One of our all-time favorite mesh wireless network routers, we think the NetGear Orbi WiFi System (RBK50) is one of the best options out there for anyone who wants a quality WiFi router with a mesh system. It's one of the easiest to use, delivering solid results in our range and data throughput tests. It is one of the more expensive models, but we think it's hard to beat and a great option for anyone ready to take their home network to the next level.Editor's Note: We updated this review for the NetGear Orbi WiFi System (RBK50) on March 25, 2022, with more information about our in-depth testing process, a closer look at value, and suggestions for directly comparable products.
NetGear Orbi WiFi System (RBK50) Review
Pros: Very easy to use, good throughput
Cons: Expensive, limited LAN ports
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NetGear Orbi WiFi System (RBK50)
$182.98 at Amazon
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|Pros||Very easy to use, good throughput||Extremely easy to use, packed with features||Very easy to use, more affordable, solid set of features||Relatively inexpensive, exceptional range||Easy to set up, expandable|
|Cons||Expensive, limited LAN ports||Average range, throughput||Unimpressive throughput and range||Sparse on features, average throughput||So-so range between points, can't turn off frequencies for troubleshooting|
|Bottom Line||If you are looking for the best when it comes to setting up a mesh network, we think this product is the perfect choice||Easy to use with lots of features, this is the best of the best when it comes to routers||Great for budget-conscious shoppers that are willing to spend a little bit more to upgrade performance||Good for those with a larger home who are shopping for an upgrade pick on a budget||If you are trying to set up a mesh network on a budget, then we think this is one of your best options|
|Rating Categories||NetGear Orbi System...||ASUS RT-AC88U Wirel...||NetGear Nighthawk A...||NetGear AC1750 (R6400)||eero Mesh WiFi Router|
|Ease of Use (20%)|
|2.4 GHz Throughput (20%)|
|5 GHz Throughput (20%)|
|Specs||NetGear Orbi System...||ASUS RT-AC88U Wirel...||NetGear Nighthawk A...||NetGear AC1750 (R6400)||eero Mesh WiFi Router|
|LAN Ports Available||7 (total)||8||4||4||5 (total)|
|Security||WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK||WPA2 Personal, WPA Auto Personal, WPA2 Enterprise, WPA Auto Enterprise||WPA2-PSK [AES], WPA-PSK + WPA2-PSK [AES], WPA/WPA2 Enterprise||WPA2-PSK [AES], WPA-PSK + WPA2-PSK [AES], WPA/WPA2 Enterprise||WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK|
|Frequency||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz|
|USB Ports||None||2: 3.0 and 2.0||1: 3.0||2: 3.0 and 2.0||None|
|Dimensions||6.4" x 3.1" x 8.0"||11.8" x 7.4" x 2.38"||7.26" x 11.22" x 1.97"||7.2" x 11.22" x 2.4"||3.86" x 3.86" x 2.36"|
|Antenna||6 internal||4 external||3 external||3 external||4 internal|
|Processor||Quad-core ARM 710MHz.||1.4 GHz dual-core||1 GHz dual-core||880 MHz dual-core||700 MHz quad-core|
|Memory||512MB NAND Flash and 512MB RAM||128 MB Flash
512 MB DDR3 RAM
|128 MB Flash
256 MB RAM
|128 MB Flash
256 MB RAM
4GB flash storage
|2.4 GHz Short Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||55 Mbits/s||51 Mbits/s||48 Mbits/s||47 Mbits/s||39 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz Short Distance Throughput - Obstructed||64 Mbits/s||39 Mbits/s||47 Mbits/s||37 Mbits/s||53 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz Medium Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||52 Mbits/s||39 Mbits/s||43 Mbits/s||39 Mbits/s||47 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz Medium Distance Throughput - Obstructed||53 Mbits/s||38 Mbits/s||37 Mbits/s||40 Mbits/s||43 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz Long Distance Throughput||9 Mbits/s||27 Mbits/s||25 Mbits/s||22 Mbits/s||6 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz Short Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||216 Mbits/s||212 Mbits/s||211 Mbits/s||220 Mbits/s||203 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz Short Distance Throughput - Obstructed||194 Mbits/s||211 Mbits/s||201 Mbits/s||184 Mbits/s||174 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz Medium Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||191 Mbits/s||204 Mbits/s||211 Mbits/s||196 Mbits/s||176 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz Medium Distance Throughput - Obstructed||180 Mbits/s||186 Mbits/s||194 Mbits/s||181 Mbits/s||188 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz Long Distance Throughput||19 Mbits/s||37 Mbits/s||11 Mbits/s||17 Mbits/s||21 Mbits/s|
|Video Playback Range Test||142 ft.||158 ft.||155 ft.||204 ft.||135 ft.|
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 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.
There isn't a button to turn the wireless network on or off or to turn off the network traffic indicator LEDs. You can reset your network remotely. But 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 three ports each, so you might be limited if you have many 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 well, earning one of the better scores of the group.
We loved how easy it is to set up the NetGear Orbi, though you 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 had to update the firmware for this router once we completed the setup, but the app automatically prompted us and made it very easy.
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 extensive and customizable parental controls, though you have to download a separate app — Circle — to manage them. There are pre-made filtering profiles for different age groups and the option to filter by content or platform. You can also block certain keywords for scheduled amounts of time if, for example, you want 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 NetGear Orbi default configuration. This feature allows you to prioritize certain types of traffic over another, such as video conferencing over entertainment. You 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 evaluations looked at the data transfer performance of the NetGear 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.
Interestingly enough, the router sped up to 64 Mbits/s in the obstructed version of this test.
Again, this router 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 separated the router from the test laptop.
Unfortunately, we only had an obstructed version of our long-distance test, with the NetGear Orbidelivering 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 NetGear Orbi of 216 Mbits/s with a direct line of sight between it and the computer.
When there were a few walls in the way, the speed of this router slowed down a bit to 194 Mbits/s.
Performance didn't drop too much when we moved to the medium distance, with the NetGear Orbi averaging 193 Mbits/s in the line of sight test.
The router only dropped 10 Mbits/s to 183 Mbits/s with the added interference of a wall.
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 more range than its higher frequency counterpart.
The NetGear 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.
Should You Buy the NetGear Orbi WiFi System (RBK50)?
If you want the expanded coverage of a mesh network for your home internet solution and are looking for the best — and are willing to pay for it — then we highly recommend the NetGear Orbi. It has good throughput and range, all while being very easy to set up and use, and offers just about all the features most people want.
What Other WiFi Routers Should You Consider?
While the NetGear Orbi is an excellent product, unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive, making it a tough sell to anyone shopping on a limited budget. If you are looking for a budget-conscious option to set up a mesh network, the eero Mesh WiFi Router is our choice for overall value. If the range is the enticing factor of a mesh network, but these seem complicated to set up, the award-winning ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100 offers a great combination of range and ease of use, while the NetGear AC1750 (R6400) is our top-choice for range alone.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer
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