Netgear Orbi 970 review
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Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi 7 review: the need for speed

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Bringing your home into the Wi-Fi 7 age, the Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi 7 system is for early adopter households that push their home wireless network to the limits.

Officially known as 802.11be, Wi-Fi 7 is the latest super-fast wireless networking standard for flinging data around your home. When it comes to raw speed, it supports extra faster wireless bands, as well as combining bands and using wider channels for increased throughput.

Just as importantly, the new standard has a few tricks for reducing wireless congestion and interference. This includes more express lanes for newer Wi-Fi gear, improved load balancing between bands and enhanced dedicated backhaul.

The Orbi 970 is Netgear’s first Wi-Fi 7 mesh system, with a central hub and two satellite hubs working in unison to improve the Wi-Fi coverage across your home. The hubs 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 to get the strongest signal.

Netgear Orbi 970 review

First impressions

The Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi hubs are giants. Standing 29 cm tall and 13 cm wide, they tower head and shoulders above other Orbi models like the new Netgear Orbi 960, last year’s Netgear Orbi 860 and the older Netgear Orbi 760 which I’ve owned for a while.

The best comparison I could come up with is that each Orbi 970 hub is about the size of a gift box holding an expensive bottle of champagne, but a bit heavier at 1.8 kg. Thanks to the design, Netgear says the Orbi 970 hubs offer a true 360-degree Wi-Fi signal to better cover your home.

The hubs are not cylindrical, instead they have three curved sides. The sides aren’t even and, from above, the hub is a teardrop shape. The shorter side with the Orbi logo faces the front, with the two long sides extending back to meet with a flat edge at the rear.

All the ports are stacked vertically along the back edge. On the central hub, you’ve got a 10 gigabit Ethernet WAN for connecting to your broadband box such as an NBN NTD. At 10,000 Mbps it’s obviously overkill for most homes, although access to broadband speeds beyond 100 Mbps has become a lot more common and affordable.

Above the WAN port, the central hub features one 10 gigabit Ethernet port – which can be used for LAN or wired backhaul – and four 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting to devices and Ethernet switches around your home. Finally, there’s a reset hole and Wi-Fi Protected Setup sync button at the top.

Meanwhile, the satellite hubs offer the same design save for the Ethernet ports. There’s the 10 gigabit Ethernet port but only two 2.5 gigabit Ethernet ports. None of the hubs feature USB ports for sharing storage or devices like printers across your network.

While the hubs are difficult to hide out of sight, thankfully they’re an elegant design which means they shouldn’t look too out of place up on a shelf.

Setting up the mesh Wi-Fi is pretty straightforward, with the option of using Netgear’s Orbi smartphone app or accessing the configuration menus via a desktop browser. You need to use a browser to access some of the advanced settings.

Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi specifications

Wi-FiWi-Fi 7 802.11 be/ax/ac/n/a/b/g
BandsQuad band:
– 6 GHz 11,530 Mbps (4×4/320MHz, 4K-QAM)
– 5 GHz 8,647 Mbps dedicated backhaul (4×4/240MHx, 4K-QAM)
– 5 GHz 5,765 Mbps (4×4/160MHz, 4K-QAM)
– 2.4 GHz 1,147 Mbps (4×4/40MHz, 1K-QAM)
Bandwidth management8×8 MU-MIMO and bandsteering
AntennaTwelve high-performance internal antennas with high-power amplifiers
WAN Ethernet10 Gbps on primary hub
LAN Ethernet1 x 10 Gbps and 4 x 2.5 Gbps on primary hub
1 x 10 Gbps and 2 x 2.5 Gbps on satellite hub
CPUQuad-core 2.2GHz processor
Memory4 GB Flash and 2 GB RAM
Dimensions294.03 x 144.38 x 130.79 mm each
Weight1.79 kg each
ColoursBlack or white
Price$4,299 RPP for a router and two satellites, plus $1,599 RRP per extra satellite
Warranty2 years
Official websiteNetgear Australia 

Features

The Netgear Orbi 970’s big selling point is that it’s Wi-Fi 7. Under the bonnet, each hub features 12 high-performance internal antennas with high-power amplifiers, which obviously contribute to their bulk.

For starters, you get access to the standard 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands for connecting to any Wi-Fi device. There’s also a hidden 5 GHz backhaul band, which allows the hubs to talk amongst themselves for improved traffic routing.

Then there’s an extra 6 GHz band for connecting to compatible Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 devices. The 6 GHz band can transmit data faster than 5 GHz, up to 11.5 Gbps, but over shorter distances. As an added bonus, the Orbi 970 also dedicates some of the 6 GHz band to support the backhaul.

Thanks to Wi-Fi 7’s Multi-Link Operation (MLO), some Wi-Fi 7-compatible devices can even connect to the 2.4, 5 and 6 GHz bands simultaneously.  The extra boost gives you theoretical maximum speeds of 27 Gbps, including the backhaul.

