Authors Posts by Best Mesh Routers For 2021: Asus, Orbi, Eero, Google Nest And More

Best Mesh Routers For 2021: Asus, Orbi, Eero, Google Nest And More

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Whether you're working from home, streaming or gaming, a dependable  is essential. If you've got spotty Wi-Fi or areas around your home where you can't connect, it's almost more annoying than no Wi-Fi at all. Luckily, a  that pairs a router with range-extending satellite devices can decimate dead zones like those and spread a fast and reliable signal throughout your home for your Wi-Fi devices.

With satellites, or nodes, spread strategically throughout your home, a good mesh network setup will automatically "route" your connection as you move through the place, steering you from band to band within a single, unified Wi-Fi network. It'll also decide when to route your connection through a satellite mesh point and when to send your signal straight to the main router. That's better than what you'll get from a  and it makes for a close-to-seamless home network, with more consistent internet speed in each room.

 

 

The rub is that mesh Wi-Fi systems are a lot more expensive than  and typically more expensive than a single-point, stand-alone traditional router -- but with lots of new competition hitting the market, the cost of a mesh network and a single mesh node has come down quite a bit in the last year or two.

Some of the best mesh Wi-Fi models include systems from , which popularized mesh networking before being , as well as the latest setups from  and . Mesh systems like those regularly sold for as much as $400 or even $500 a few years ago, but now all of these manufacturers and others offer multipoint mesh router systems -- including the main router and the satellite devices, or nodes -- that cost less than $300, if not less than $200. I've even seen entry-level mesh systems selling for as little as $99.

We've still got lots of routers and mesh systems we'd like to try out -- including a  that use promising better performance and faster speeds. More mesh routers that support , which means they can access a , should be arriving soon, too.

Expect regular updates to this post in the coming months as new Wi-Fi mesh routers like those make it to market. For now, here are the top mesh routers we'd recommend right now for anyone ready to make the upgrade.

Read more: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several years ago, became a breakout hit thanks to its easy setup and its ability to spread a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection throughout your home for all of your connected devices. Now, there's the Nest Wifi, a second-gen follow-up that adds in faster internet speed and a better-looking design, plus Google Assistant smart speakers built into each range extender. The price is a little lower this time around, too -- $289 for the two-piece setup above, with roughly the same area of Wi-Fi coverage as a three-piece, $300 Google Wifi setup from years back.

On average, the Nest Wifi notched the fastest top speeds that we saw from any Wi-Fi 5 mesh router (and faster speeds than the newest Linksys Velop system, which supports Wi-Fi 6 and costs more than twice as much). Plus, the two-piece setup offered enough signal strength to provide sufficient coverage at the 5,800-square-foot . It also aced our mesh tests, never once dropping my connection as I moved about my home running speed tests. I never caught it routing my connection through the extender when connecting directly to the router was faster, either.

The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support , but the Nest Wifi does include support for modern features like WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization and 4x4 MU-MIMO connections that offer faster aggregate speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro that can use multiple Wi-Fi antennas at once. It's also fully backward-compatible with previous-gen Google Wifi setups, which is a smart touch. All of it is easy to set up, easy to use and easy to rely on, making it the most well-rounded mesh router pick of the bunch, and the first one I'd recommend to just about anyone looking to upgrade a home network.

It was a little surprising that we didn't see a Wi-Fi 6 version of Nest Wifi in 2020, but that might have been a savvy move on Google's part -- a mesh router will get the most out of Wi-Fi 6 if it adds in a second 5GHz band for dedicated traffic between the router and its satellites, and tri-band designs like that get expensive fast. Among dual-band mesh routers, I'd much rather have a top-of-the-line Wi-Fi 5 system than an entry-level Wi-Fi 6 system. Even among new competition, the Nest Wifi fits that bill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eero was an early pioneer of the mesh networking approach, and in 2019, it got . Then, in 2020, we got two new versions of the Eero mesh router: the and , both of which add in support for -- you guessed it -- Wi-Fi 6.

