Earlier this month, I was impressed with the speed and performance of the Netgear Orbi 6 Wi-Fi 6 mesh router, but at $700 for a two-piece setup, it was too expensive to recommend for most readers. Netgear's not alone, though -- there's a whole pack of premium-tier mesh routers selling in that $600-to-$700 price range, including options from Arris, Ubiquiti and from Linksys. Specifically, that last one would be the Linksys Velop MX10. Like the Orbi 6 system, a Velop two-pack with the router and one satellite rings in at the princely sum of $700.
Another Orbi similarity: the new Velop takes the existing, tri-band pitch, which gives the router and its satellites their own dedicated 5GHz band to pass data back and forth without reducing your bandwidth, and speeds things up with support for Wi-Fi 6. That's a worthwhile approach, as our tests show that even homes with no Wi-Fi 6 gadgets on the network at all still stand to benefit from the faster, more efficient transmissions between mesh points. The practical effect is that Wi-Fi speeds near the satellite will be almost as good as speeds when you're near the router itself, with less of a drop-off at distance than you'd experience with a previous-gen Wi-Fi 5 system.
Sure enough, the Velop did well when I tested it in my home. After running 180 controlled speed tests at various times of day and in different rooms throughout the house, the Velop finished with the second-highest overall average download speed of any mesh router I've tested. But it wasn't as fast as the equally expensive Orbi 6, and it was only slightly faster than my top-tested Wi-Fi 5 system, Nest Wifi. That two-piece mesh router is less than half the cost of Linksys Velop -- and other, similarly affordable systems that add in Wi-Fi 6 support are coming later this year. All of that makes it difficult to recommend the Velop MX10 absent a significant sale.
What you're paying for
The nice thing about tri-band mesh routers like the Velop MX10 is that the router and satellite get their own, private backhaul band. That means that their transmissions aren't eating up precious bandwidth on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands used by your phone, laptop, media streamers, smart home gadgets and other devices on your network.
Couple that with the faster, Wi-Fi 6 speeds, and Velop has the look of a future-proofed system that will continue to improve as incoming ISP speeds rise. But it also falls short in a key few spots, especially given that a two-piece setup costs $700, with additional satellites selling for $400 a piece.
First is the design. I don't mind the blocky, monolithic aesthetic, but it would have been nice if Linksys had done more to differentiate the new Wi-Fi 6 system from previous versions that look more or less the same. And, unlike the first-gen Velop system, where black was an option, the new Velop only comes in white.
More important are the technical omissions. For instance, Linksys didn't give you a multi-gig WAN port like the one on the Netgear Orbi 6 router. Instead, you're stuck with a standard single-gig jack, which means that your incoming internet speed from the modem will always be capped at 1Gbps. That's about as fast as things get by today's standards, sure -- but who knows where speeds will be a few years from now. At the very least, a $700 system should include the option of aggregating the incoming speeds from two of those single-gig ports, a trick that lots of today's routers are starting to take advantage of. Not the Linksys Velop, though.
Other high-end mesh routers have incorporated design elements like better-looking indicator lights and touchscreen interfaces, or even built-in smart speakers in order to stand out from the crowd and justify the premium price tags. Not the Linksys Velop, though.
That leaves those faster wireless speeds as the main selling point here -- but Velop isn't as fast as other systems in the same price range. Specifically, Linksys pegs the top theoretical speeds at 1,147Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, and 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band, and 2,400Mbps on the second 5GHz band that acts as the system's backhaul. Orbi 6 offers theoretical top speeds of 2,400Mbps on both 5GHz bands, which is a step up from Linksys. Meanwhile, the $650 Arris Surfboard Max Pro and $700 AmpliFi Alien each offer backhaul bands with theoretical top speeds of up to 4,800Mbps. That's a big step up from Linksys.
By the specs on the box, the AX5300 Linksys Velop MX10 appears to be the weakest of those four top-tier systems -- but our slew of controlled speed tests are designed to find out for sure. And hey, speaking of which:
A tale of two tests
Let's start with the bad news. You know how Linksys lists top speeds for the Velop MX10 that are slightly behind what you get from Orbi 6, the Surfboard Max Pro and the AmpliFi Alien? Well, that's exactly what we saw in our top speed tests -- and the Velop was a bit more than "slightly" behind the pack here.
