Look, I'm not here to tell you to spend $700 on a mesh router. In fact, given the glut of intriguing new mesh routers that cost hundreds less, you almost certainly shouldn't. What I will tell you is that the AX6000 version of the Netgear Orbi -- the two-piece, $700 triband system that supports Wi-Fi 6 -- is the fastest and most impressive mesh router I've ever tested.

8.2

Netgear Orbi AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 mesh router

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Like

  • Fastest mesh router we've ever tested in our real-world speed tests
  • Simple, app-based setup and network management
  • Multigig WAN port
  • Support for Alexa and the Google Assistant lets you activate a guest network or pause the Wi-Fi to a misbehaving kid's device with a quick voice command.

Don't Like

  • You'll need an internet plan of at least 500Mbps to notice much of a difference
  • Lacks advanced features or unique functions

How fast? Let's compare it to the Nest Wifi, our current top pick in the mesh category. We clocked that system's top wireless transfer speeds at 612 megabits per second at a close-range distance of five feet. The Netgear Orbi 6 hit a top speed of 666Mbps -- at a distance of 75 feet. Up close, the number was 871Mbps, which is the fastest speed we've ever seen from a mesh router in that test.

How impressive? When I took the two-piece Orbi system home and tested how fast I was able to connect throughout my house, I saw average speeds at the farthest point from the router that were 95% as fast as my average speeds up close, in the same room as the router. No other mesh system I've tested has managed to get any higher than 82% in that same test. Most come in below 60%.

Still, as capable as the high-end Orbi system is, it's overkill for most folks, especially if your internet connection isn't at least 500Mbps. In my home, where my fiber internet plan nets me speeds of up to 300Mbps, my average speeds throughout the house came in at 289Mbps with the Netgear Orbi, which is better than the whole-home average of 222Mbps that I saw from the Nest Wifi, and better than any other mesh router I've tested. But it wasn't noticeably better. Both connections felt comparably snappy as I browsed the web or streamed TV. Pick one of the two at random, set it up in my home, and ask me to spend a weekend using my network like normal, and come Monday I wouldn't be able to tell you which system I'd been using.

And, if it's the Netgear Orbi's support for Wi-Fi 6 support that's tempting you, know that a number of new Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems are set to debut in the coming months. That includes a few options that you'll be able to score for $250 or less, like Netgear's own Nighthawk-branded Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. Almost everyone looking to upgrade to a mesh router this year should start with systems like that before blowing the bank on more mesh than they need. But credit to our new speed king -- if you simply want the fastest, best-performing mesh money can buy, look no further.

Mesh 101

Mesh routers are systems that include range-extending satellite devices. You plug the router into your modem like normal, and then plug the satellite in somewhere else in your home. The satellite maintains a strong connection with the router and serves as a signal booster when you're connecting from afar.

In other words, a mesh router is a solid choice if you're looking to spread a speedy Wi-Fi connection throughout your home and eliminate annoying dead zones. They don't offer top speeds that are as fast as standard, single-point routers, but they do offer much better coverage. And, since your home's internet plan almost certainly caps your top speeds at rates well below what any modern router is actually capable of, that superior coverage will make a much more noticeable difference in your internet experience.

But does it have to cost $700?

No -- you've got plenty of mesh alternatives that cost hundreds less, including well-reviewed options like the Nest Wifi, Eero and the dual-band,Wi-Fi 5 version of the Netgear Orbi, which is a much more budget-friendly option at $199 for a three-pack. With the Wi-Fi 6 version of the Orbi, a three-pack costs $999.

It's not necessarily Wi-Fi 6 that makes the higher-end Orbi (which I'm calling the "Netgear Orbi 6" to avoid confusion with other Orbi systems) so much more expensive. Like I said, Netgear's own Wi-Fi 6 Nighthawk mesh system costs just $230 for a two-pack. The real difference is that the Netgear Orbi 6 beefs things up with a faster processor, faster top speeds, and -- most importantly -- a second 5GHz band that the system uses as a dedicated backhaul connection between the router and its satellites. That lets the system move data around as you're connecting in a much more efficient manner, and without any extra interference, all of which lets you enjoy faster connections at a distance, when the satellite is in play.

It's an especially killer feature in combination with Wi-Fi 6, because the router and satellite can take full advantage of new Wi-Fi 6 features in order to move data around faster than ever. Even if you don't yet own any Wi-Fi 6 gadgets capable of taking full advantage of the speedy new standard, the end result is that connecting to the internet when you're close to the satellite should be nearly as fast as when you're near the router itself.

The router includes a multigig WAN port that can support incoming speeds as high as 2.5Gbps, plus four additional LAN ports. You'll find four LAN ports on the satellite, too.

David Carnoy/CNET

Other high-end hardware touches include the multigig WAN port on the router that can support incoming speeds as high as 2.5Gbps (2,500Mbps). Prior to last year, the WAN port on most routers capped your incoming speed at 1Gbps, and many still do. As internet speeds continue to rise and more and more of us gain access to gigabit speeds, single gig WAN ports like that will become even more of a bottleneck.

Netgear's not alone in this new premium tier of triband, Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers. The newest version of Linksys Velop offers a nearly identical pitch, and retails for $700 as well. Same goes for the AmpliFi Alien, from Ubiquiti, which costs $700 for a two-piece mesh setup. Meanwhile, the Arris Surfboard Max Pro costs a little less at $650 for a two-pack.

