Netgear Orbi 860 AX6000 mesh wi-fi system

Netgear Orbi 860 AX6000 mesh Wi-Fi review: blanket coverage

Boosting speeds and dealing with wireless traffic jams, the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi ensures your wireless network reliably stretches far and wide.

Rather than simply making Wi-Fi routers more powerful, to reach the furthest corners of your home, mesh Wi-Fi relies on several base stations to share the load. The primary hub plugs into your broadband modem and then you spread one or more satellite hubs around the house – as long as they’re close enough to maintain a strong Wi-Fi link between each other.

The hubs work in unison and appear as a single wireless network to your devices, so they can seamlessly roam between hubs the same way your phone roams between mobile towers.

It’s important to note that not all mesh Wi-Fi systems are created equal, which is why there is so much variation in pricing.

Basic dual-band models create 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks for your devices, while more expensive tri-band and quad-band models also create extra backhaul links between the hubs to improve throughput. Cheaper models also tend to rely on Wi-Fi 5, while higher-end options step to Wi-Fi 6 or 6E.

The Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi sits at the higher end of the market, supporting tri-band Wi-Fi 6, although it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the top shelf Orbi 960 series supporting quad-band Wi-Fi 6E. Even so, the Orbi 860 series’ hefty four-figure price tag still puts it in the prosumer range, which won’t suit every home or every budget.

Netgear Orbi 860 mesh Wi-Fi first impressions

As someone who has relied on the Google Nest Wi-Fi mesh network for a few years (and is ready to ditch it), the first thing that struck me about the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi is the sheer size of the hubs.

Standing roughly 26cm tall and 19cm wide, in black or white, the hubs look more like hefty smart speakers than Wi-Fi base stations. They’re certainly more conspicuous than cheaper mesh Wi-Fi options, but that’s the price you pay if you’re more worried about performance than aesthetics.

As someone who has grown frustrated with the slow and temperamental nature of the Google Nest Wi-Fi mesh network, I’m certainly open to alternatives even if they’re less likely to blend with the decor.

The next thing you notice is the generous number of Ethernet ports on each hub. At a bare minimum, the primary hub needs a WAN port to connect to your broadband modem/router and preferably a LAN port to connect devices in your home which rely on Ethernet cables. That’s all you get with the Google Nest Wi-Fi mesh network.

The Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi steps up to include a 10 Gbps WAN port on the primary hub, designed to do justice to a 10 Gbps broadband connection. That’s major overkill in Australia, where you’re lucky if you can get (and afford) a 1 Gbps residential broadband connection.

The primary hub’s WAN port is accompanied by four gigabit LAN ports (meaning even if you’ve got 10 Gbps broadband, you can’t share those speeds around your home). Each satellite hub also has four gigabit LAN ports, which is perfect if you want to connect Ethernet devices in other parts of the house that can’t reach your broadband modem via cables.

Setting up the mesh Wi-Fi is pretty straightforward, with the option of using Netgear’s Orbi smartphone apps or accessing the configuration menus via a desktop browser (which you’ll need to tap into a lot of the advanced settings).

Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi specifications

Wi-Fi WiFi-6 802.11 ax/ac/n/a/b/g
BandsTri-band 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz + hidden 5 GHz backhaul (AX6000)
Bandwidth management 4×4 MU-MIMO and bandsteering
WAN10 Gbps Ethernet on primary hub
LAN4 x 1 Gbps Ethernet on primary and secondary hubs
GPUQuad-core 2.2GHz processor
Memory512MB NAND Flash and 1GB RAM
DimensionsEach hub: 254 mm tall, 190.5 mm wide, 71.12mm deep
WeightEach hub: 1.29 kg
Price$1,499 RRP primary hub and 1 satellite
$2,099 RRP primary hub and 2 satellites
$799 RRP additional satellite
Warranty2 years
Official websiteNetgear

Features

Compared to budget mesh options, the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi has two big selling points: support for Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax and a tri-band configuration that creates an extra hidden 5 GHz backhaul wireless link, so the hubs can talk amongst themselves. Both technologies can deliver significant benefits, depending on the Wi-Fi gear spread around your home.

Under the bonnet, each hub features eight high-performance internal antennas with high-power amplifiers, which naturally contribute to their bulk. In return, they deliver 180 sq m coverage per hub. There’s also support for MU-MIMO (Netgear doesn’t state the exact spec, but it’s probably 4×4 MU-MIMO like the 850 series – UPDATE: Netgear confirmed it is 4×4) as well as beamforming. Together, it can reduce traffic jams and focus the signal where it’s needed most.

Sale
NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home WiFi 6 Dual-Band Mesh System (RBK862S) | AX6000 Wireless Speed (Up to 6.0Gbs) | 2 Pack – White
  • High-performance, whole-home WiFi with up to 6Gbps WiFi speeds and coverage up to 5400 sq feet
  • 10 Gig internet port unleashes the fastest download speeds of today and tomorrow
  • Upgraded, patented antenna design boosts WiFi coverage and performance by 20% over previous generation
  • Patented and industry unique tri-band and Dedicated Backhaul WiFi ensures max speeds for up to 100 connected devices
  • Compatible with any internet service provider

Unlike some mesh Wi-Fi, Netgear’s Orbi range also supports Ethernet backhaul – letting you connect one or more hubs via long Ethernet cables rather than via Wi-Fi. While this might seem to defeat the purpose of mesh Wi-Fi, but it’s handy if the design of your house means you can’t maintain a strong wireless link between some of the hubs.