Working as a mesh, the three Orbi 970 hubs are designed to support up to 200 devices and cover up to 660 square metres. That’s overkill for most people, considering the average Australian home is about 250 square metres with 20 to 30 devices. That said, if you’re in the tax bracket to be spending this kind of money on Wi-Fi, you most likely can afford to live in a very big house with a lot of expensive gadgets.

Unlike some mesh Wi-Fi, the Orbi 970 system also supports Ethernet backhaul – letting you connect one or more hubs via long Ethernet cables. It’s handy if the design of your house, or the sheer size, means you can’t maintain a strong wireless link between some of the hubs.

Keep in mind, if you don’t need the latest and greatest (and expensive-est) Wi-Fi system, you can opt for the new Netgear Orbi 960 ($2,799 for three hubs) which supports Wi-Fi 6E. While it’s still quad band, it has slower Ethernet ports, narrower channels, slower backhaul and slightly less coverage. Then there’s the Wi-Fi 6 tri-band Orbi 860 ($2,099 for three hubs).

While the Orbi 970 mesh hubs work in unison, on the software side you can still create more than one Wi-Fi network.

Along with your primary network, you can create a guest network with limited privileges and an IoT network which is optimised to cater to smart home devices like lights and sensors.

When it comes to security, there are advanced parental controls for protecting youngsters, although some features require a subscription.

You can also subscribe to Netgear Armor – powered by Bitdefender – which offers a VPN, end client anti-virus and extra security options for your devices, with everything managed from the Orbi smartphone app.

Quality – hardware

As with most new standards, it will take time before Wi-Fi 7 compatible devices become commonplace. Meanwhile, interoperability can be hit-and-miss. Right now, you’ll find a handful of Wi-Fi 7-capable Windows notebooks and flagship Android handsets. None of them are yet actually capable of making the most of Wi-Fi 7’s potential.

The Netgear Orbi 970 is rated BE27000, so it has a theoretical top throughput of 27 Gbps. Once you subtract the backhaul, it’s more like top throughput speeds of 19 Gbps, assuming the connecting device can use MLO to combine the 2.4, 5 and 6 GHz bands with the maximum channel width on each band.

Of course, you’ll never see these speeds in the real world. As a rule of thumb, the best you’ll achieve is about 50 per cent – so that’s about 9.5 Gbps, assuming MLO and extra-wide channels are in play.

To put the Netgear Orbi 970 to the test, I started with a desktop Gigabyte MBG-GC-WIFI7 PCIe wireless adapter installed in a Windows 11 box. The Gigabyte adaptor supports 320 MHz channels across the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands, as well as MLO for connecting bands.

Despite this, Gigabyte’s specs say the card only supports speeds up to 5.8 Gbps or 5,800 Mbps, so of course, it’s more like 2,900 Mbps real world.

I also borrowed a Dell Latitude 7450 Ultralight notebook with a built-in Intel BE200 Wi-Fi 7 2×2 card. This seems to be the default card for new Wi-Fi 7 Windows notebooks but, similar to the Gigabyte PCIe card, it’s also only rated at a max speed of 5,800 Mbps.

Real-world tests

Put to the test, both the Gigabyte PCIe card and the Dell notebook registered as 6 GHz devices on the Orbi 970  – although the Orbi interface doesn’t make it clear if a device is actually taking advantage of MLO to use multiple bands simultaneously. 

At a range of four metres from the Orbi 970 central hub, using Wi-Fi 7 and the 6 GHz band, the Dell notebook and the PC with the Gigabyte PCIe card both hit 922 Mbps transferring a 2.5 GB disc ISO to and from my Network Attached Storage drive attached to my LAN.

Meanwhile, my Wi-Fi 6 MacBook Pro maxed out at around 630 Mbps on the 5 GHz band (slower than I expected), while my Wi-Fi 6 Lenovo laptop hit 710 Mbps.

Switching across to the Orbi 970’s IoT network – set to 5 GHz-only Wi-Fi 6 – speeds remained the same. The Wi-Fi 7 Gigabyte and Dell gear still managed to hit 900-ish Mbps. The same when switching back to my old Orbi 760 network, running 5 GHz-only Wi-Fi 6.

All of this made it clear that, even though the Wi-Fi 7 devices were certainly performing better than my older Wi-Fi 6 gear, they still weren’t making the most of the Orbi 970’s 6 GHz Wi-Fi 7 capabilities. They could go just as fast on older, cheaper Wi-Fi 6 gear.

Of course, that 922 Mbps top speed clocked by the Wi-Fi 7-capable Dell notebook and Gigabyte PC card is most likely throttled by the real-world limitations of my single gigabit Ethernet NAS, connected via single gigabit Ethernet switches around my home.

The next step was to eliminate the gigabit bottleneck in order to really give Wi-Fi 7 a chance to shine.

After a lot of messing about, I couldn’t get my TP-Link TX401 10 Gbps PCIe Ethernet network card to actually run at 10 Gbps in a Windows PC. As a fallback, I plugged a 2.5 Gbps USB-C Ethernet adaptor into my MacBook Pro.