To be exact, a single Linksys Velop device wired to a local server returned a top wireless speed of 510Mbps when we hopped on the network with a Wi-Fi 6 laptop and downloaded files from 5 feet away. That speed fell by less than 25% to 396Mbps when we moved to a distance of 75 feet, which is a decent result -- but I was still unimpressed. The AmpliFi Alien, Arris Surfboard Max and Netgear Orbi 6 routers all hit speeds comfortably above 800Mbps at close distance. Same goes for the Asus RT-AX92U, which is more of a midrange Wi-Fi 6 mesh pick.
Meanwhile, the Nest Wifi router hit a top speed of 612Mbps at close range. Yep, that Wi-Fi 5 system was actually about 100Mbps faster than the Wi-Fi 6 Linksys Velop in this test.
Those underwhelming top speeds would likely hold you back if you've got a gigabit internet plan -- but the average internet connection in the US is only around 100Mbps. If your plan is anything less than 500Mbps, then the Velop MX10 offers more than enough muscle to get your money's worth.
Case in point: My own home, where we conduct our second round of tests. I've got a 300Mbps fiber plan from AT&T, which is well within the Velop's capabilities, and at just 1,300 sq. ft., my floorplan shouldn't provide much of a challenge for any mesh system as far as range is concerned. A high-end system like the Velop MX10 should shine in an environment like that.
Sure enough, that's what happened. It wasn't as impressive as the Orbi 6, which averaged a speed of 289Mbps after 180 controlled speed tests conducted in different rooms throughout the house at various times of day, but the Velop MX10 still managed to beat out every other mesh system I've tested with a whole-home average download speed of 243Mbps.
In my back bathroom, the farthest spot from the router, I saw average speeds of 212Mbps, which was 78.6% as fast as my average speeds when I was in the living room, the same room as the router. That's a stronger "range ratio" than you'll see from any Wi-Fi 5 system, but it's not quite as strong as the 82.7% that I saw from the AmpliFi Alien or the ridiculously impressive 96% that I saw from Netgear Orbi 6.
Coverage tests, too
After testing top speeds at our lab and real-world speeds in my house, we take each mesh router we review to the 5,800-sq.-ft. CNET Smart Home to test out its signal strength. To do so, we set the router and its satellite up on the main floor and then use NetSpot software to log the signal strength from dozens of points across the two-story home. Signal strength isn't the same thing as speed, mind you -- but the stronger your signal is, the faster you'll be able to connect.
The test nets us those nifty-looking heat maps. In each one, blue is bad, green is good, yellow is great -- and orange is flat-out awesome. Of the four high-end, tri-band mesh routers we've mapped out so far, Netgear Orbi 6 is our clear coverage leader thus far, and the first router we've ever tested to show so much orange in one of these maps. The Linksys Velop MX10 was less impressive, though it did manage to provide adequate coverage across the near-entirety of the place, which is a solid result for a two-piece system.
Still, it was a bit disappointing that the Velop wasn't able to outright outperform the Wi-Fi 5 systems we've mapped out. Its coverage looks to be right on par with what you'll get from systems like Nest Wifi, Eero and the dual-band, Wi-Fi 5 version of Netgear Orbi -- all of which cost less than half as much as the Velop MX10.
The Linksys Velop MX10 is a decent mesh router, but it didn't live up to the $700 price tag in our tests. With full support for Wi-Fi 6 and a dedicated backhaul band, it offers fast speeds and strong performance at range -- but not as fast or as strong as other, equally expensive systems. And, without a multi-gig Ethernet port or the option to aggregate the incoming signal from multiple ports, your incoming, wired signal is stuck with the same bottleneck as previous-gen routers. That's not future-proofed enough for me to tell you to consider breaking the bank.
Patience will pay off for those who can hold off on a networking upgrade for just a little while longer. New, less-expensive dual-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers are on the way -- and with prices as low as $190 for a two-piece setup, they'll likely be a lot closer to the sweet spot for most homes. But if you really must spend $700 to get a tri-band mesh system with support for Wi-Fi 6 into your home right now, you've got other options like Netgear Orbi 6 and the AmpliFi Alien that do more to justify the splurge. I say stick with those -- or, if you can, hold off until Black Friday rolls around again.