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The dream is to have high-speed internet just about everywhere. Mesh WiFi systems help make that beautiful reality possible, and Netgear’s flagship Orbi system delivers the fastest home internet I’ve ever experienced — full stop. This pricey system offers high-end features designed for sharing a high-speed connection in a very large home, and it really delivers thanks to smart technology and clever design. It’s also a lot more secure than the router your ISP tried to get you to use when they installed your service. Is it excessive for many people? Probably, but that’s what makes it so great.
- The Orbi 960 system includes one router node and two satellite nodes connected together to cover approximately 9,000 square feet of Wi-Fi connectivity.
- This router offers access to typical WiFi bands, but WiFi 6E hardware inside can access the newly available (and decidedly less crowded) 6GHz band.
- Netgear’s subscription-based security service offers in-depth security features and network protection for a monthly price.
- Extremely fast and reliable coverage over a wide area thanks to 12 internal antennas
- Transmits on the 6GHz band for devices that can access it
- Attractive design
- Provides a fast wired connection with 10 Gbps WAN and 2.5 Gbps LAN ports, uncommon on home routers
- Easy to expand with additional nodes
- Netgear Armor offers solid, subscription-based security that’s easy to manage
- Easy to set up given its advanced nature
- Very expensive
- Only a limited number of devices currently support 6GHz
- Netgear Armor software requires a monthly subscription
Pronunciation: Netgear’s $1,500 Wi-Fi system offers some of the fastest and most flexible wireless coverage available, thanks to its advanced hardware and robust software.
Netgear Orbi 960 hardware and setup
There are three separate devices in this kit. The router connects directly to your modem and includes the fast 10 Gbps WAN and 2.5 Gbps LAN ports. The other two devices are satellite nodes that connect to the main router and extend coverage to a total of 9,000 square feet (depending on your structures, layout, and network interference).
This is a high-end system at $1,500, so it comes in an elegant box that’s easy to unpack and contains just about everything you need to set up your network. The typical Orbi 960 system comes with white nodes, but you can also get the Black edition if you buy directly from Netgear itself. Buying outright also gets you access to the Netgear Armor software for a year, which we’ll get into more later.
The setup is relatively simple. Each node has a sync button on board, so once you’ve set up the router, it’s easy to get it to talk to the satellite nodes without having to navigate software menus. We set up our network and connected all our devices (including a whole bunch of smart-home stuff) in under an hour. This is a quad-band 802.11a/n/ac/ax router, providing simultaneous tri-band 2.4/5/6 GHz coverage with dedicated backhaul, so you’ll need to make sure you connect devices correctly if you want that they work together. For example, I use some older connected equipment that still works perfectly, but requires a 2.4 GHz connection to play properly. Aside from some minor troubleshooting, installation is extremely easy. If you run into problems, it’s probably related to the band you’re using, which is a minor drawback of all these built-in options.
Setting up the software
A QR code on the router starts the setup process with a simple scan. Downloading the mobile app is actually the first step in the entire setup process and guides you through it simply and efficiently. It’s not quite Apple’s “tap devices together and they magically work,” but it’s simple enough for a network system this advanced.
The Orbi mobile app is surprisingly slick compared to many other network management tools that feel as modern as an Atari 2600. The same goes for the web app, which offers even more options and controls than the mobile version. With the Orbi app, you can track devices on the network, test internet speed, manage guests, monitor network security, and more.
Several features require a subscription beyond the Orbi’s already hefty purchase price. Netgear Armor is an excellent suite of security features that costs $99 per year for the subscription. It offers robust and easy-to-manage protection that we believe is worth the investment. We even gave the technology a Best of What’s New award when it debuted in 2021.
The other plan is the annual $69 Premium plan, which enables some useful parental control features. It allows you to observe and manage your family’s usage and screen time.
Overall, the Orbi software is excellent. It offers deep access to complex settings if you have the knowledge (and desire) to do so. But its streamlined design and relatively intuitive interface make it easy to navigate for novice network users. It can be a little intimidating just because there’s so much going on in the software, but once you climb the short learning curve, it pretty much runs on autopilot unless you want to tinker.
Netgear Orbi 960 wireless performance
We’re not going to publish specific speed test numbers here because, without a carefully monitored testing environment, your results can vary widely depending on several factors. However, for our testing, we relied on a slew of connected devices, laptops, TVs, smart home devices, and tablets. We also connected a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra as it is one of the few WiFi 6E devices that can actually utilize the bandwidth to its fullest.
In our speed tests, this system ran faster than any other mesh setup we tried. The interface has an internet speed panel with an Ookla speed test functionality to regularly check the speed of your network.
While speeds are usually fastest when you’re near the router or a satellite, the Orbi system provides an impressively uniform blanket of wireless connectivity throughout my home. My house is nowhere near 9,000 square feet. Still, it has some WiFi problem areas, including a basement area that typically struggles to maintain a fast and reliable connection for 4K streaming. However, that was not a problem with this system. That’s one of the benefits of mesh.
Each node offers such a wide coverage area, thanks to the 12 built-in antennas, that this may seem excessive for smaller spaces. I was able to arrange the nodes to get a strong signal all the way to the back of my yard on my half acre property. The network moved easily through walls and other obstacles and created no blind spots.
So, who should buy the Netgear Orbi 960 Mesh Wi-Fi System?
At $1,500, the Netgear Orbi 960 mesh system is an investment. With 9,000 square feet of coverage promised, it’s dramatic overkill if you’re just trying to throw internet around your apartment. However, for some, all that technology is ideal. The WiFi 6E and 6GHz compatibility make this a pleasant future-proof system. Even as new devices arrive on your network, you can take full advantage of their connectivity.
While this system offers sturdy enough hardware and enough access to in-depth settings for hardcore users, it’s also simple enough to set up and maintain that you don’t have to be a networking pro to get the most out of it. And if you need to cover an even larger area, expanding your mesh network is extremely easy (if a little expensive). This is a true flagship for home networking, and if you’ve got the need and the money, it’s totally worth it.