When Netgear debuted their Orbi system of Wi-Fi routers last August, they were the first out with something more than just a mesh network. Mesh networks (and Orbi) use multiple routers placed throughout a home or office to create a stronger network that eliminates dead zones and can better handle the load of many connected devices, including smart home devices. While mesh network routers use the common 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands to both communicate with other and connect to devices like your computers and smartphones, Netgear set aside a third band just for communication between their Orbi routers. That direct link helps reduce network latency — great news especially for gamers, or for anyone who has ever tried to stream Netflix while everyone else in the home was doing something not nearly as important on the internet.
Orbi is pretty useful, but if it has one fault, it’s that those routers are awfully big. The all-white, sleek design helps some, but making the router a key part of the home decor is a tough sell. Today, Netgear is announcing a couple new Orbi options, all of which are much smaller.
One set features two shrunk down Orbi units, while the other set includes one of those mini units and one tinier router that can be plugged directly into the wall. This will look familiar to a lot of you — it’s just like the range extenders of old. In a way, systems like Orbi are the same as range extenders, but there are a couple key differences. The range extenders of old repeated the signal from your router, creating a whole new network ID that you had to connect to — if you moved closer to the original router at some point, you’d have to reconnect to that router’s network to keep getting the best speeds. Systems like Orbi are a little smarter — you only see one unified network to connect to, while the Wi-Fi system automatically switches you from router to router to make sure you have the best connection.
The decrease in size does come at some cost. While two large Orbi routers can cover between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet of space between them, the two smaller units max out at 4,000 square feet, while the small unit/range extender combo top out at 3,500 square feet. That direct connection between routers isn’t as robust, either — Orbi uses four 433 Mbps streams between the two big Orbi routers, but these new ones only use two 433 Mbps streams. In theory, that could make these new routers a little slower if a lot of people are using the network.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean there will be compatibility issues. Netgear has confirmed that the new Orbi routers will work with the big ones they’ve already released. If a big router is used with one of the smaller ones, they’ll default to that dual-stream connection.
The two new Orbi sets could also be intriguing based on the price. If you don’t have 5,000 square feet to cover, you can save a little money — not insignificant, with the original Orbi system priced at $400. The two small routers will sell for $350, while the small router with the range extender will sell for $300. Still pricey, but if you’ve invested a lot of money in smart home gadgets that are taxing your current router, the Orbi systems could be worth it. Both of the new sets, along with the original Orbi system, are available today.