Each system is priced at a value, netting you a three-piece setup with two range-extending satellites for about as much as some competitors charge for a two-piece setup. That's great if you live in a large home and you need your Wi-Fi network to cover a lot of ground -- the additional mesh Wi-Fi network extender will make a big, noticeable difference in your speeds when you're connecting at range.

But between the two of them, I strongly prefer the Eero Pro 6, which costs $599 for a three-pack. Unlike the regular Eero 6, which disappointed in my tests with poor band-steering, the Eero Pro 6 setup I tested worked like a charm, spreading fast, reliable speeds across my entire home. Plus, it features a tri-band design with two 5GHz bands, which is key for optimal mesh performance. It's also a great pick for Alexa users thanks to a built-in Zigbee radio that lets you pair things like smart locks and smart lights with your voice assistant without needing any extra hub hardware.

$599 isn't inexpensive by any stretch, but it's about as good a price as you'll find for a three-piece, tri-band mesh router with full support for Wi-Fi 6. That makes it a worthy and sensible upgrade for large homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At a retail price of $700 for a two-pack, the newest, brawniest version of the Netgear Orbi is too expensive to recommend outright -- but if you just want the fastest mesh router money can buy, look no further.

With full support for Wi-Fi 6 and a second 5GHz band that serves as a dedicated backhaul connection for the router and its satellites, the powerful system was downright impressive in our tests, with top speeds of nearly 900Mbps at close range in our lab. That's one of the fastest numbers we've ever seen from a mesh router in that test, and it only fell to 666Mbps at a distance of 75 feet -- which is still faster than we saw from the Nest Wifi up close, just 5 feet away.

Things got even more impressive when we took the Orbi AX6000 home to test its performance in a real-world setting. With an incoming internet connection of 300Mbps serving as a speed limit, the system returned an average speed throughout the whole home of 289Mbps, including speeds at the farthest point from the router that were 95% as fast as when connecting up close. That's an outstanding result -- no other mesh router I've tested in my home comes close.

Again, the problem is the price: $700 is simply too expensive for most folks, especially given that you'll need a connection of at least 500Mbps in order to notice much of a difference between this system and others we like that cost less than half as much.

There's also the . It's still a tri-band Wi-Fi router that supports Wi-Fi 6, but you don't get the multigig WAN port that comes with the AX6000 model here. We'll keep an eye on that one and update this space once we've tested it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It isn't quite as fast as the Wi-Fi 6 version of the Netgear Orbi listed above, but the Editors' Choice Award-winning Asus ZenWiFi AX came awfully close -- and at $449 for a two-piece system, it's a lot easier to afford.

In fact, the ZenWiFi AX offers the same multigig WAN ports as the Orbi 6, the same dedicated backhaul band to help keep the septic system repair or replace transmissions separate from your network traffic, the same ease of setup and steady mesh performance and the same strong performance at range. It even comes in your choice of white or black.

I also appreciated the depth of control in the Asus app, which lets you manage your network and customize that backhaul as you see fit. If $449 is a bit too much for your budget, know that there's a smaller version of this system called the . It isn't as high-powered, but it comes with three devices that all support Wi-Fi 6 for $250, which makes it pretty interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ry Crist/CNET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did a double take the first time I saw the price tag for the slimmed down, dual-band version of the Netgear Orbi mesh router system. At  (or less, if you catch it on sale), it's a clear value pick -- and a dramatic turnaround from the , which was way too expensive at $400 for a two-pack.

Netgear brought the cost down by sticking with Wi-Fi 5, ditching the built-in Alexa speaker that comes with the  and skipping the tri-band approach and the dedicated 5GHz backhaul band that other Orbi systems use to connect each device in the mesh. I wonder if Netgear missed an opportunity by not branding this system as "Orbi Lite."

It all makes for a less robust mesh system than other Orbi setups, but I hardly noticed in my tests. Among the Wi-Fi 5 systems I've tested, the dual-band Netgear Orbi actually notched the fastest top speeds at close range, it kept up with the Nest and Eero in our real-world speed tests and it offered excellent signal strength in the large .

