Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Product review: NETGEAR Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band WiFi System (RBK50)

Orbi has an excellent WIFI performance and reach. I tested Orbi with and without satellite placed in a central position in the house. I used Nexus6p Android phone and OOKLA Speedtest and WiFI analyzer to measure Orbi's performance. Prior to Orbi I was using Nighthawk X45 R7800 (circa 2016) and I am including the same tests using R7800 router for comparison.

Even though Orbi's performance is impressive, it has some short comings as well. I'll start with short comings to get them out of the way:
1. Orbi does not support a guest network. Most modern routers support a separate guest network so that you can give guests access to the Internet without giving them access to your local network. I use guest network not only for visitors to access the internet, but also to connect any insecure devices such as IP cameras and other devices which have a connection to an internet cloud. To overcome this short coming I am using my old router to set up a guest network.
2. Orbi main router has only three ports. However, I have a very large number of devices and even if Orbi had 4 ports like my older router it would not be enough. To solve this issue I attach a 24 port switch to any router I use to provide me all the ports I need.
3. It's not possible to give separate names to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz access points. Orbi only supports automatic band selection and it is not possible to select the band manually (which I prefer).
4. The main ORBI router has no network indicator lights. I rely on the lights to tell me if my Ethernet connection is working. Orbi has a small light on the back to indicate that power is on, but it is on the back and hard to see. The Orbi satellite has an LED ring light on top of the unit, which changes color to indicate that it is hunting for a connection with the main router. Once connection is successful the color ring turns off after 10 seconds.

Now, here are specifics for the performance tests.

I setup the main Orbi router one side of the house and then did tests in four rooms: the same room as the Orbi, one room away, two rooms away and three rooms away. I ran these tests both with and without the satellite (placed in the room in the center, two rooms away from the main router).

Even without the satellite Orbi router is better than the other routers I have used and with the satellite it is in a class of it's own.

TEST 1 - OOKLA Speedtest

Main router___same Room_______Down 152 MBits/second____Up 158 MBits/second

Main router___1 room over_____Down 152 MBits/second____Up 151 MBits/second

Main router___2 rooms over____Down 48 MBits/second_____Up 23 MBits/second
Satellite_____2 rooms over____Down 152 MBits/second____Up 159 MBits/second (satellite is in this room)

Main router_____3 rooms over____Down 33.5 MBits/second_____Up 10 MBits/second
Satellite_______3 rooms over____Down 153 MBits/second______Up 155 MBits/second

*** For comparison Ookla Speedtest using NightHawk R7800

NightHawk R7800___same room____2.4GHz___Down 85.22 MBits/second____Up 106.68 MBits/second
NightHawk R7800___same room____5Ghz_____Down 154.29 MBits/second____Up 151.05 MBits/second

NightHawk R7800___1 room away___2.4GHz__Down 74.26 MBits/second____Up 53.27 MBits/second
NightHawk R7800___1 room away___5Ghz____Down 154.08 MBits/second____Up 155.05 MBits/second

NightHawk R7800___2 rooms away__2.4GHz__Down 35.20 MBits/second____Up 47.93 MBits/second
NightHawk R7800___2 rooms away__5Ghz____Down 154.00 MBits/second____Up 103.43 MBits/second

NightHawk R7800___3 rooms away__2.4GHz__Down 36.74 MBits/second____Up 25.89 MBits/second
NightHawk R7800___3 rooms away__5Ghz____Down 70.67 MBits/second____Up 10.53 MBits/second

TEST 2 - WIFI analyzer

WIFI analyzer shows the strength of both 2.4GHz and 5 GHz bands, even though ORBI does not let me select which one to use. The Satellite does not help in the same room and the next room over because the main router already has the best performance possible. However in the rooms that are further away you see the beneficial effects of having the Satellite unit.

Signal Strength measured with WiFI analyzer (lower numbers are better, i.e. -28dBm is better than -82dBm)

Main router___same room__2.4GHz___-28dBm
Main router___same room__5GHz_____-27dBm

Sattelite - N/A because main router is already at maximum speed according to Speedtest

Main router___1 room away__2.4GHz___-48dBm
Main router___1 room away__5GHz_____-56dBm

Sattelite - N/A because main router is already at maximum speed according to Speedtest

Main router___2 room away__2.4GHz___-61dBm
Main router___2 room away__5GHz_____-82dBm

Satellite___2 room away__2.4GHz___-20dBm (Satellite is in this room)
Satellite___2 room away__5Ghz_____-23dBm (Satellite is in this room)

Main router___3 rooms away__2.4GHz___-77dBm
Main router___3 rooms away__5GHz_____-82dBm

Satellite___3 rooms away__2.4GHz___-38dBm
Satellite___3 rooms away__5Ghz_____-45dBm

*** For comparison signal strength using NightHawk R7800

NightHawk R7800___same room________2.4GHz___-25 dBm
NightHawk R7800___same room________5Ghz_____-36 dBm

NightHawk R7800___1 room away______2.4GHz___-55 dBm
NightHawk R7800___1 room away______5Ghz_____-58 dBm

NightHawk R7800___2 rooms away_____2.4GHz___-64 dBm
NightHawk R7800___2 rooms away_____5Ghz_____-68 dBm

NightHawk R7800___3 rooms away_____2.4GHz___-75 dBm
NightHawk R7800___3 rooms away_____5Ghz_____-82 dBm

I received this router at no cost for testing and review as part of the new production introduction. I have no association with Netgear. If reviews for product given for evaluation make you skeptical please examine the reviewer record. I have a history of leaving critical reviews on consistent basis, every time the product deserves it based on tests and unbiased evaluation of data.

Bottom line: even though Orbi router is not perfect I was able to come up with work arounds for what is important to me (guest network, small number of ports) and the performance of this router is outstanding.

Update 12/3/16: Orbi system in firmware version (just released) supports the guest network.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

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