Netgear Orbi AC3000 Mesh WiFi System Review

Netgear Orbi AC3000 Mesh WiFi System Performance

How We Tested and Performance

When we test computer hardware we typically use a blend of "real world" and synthetic tests, but that can be difficult to pull off with something as unpredictable as wireless networking. There aren't any established benchmarks like 3DMark, per say, and it is impossible to remove variables in the testing environment anywhere outside of a dedicated lab, so as always your mileage may vary. Here in the real world where we test, performance varies according to a variety of factors, including where the router is placed, the size and construction of your dwelling, interference from neighbors, and more. However, we've done our best to illustrate both real world and "best case scenarios" with our testing, and for that we relied on the program NetPerf. This tool allows us to setup one PC as a server, and one as a client, and test the connection speed between the two computers.

The wireless adapter we used for these tests is an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260 NIC, which is built into the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga we used for testing. We tested at both 45 feet away with a single floor between us and the Orbi base router and wired server PC (satellite on the same floor as the notebook), and 75 feet away with two floors separating the server PC from the client and Orbi base (but with the Orbi Satellite still on the second floor while the client was on the third). For those of you that prefer visuals, this is a pretty good representation of how the Orbi system was setup; diagram courtesy of Netgear...
Netgear Orbi Setup Diagram
We tested both TCP and UDP packet transfers with Netperf and also connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the Orbi base system and tested a 2GB file-copy between the two machines, at 20 feet from the router on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels. We think these tests provide a fair representation of what one can expect in an urban environment using these routers at medium and long range. 

Finally, we've compared the Orbi router to Netgear's own Nighthawk X8 tri-band AC router, which is stiff competition, offering not only copious levels of channel bandwidth but active, amplified antennas to boot. Though the Nighthawk may theoretically offer higher performance over shorter ranges, Netgear's Orbi mesh router system should offer better performance over the longer distances we've chosen for testing, since that is true target application of a WiFi router mesh network. 

5GHz Performance

Orbi 70ft 5GHz

Orbi 45ft 5GHz

Orbi 5GHzFile Copy2

We see some interesting scaling here between the Netgear Orbi and Netgear traditional Nighthawk router. First, over distance at 70 feet and a single floor up, the Orbi smokes the Nighthawk X8, offering near its peak throughput per 5GHz channel. Even a single Orbi in this scenario is slightly faster. However, when you add another level to punch through but shorten the distance, the Nighthawk's beamforming performance, with its amplified antennas, allows it to surge past the Orbi mesh setup, though its lead isn't as commanding as the Orbi's in the longer range test.

The file transfer test, over short distance shows the Nighthawk significantly faster than the Orbi, due to its USB 3.0 transfer speeds, versus the Orbi's USB 2.0 port. 

2.4GHz Performance

Orbi 70ft 24g perf

Orbi 45ft 24g

Orbi 24GHz File Copy2
Our 2.4GHz tests showed even more interesting results, with the Orbi holding its commanding lead over long range and maintaining that lead over shorter but range through multiple levels of the testing area. What's interesting also is that even a single Orbi unit out-performed the Nighthawk X8 by a smaller, but observable 25% or so, suggesting the Nighthawk is tuned for 5GHz throughput over its powered antennas, while the Orbi's six internal amplified antennas pushes 2.4GHz performance pretty well on its own.

The file transfer test over 2.4GHz was again an easy nod to the USB 3.0 connectivity of the Netgear Nighthawk X8, though the race was a bit tighter. If you like to hang bulk storage off your routers, this is the one of the shortcomings of the Orbi in its current version. 

We should note, in all of the above tests, that we forced the Orbi's SSID for just 5GHz or 2.4GHz, but not both at the same time over a single SSID, which is the Orbi's stock configuration. This was just for testing purposes but optimally you would want the system to auto-negotiate which frequency and settings to use, depending on your client location. Regardless, no matter how you slice it, a Netgear Orbi two router system performs as advertised and performs very well. A two unit Orbi mesh setup literally blankets your area with WiFi and the system can intelligently adapt to whichever frequency will deliver you the best performance, while providing this over much longer distances than a standard router. 

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