At this point I managed see to impressive transfer speeds as high as 1,750 Mbps, breaking the gigabit barrier in a new household speed record. The speeds were achieved when copying my hefty disc ISO from the PC with the Gigabyte PCIe Wi-Fi 7 card, wirelessly to the Orbi (at a range of 1 metre) and then out through the Orbi’s 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port to the 2.5 Gbps USB-C adaptor connected to my MacBook Pro.

Unfortunately, performance was rather fickle. Speeds copying the other way, from the MacBook Pro to the PC, were much slower. Meanwhile, with the same setup, I couldn’t get the Dell Wi-Fi 7 notebook to go faster than 922 Mbps in either direction. Often it was quite slower, despite tweaking with the Wi-Fi settings in search of a boost.

At these speeds, it seems unlikely that either Wi-Fi 7 device was taking advantage of MLO to combine bands. The Dell’s temperamental performance is likely due to early interoperability teething issues as the Wi-Fi 7 standard is bedded down.

Update: It’s interesting to note that Dell’s fine print on the 7450 product page says:

“Wi-Fi 7/ 6E connectivity (6 GHz) with Windows 11 is limited and will leverage prior generation of Wi-Fi until drivers are available and hardware adoption increases.”

In other words, for now the Latitude 7450’s Wi-Fi 7 features are deliberately hobbled, so the notebook has no chance of reaching its full Wi-Fi 7 potential – something Dell should make clearer to consumers (not to mention tech reviewers).

Quality – software

When it comes to software, one frustration is that the Netgear Orbi 970’s mobile app and web interface are sluggish. It’s something I’ve also experienced with my own Orbi 760 mesh network.

This aside, the Orbi 970 backend ticks all the boxes in terms of advanced features, although some people will be frustrated that so many of the parental controls require a subscription. This includes setting a content level, time limits and a bedtime.

The entire Orbi range comes with a free 12-month Netgear Armor subscription but, as an Orbi 760 owner, I have to say I haven’t been very impressed with Netgear Armor. It’s fond of popping up vague alerts on my phone when a seemingly malicious external source attempts to connect to a device on my network, or a device attempts to make a suspicious connection out.

Unfortunately, there’s so little detail in those alerts that it’s difficult to know which device is at risk and the nature of the threat. When I tap a notification for more details, the Orbi app is very slow to load. It often fails to find details of the event and falls back on the app’s home screen, leaving me wondering if the danger is real.

If you dig through the Orbi app’s security menus, you might find the Vulnerabilities page useful. It lists vulnerabilities found on different different devices on your network. It also tells you if Armor is blocking the vulnerability, or else what else you should do to protect yourself.

Who is the Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi for?

The Netgear Orbi 970 is certainly a beast, but those potentially eye-watering Wi-Fi speeds are accompanied by a definitely eye-watering $4,299 price tag.

You need to be an early adopter with very deep pockets, not only to afford the Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi network itself but also to buy new flagship Wi-Fi 7-capable gear and perhaps upgrade your LAN. Otherwise, it’s unlikely you’re actually taking advantage of the Orbi 970’s capabilities. Even then, early Wi-Fi 7 interoperability issues could deny you promised speeds on some devices.

If you’ve only got Wi-Fi 6 devices around your home, you won’t see a performance boost from the Orbi 970 compared to an older, cheaper and slower Wi-Fi 6 Orbi system. And when you do upgrade to Wi-Fi 7 gear, you still won’t see a performance boost transferring data around your house unless you upgrade your LAN and devices to 2.5 Gbps Ethernet or faster – which is complete overkill for residential usage.

Likewise, you won’t see a boost in internet speeds unless your broadband connection is faster than 1 Gbps – which again is complete overkill in the home.

Admittedly, there are other benefits of the Orbi 970 apart from Wi-Fi 7’s raw speed, such as reduced congestion and increased coverage to support 200 wireless devices across 660 square metres. Speeds won’t drop off as quickly as you get further from your nearest hub, which is handy but still likely overkill unless you live in a mansion.

In other words, for most people, installing the Netgear Orbi 970 in your home is like running a super-expensive eight-lane superhighway through a residential neighbourhood. Sure it’s super-fast and less congested, but no one who drives on it is likely to get places any faster than they could before. Not unless you upgrade every street in the neighbourhood to a superhighway, and everyone buys a Ferrari for driving to the shops – all of which is totally over the top for a residential area.

You could consider the Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi 7 system an investment in future-proofing but, once you’re ready to actually make the most of it’s capabilities, the price tag of Wi-Fi 7 Orbi gear will likely be less oppressive. For now, it’s hard to justify the expense unless you’re a well-heeled prosumer with multi-gigabit broadband and the need to fling massive amounts of data around a massive home, day and night.

Netgear Orbi 970
Ludicrously fast yet ridiculously expensive, the Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi system is for homes ready to leap into the Wi-Fi 7 age.
Features
9
Value for money
7.5
Performance
9
Ease of use
8
Design
9
Positives
Wi-Fi 7 speeds
Mesh networking coverage
Optional Ethernet backhaul
Negatives
Extremely expensive
Overkill for residential homes
Need Wi-Fi 7 gear, 1 Gbps broadband and 10 Gbps LAN to make the most of it
8.5