey, we can do better than that for a three-piece Wi-Fi 5 mesh setup, right?

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Eero

Of course we can. Enter Eero, which was the first to popularize the mesh approach four or five years ago. Last year, Amazon bought Eero outright -- soon after that, it released a new, less expensive Eero mesh router system.

That system doesn't include built-in Alexa speakers like you might expect, but at $249 for a three-pack, it's still a pretty good deal despite the lack of Wi-Fi 6 support. Like the AmpliFi and Nest Wifi router packs, the Eero system was also a cinch to set up in my tests, and it held its own as far as speeds were concerned, too.

Another nice thing about the Eero brand -- additional range extenders only cost $99, which is cheaper than most brands sell them for. That makes this a considerably less expensive option if you're living in a really big home with a lot of ground to cover.

$199 at Amazon
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Coverage matters

Having an additional range extender makes a big difference. Check out this heat map from the CNET Smart Home, where we test the signal strength of each mesh system we review. You want to see lots yellow and green here, and that's what we got with an Eero setup, especially once we added that third device down in the basement.

Coverage like that is key when you're talking about mesh routers -- the whole point is to eliminate dead zones to give you a steady, reliable connection from any room in your house (or outside of it, even). To that end, if I lived in a large home and needed to choose between a reasonably fast mesh router system with two range extenders or a faster mesh system with only one range extender, I'd take the three-piece setup every time.

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Netgear Nighthawk Wi-Fi 6 mesh system

OK, let's get to some of the newest mesh systems on the market -- many of which should help bring the price of mesh down in 2020. First up is the just-released Netgear Nighthawk Wi-Fi 6 mesh system, which costs just $230 for a two-pack with the router and one satellite. That's a huge leap forward for Wi-Fi 6 as far as price is concerned. 

As for speeds, we'll be sure to test it out and let you know, but judging from the specs -- max speeds of 1,200Mbps on the 5GHz band, 3,000 square feet of coverage, dual-band design with no backhaul -- this looks like an entry-level Wi-Fi 6 system. Still, that might be the sweet spot for a lot of shoppers, especially at that price.

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Netgear Orbi Dual-Band mesh system

That new Nighthawk system borrows a few pages from the playbook of Netgear's cheapest Orbi mesh router, the dual-band Wi-Fi 5 system seen here. An AC1200 router, it won't be able to hit speeds much higher than 900Mbps, at best, but the Orbi Dual-Band still impressed us with strong signal strength at the CNET Smart Home.

A three-pack with two satellites currently sells for $230, the same price as the Nighthawk Wi-Fi 6 two-pack. I'd probably rather go with Wi-Fi 6 and then add an additional satellite later if I ended up needing it, but a mesh three-pack for less than $250 is still an outstanding deal.

$200 at Amazon
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Mind the back

One noteworthy difference between the two systems: The Wi-Fi 6 Nighthawk system includes an Ethernet jack on the back of the extender, which lets you wire a connection to a media streamer, a smart home hub or even back to the router itself. The Orbi system doesn't include Ethernet jacks on the backs of the satellites at all.

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Asus ZenWiFi Voice mesh system

Later this year, Asus will release a new ZenWiFi Voice mesh system with an Amazon Alexa speaker built into the router. It's an AC1300 system, so no support for Wi-Fi 6, but you will be able to use it in conjunction with other Asus AiMesh products. No word on pricing or availability just yet.

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D-Link Covr mesh system

Another new mesh system to watch for in 2020: the newest D-Link Covr, which will be sold in a two-pack with full Wi-Fi 6 support for $269 later this year. That's the same price as the Nest Wifi two-pack, which doesn't support Wi-Fi 6 at all.

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TP-Link Deco X20 mesh system

The new TP-Link Deco X20 mesh router supports Wi-Fi 6, too, and it costs even less -- just $190 for the two-piece setup seen here. That system is set to hit stores in March, and with speeds of up to 1,200Mbps on the 5GHz band, it might end up being one of the best router bargains of the year.

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TP-Link Deco X90 mesh system

For something fancier, you might also keep an eye out for TP-Link's two other new Deco systems, including the Deco X90 shown here. At $450 for a two-pack, it doesn't present the same value as the X20, but it adds in an additional backhaul band that lets the router and satellite move data around at speeds of up to 4,800Mbps.

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TP-Link Deco X96 mesh router

Sometime later this year, TP-Link plans to release another new Deco system, the X96. We don't know very much about it yet, but the interesting part is that it'll be one of the first mesh routers to support Wi-Fi 6E, a new upgrade for Wi-Fi 6 that lets it take advantage of additional, unlicensed spectrum on the 6GHz band that regulators seem poised to open up for Wi-Fi use. You can think of that additional spectrum like a carpool lane on the highway -- Wi-Fi 6E routers like this one will be able to take advantage.

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