Beyond the hardware, the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi also offers an impressive range of software and configuration features.

Out of the box, it offers a separate IoT Wi-Fi network, which runs alongside your main network. It’s optimised to cater to smart home devices like lights, sensors, speakers and cameras – freeing up the main Wi-Fi network for devices like your computers, smartphones, tablets and home entertainment gear.

You can also create a guest network for giving visitors internet access without granting them complete access to your home network. Plus there are advanced parental controls for protecting youngsters from the darkest corners of the internet, although some require a subscription.

As you’d expect, it includes options like Bridge Mode, Dynamic DNS and the ability to change the default IP range. They’re features you might take for granted, but features that some mesh Wi-Fi systems frustratingly forsake in the name of simplicity (yes, I’m looking at you Google).

There’s also the option of a Netgear Armor subscription, in conjunction with BitDefender, which adds extra security options for your devices and lets you manage them from the Orbi app.

Quality

Put to the test, the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi doesn’t disappoint and, with the right networking tools, you can see exactly how the hubs are working together to improve your Wi-Fi.

For starters, Wi-Fi 6 offers a significant performance boost to Wi-Fi 6 compatible devices. If you only have older Wi-Fi 5 devices you won’t see an immediate benefit, but you’ll appreciate it over time as more Wi-Fi 6 devices come into your home.

Pitting the Wi-Fi 6 Orbi 860 series against the old Wi-Fi 5 Google Nest Wi-Fi sees a significant improvement when testing a Wi-Fi 6-compatible MacBook Pro.

At a range of four metres in the lounge room, the Orbi 860 hit 108 Mbps on Speedtest.net – the most you can squeeze out of my 100 Mbps HFC NBN connection. Meanwhile, the Nest Wi-Fi can only deliver 93 Mbps – sometimes dropping to 25 Mbps until you rescue it with a reboot (which seems to be a common issue, judging by complaints online).

As for transferring data across the home network, the MacBook Pro connected to the Orbi 860 roughly triples the speeds of the Google Nest Wi-Fi – averaging 760 Mbps when flinging a 2.5 GB disc image via FTP from a network storage drive connected via Gigabit Ethernet.

Moving to the dining room, the MacBook Pro happily roamed to the Orbi 860 satellite hub – whereas it’s always reluctant to roam between Nest Wi-Fi hubs even when the nearest one offers a much stronger signal.

Switching across to the satellite – sitting 12 metres away from the primary in the lounge room, on the other side of a wall – gives the mesh a chance to flex its muscles. The Orbi 860 barely wavered, hitting 108 Mbps on Speedtest.net, while the Google Nest Wi-Fi via its satellite hub languished at 81 Mbps and also took a bigger hit in terms of ping times to the primary hub and the internet.

Relying on the mesh also offers the benefit of the Orbi 860’s tri-band dedicated backhaul link, which lets the hubs talk amongst themselves. It’s great for power users but, realistically, you’re not likely to see the difference unless you’re regularly transferring/streaming multiple huge files around your home simultaneously.

Forcing the MacBook Pro to ignore the nearby satellite and connect to the primary hub in the next room helped show off the range of the individual Orbi 860 hubs. Even at this range, the Orbi 860 hung in there at 108 Mbps, while the Google Nest Wi-Fi only crept back up to 92 Mbps.

Going upstairs and across to the bedroom with the door closed, the connection to the primary Orbi 860 downstairs dropped back to 2.4 GHz, but it still squeezed out 105 Mbps. The Google Nest Wi-Fi stubbornly stuck with 5 GHz to deliver a paltry 54 Mbps.

So in summary, the Orbi 860 gear delivered faster speeds, greater range, strong links between the hubs, fewer traffic jams and better roaming to ensure you always get the best available connection.

Keep in mind, all these tests are over 80 MHz channels, as the Orbi 860 doesn’t offer 160 MHz 5 GHz channels like some Wi-Fi competitors – including cheaper Orbi models.

Who is the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi for?

There’s no question that the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi is an impressive bit of kit which could help solve your wireless woes. Realistically, most homes are likely to get more benefit from stepping up to Wi-Fi 6 than from stepping up to tri-band. But when a single 860 series hub costs more than some cheaper three-hub mesh systems, you’re entitled to question whether it’s worth the money.

The Orbi 860 series feels like absolute overkill for most homes. You’re spending a lot of money for home Wi-Fi and still not getting the latest Wi-Fi 6E – which only comes with the even more expensive Orbi 960 series.

For mere mortals, Netgear still offers the respectable Orbi 850 series at about two-thirds the price of the 860 series, and the only difference is that it has a 2.5 Gbps WAN port and slightly less range. Then there’s the even more affordable Orbi 760 Series. Another option, if tri-band connectivity isn’t a priority, is the TP-Link Deco PX50, which may not be as fast but is still a strong performer.

It’s easy to love the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi, but it’s hard to justify the expense unless you’re a well-heeled prosumer with a 10 Gbps broadband connection who is flinging massive amounts of data around a massive home, day and night.

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Netgear Orbi 860 AX6000 Mesh Wi-Fi system
Offering fast Wi-Fi 6 speeds and great range, the Netgear Orbi 860 series mesh Wi-Fi is a blackspot killer, but it's overkill for many homes.
Features
9
Value for money
8
Performance
10
Ease of use
9
Design
9
Positives
Wi-Fi 6 with good range and fast speeds
Tri-band with dedicated backhaul
10 Gbps WAN (even though it's serious overkill for Australia)
Negatives
Very expensive
No Wi-Fi 6E
No 160 Mz channels
9