Netgear's app isn't as clean or intuitive as Nest's or Eero's, and the network didn't seem quite as steady as those two as it steered me from band to band in my tests, but those are quibbles at this price. If you just want something affordable -- perhaps to tide you over until you're ready to make the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 -- then the new Netgear Orbi definitely deserves your consideration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This graph shows the top speeds of a single router from each system we've tested, no extenders. The Eero Pro 6 was the only one to notch a top speed higher than 1,000Mbps (1Gbps), with Wi-Fi 6 systems from AmpliFi, Arris, Netgear and Asus close behind. Meanwhile, the Nest Wifi router had the fastest average download speeds of the Wi-Fi 5 systems we tested. 

 

 

Ry Crist/CNET

 

 

Top speeds

As I said, we've already run a good number of speed tests with these systems. When we  for a single Wi-Fi router from each system, it was the Eero Pro 6 that led the way with a close-range top speed of 1,008Mbps. That makes it the only mesh router we've tested that was able to top out above gigabit speeds in this test. Meanwhile, the , the , the , the and the performed well, too, each with top speeds comfortably north of 800Mbps at close range. No surprise there, as those all support Wi-Fi 6, the fastest version of Wi-Fi yet.

Behind those came the , which holds the top spot in this test among Wi-Fi 5 mesh routers. The budget-friendly, AC1200 version of the  impressed us, too -- it was even faster than the Nest at close range.

Just know that these top speed tests take place in our lab. We wire each router to a MacBook Pro that acts as a local server, then download data from it to another laptop on the router's Wi-Fi network. That lets us see how fast each router can move data without the variables and limitations that come with downloading data from the cloud .

With the exception of Eero 6, the Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems I tested in my home were each able to perform noticeably better than previous-gen systems at range (the master bedroom and back bathroom). Even if your home uses Wi-Fi 5 gadgets like mine does, your network will still benefit from that Wi-Fi 6 connection between the router and the satellite.

 

 

Ry Crist/CNET

 

 

Real-world speeds

Top speed tests are one thing, but it's important to also take a close look at how well these mesh routers perform when you add in the range extenders and pull data from the cloud, the way they'll be used 99% of the time. So, I took each one home, set it up on my 300Mbps  fiber network, and spent quite a bit of time running speed tests in order to find out.

I ran the majority of these at-home tests using a Dell XPS 13 laptop that uses Wi-Fi 5, with separate speed tests on an iPhone 12 Pro that supports Wi-Fi 6. I'll continue to run tests to both types of client devices in order to get a good sense of how well these routers perform with both current- and previous-gen hardware. 

You can check out my full reviews for more information on that breakdown. The short version is that newer client devices that support Wi-Fi 6 will typically be able to hit sustained speeds that are noticeably faster than what you'll get with older, Wi-Fi 5 devices -- but previous-gen devices like those can still benefit from a mesh router that supports Wi-Fi 6.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That likely stems from the fact that the router and the satellite are able to use Wi-Fi 6 to relay signals back and forth more efficiently, and at faster speeds. The Orbi AX6000's tri-band design does some heavy lifting here, too, as that allows the system to dedicate an entire 5GHz band to the backhaul transmissions between the router and satellite.

Just be aware that adding an extra band to the mix really brings the price up. The Asus models I tested each cost about $400 or so, while the Linksys Velop MX10, AmpliFi Alien, Arris Surfboard Max Pro and Netgear Orbi AX6000 systems each cost about $600 or $700 for a two-pack. Of them all, I like the the best -- that one finished my performance tests in a close second behind the Netgear Orbi AX6000, and at $450, it costs about $250 less than that top-of-the-line system.

The Eero Pro 6 is another strong option with a tri-band design and full support for Wi-Fi 6. That one costs $599 for a three-pack, which is still expensive, but less than just about any other system like it charges for a three-piece setup.

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