Later this year, in addition to that new $230 Wi-Fi 6 Netgear Nighthawk mesh system, we'll be testing out dual-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers from D-Link and TP-Link, both of which will cost a fraction of what the Netgear Orbi 6 costs. They won't perform at the same level without that backhaul channel, but they'll still be a lot closer to the sweet spot for most shoppers.

Of all the mesh systems we've tested, the Netgear Orbi 6 netted the fastest wireless transfer speeds at close range (blue), and finished in a virtual tie with the Arris Surfboard Max Pro for the fastest average speeds across all distances.

Ry Crist/CNET

Setup and performance

As I said at the top, the Orbi 6 is our new speed leader as far as mesh is concerned. In our lab, we used that multigig Ethernet jack to connect the Orbi's router with a local server, then we used a Wi-Fi 6-equipped laptop to connect to its wireless network. We were able to download files from the server at speeds of up to 871Mbps at close range, which is as fast as mesh systems like these get. At a distance of 75 feet, speeds only fell to 666Mbps, which is excellent.

That's a lot of speed, but I also wanted to see how the system performed in a real-world setting. So, I set it up at my house, a 1,300 sq. ft. shotgun-style home with a 300Mbps fiber internet connection, and started running dozens upon dozens of speed tests from different rooms. Throughout all of it, I streamed live HD video to my TV in order to simulate typical network congestion.

Speaking of setup, it was relatively painless. You'll download the Orbi app to your Android or iOS device (or connect to the Orbi web portal), then follow the instructions. Just plug in your router and satellite when instructed, give your network a name and a password, and wait for Netgear to get you up and running. The process took slightly longer than with the Nest Wifi, Eero or AmpliFi, but it worked perfectly and had my network up and running in about 10 minutes.

From there, you'll be able to manage your system from the Orbi app. The controls don't go as deep as you'll get with something like a gaming router, but you at least get options to pause the Wi-Fi to specific devices, or run a quick speed test.

The Orbi 6 (blue) demolished my at-home tests. No matter what room I tested from, my speed hardly fell at all from my plan's maximum of 300Mbps.

Ry Crist/CNET

Speaking of speed tests, the results in my home were, again, impressive. My average speed in the living room, where the router is located, was a perfect 300Mbps -- and that average hardly dropped at all as I moved around the house. My back bathroom is the farthest spot from the router, and it's a common dead zone if I'm testing a standard, single-point router. With the Orbi 6, my average speeds back there only fell to 288Mbps, which is 95% of what I was getting in the front of the house, up close to the router.

That's a ridiculously strong result. Compare it to the Nest Wifi and the triband Netgear Orbi Voice, the two strongest Wi-Fi 5 mesh setups I've tested. Each of those was able to hit an average download speed of 164Mbps in that back bathroom.

This heat map shows the signal strength from the Orbi 6 router and satellite, each located upstairs in the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. Green is good here, yellow is great -- and orange is flat-out awesome.

Steve Conaway/CNET

The Orbi 6 was also a standout in terms of signal strength. We tested it by taking it to the 5,800 sq. ft. CNET Smart Home, where we used NetSpot software to measure the signal strength from the router and the satellite across dozens of points on the main floor, where both devices were situated, and also in the basement below. The stronger the signal in a given spot, the faster you'll be able to connect to your network.

Compare the Orbi 6 heat map above with these heat maps from our top Wi-Fi 5 mesh setups. No orange in any of these.

Steve Conaway/CNET

The result is that heat map above, where blue is bad, green is good and yellow is great. At close proximity, the Orbi router and satellite each took us past yellow and on into orange territory, which none of the Wi-Fi 5 mesh systems we tested last year were able to do. Our early results for other Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems we're testing, including the Arris Surfboard Max and the new Linksys Velop, are looking strong, too.

That said, note that while the coverage was definitely adequate throughout the majority of the home, the signal wasn't as strong down below in the basement, where things looked to be more on par with what we saw from mesh systems that support Wi-Fi 5. 

That tells me that while the Orbi 6 might offer stronger connections at distance, it also might not be any more of a magic bullet for multistory homes than existing mesh systems already are.

Feel the need for speed?

The Netgear Orbi 6 is proof positive that mesh networking and Wi-Fi 6 make for a pretty killer combo. When the router and its satellite are able to use Wi-Fi 6 speeds and features to pass data back and forth, everyone benefits -- most notably with faster connections at a distance.

Still, at $700 for a two-pack, this is a very difficult system to recommend. You'll need an internet plan of at least 500Mbps before you'll notice much of a difference between the Orbi 6 and less expensive alternatives like the Nest Wifi, Eero or even Netgear's own budget-priced, Wi-Fi 5 version of the Orbi. At $700, the Orbi 6 is more than twice as expensive as all of those, and it doesn't include unique extras like built-in smart speakers or a device prioritization engine. And if it's Wi-Fi 6 that you want, then you should almost certainly wait to see how the less expensive, dual-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems due out this year perform in our tests. Either that, or wait for a significant sale.

8.2

Netgear Orbi AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 mesh router

Score Breakdown

Setup 8 Features 8 Performance 9 Support 7