Best mesh WiFi system of 2020 – CNET

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If you've ever been disappointed with the dead zones in your home's WiFi network, consider buying a mesh router that uses range-widening satellite devices to spread a fast WiFi signal from room to room. They're usually more expensive than a single-point WiFi router, but a barrage of new options that have been launched in the past year have cut costs significantly.

Chief among them are new systems Eerowho have favourited Mesh networking popularized before To be bought by Amazon earlier this yearas well as new offers from Netgear Orbi and Google Nest, Mesh systems were regularly sold a few years ago for up to $ 400 or even $ 500. All of these manufacturers now offer a multipoint mesh router system that costs less than $ 300, if not less than $ 200.

We still have a lot of routers and mesh systems that we want to try – some too fascinating new opportunities this use Next generation Wi-Fi 6 technology to promise better performance and higher speeds. However, since we've already done numerous speed and coverage tests, we can conclude that Nest, Netgear and Eero are worth considering if you have had enough of dead spots throughout your home.

Continue reading: The best WiFi routers in 2020 | Best gaming router of 2020

To help you choose the mesh WiFi system that best suits your needs, here's an overview of how the three devices stack together with other routers we've tested them with, and complete test data for everything , Expect regular updates for this post in the coming months as more and more WiFi mesh routers come onto the market.

Chris Monroe / CNET

A few years ago, Google Wifi became a breakout hit due to its simple setup and the ability to spread a fast and reliable WiFi connection throughout your home. Now there is Nest wifi, a second-generation follow-up that offers faster top speeds and a better design, and smart speakers from Google Assistant built into every range extender. Again, the price is a bit lower – $ 269 for the two-part setup above, with roughly the same WiFi coverage as a three-part Google Wifi setup for $ 300 a few years ago.

On average, Nest Wifi has reached the fastest top speeds we've seen from any Wi-Fi 5 mesh router (and faster speeds than the latest Linksys Velop system that supports Wi-Fi 6 and costs more than double). In addition, the two-part configuration offered sufficient signal strength to ensure adequate coverage of the 5,800 square meter CNET Smart Home. It also surpassed our mesh tests and never once broke my connection when I was at home doing speed tests. I never noticed that my connection was routed through the extender even though the direct connection to the router was faster.

The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support seems like a missed opportunity, but Nest Wifi offers support for advanced features like WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization, and 4X4 MU-MIMO connections, which deliver faster overall speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro offer that can use multiple Wi-Fi antennas at the same time. It's also fully backward compatible with previous Google WiFi setups, which is a nice touch. All of this is easy to set up, easy to use, and easy to use. It is the most comprehensive selection of mesh routers and the first that I would recommend to anyone who wants to upgrade their home network.

Read our Nest Wifi review.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Eero was an early pioneer of the mesh networking approach and was picked up by Amazon earlier this year. With the support of the online wholesaler, there is now a new Eero system that costs just half as much as before – $ 190 for a three-part setup that promises an area of ​​up to 5,000 square meters. That's a great price (and over $ 100 less than a three-part setup from Nest).

Eero was not the fastest mesh system we tested – in fact, it came to a standstill last when we examined the maximum speeds for a single device from each system. Even so, you won't notice a big difference in speed compared to Netgear or Nest or any other system unless your home's internet connection is 500 megabits per second or faster.

What you become Note that the third device extends your range. That made a big difference in our reporting tests on CNET Smart Home – and additional Wi-Fi devices cost $ 100 each, which is $ 50 less than Nest. Together with the reliably stable mesh performance between the devices, an excellent, user-friendly app and a good track record in terms of support and security updates, Eero is one of our top recommendations, especially if you have a lot of ground to cover.

Read our Eero test.

Ry Crist / CNET

I did a double take when I first saw the price tag for the latest version of the Netgear Orbi Mesh router system. With a two-part setup of less than $ 150, this is a clear choice – and a dramatic turnaround over the original Netgear Orbi, which was far too expensive at $ 400.

Netgear cut costs by eliminating the built-in Alexa speaker that comes with Orbi Voice and the triband approach and dedicated 5 GHz backhaul band that used to connect each Orbi device in the mesh was eliminated. That means it's a less robust mesh system than last time, but I barely noticed it in my tests – Netgear actually did the fastest top speeds at close range, it kept up with Nest and Eero in our real speed tests, and It offered excellent signal strength in the large CNET Smart Home.

Netgear's app isn't as straightforward and intuitive as Nest or Eero, and the network didn't seem quite as stable as these two as it took me from tape to tape in my tests, but these are inconsistencies at this price. If you just want something affordable – maybe to recover until you're ready to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 – then the new Netgear Orbi definitely deserves your consideration.

Read our Netgear Orbi test.

Arris, Netgear and Asus Wi-Fi 6 systems led our top speed tests, while the Nest WiFi router had the fastest average download speed of the Wi-Fi 5 systems we tested (it even exceeded the Wi -Fi 6 version of Linksys Velop)). Meanwhile, a single Eero device by itself doesn't work well within range.

Ry Crist / CNET

speed limits

As I said, we have already carried out a whole series of speed tests with these systems. When we reached the highest wireless transmission speeds for a single router from each system, it was the Arris SURFboard mAX, the Netgear Orbi 6, and the Asus RT-AX92U That was trend-setting with maximum speeds of well over 800 Mbit / s in the close range. No wonder, because each of them supports Wi-Fi 6, the fastest version of Wi-Fi so far.

Was behind these two Nest wifi, who finished fourth for the fastest average speeds across all distances. Nest Wifi doesn't support Wi-Fi 6, but it still managed to occupy a spot in front of it the latest Linksys Velop system, what does. The new budget-friendly Wi-Fi 5 version of Netgear Orbi also impressed us – it was even faster than Nest up close.

Now a single Eero Device registers a top transmission speed of almost 500 Mbit / s in the close range. At a distance of 23 meters, the speed of the Eero dropped to 45 Mbit / s.

This is a remarkable result (and you'll immediately notice it in the graph above), but keep in mind that most mesh systems have dedicated router devices that are slightly different from the Wi-Fi extenders. With Eero, every device can be used as a WLAN router or range extender. Each one is designed in such a way that it forms the best possible network and does not necessarily carry out an independent speed test like this.

And remember that these top speed tests take place in our laboratory. We connect every router to a MacBook Pro ($ 1,053 at Walmart) This acts as a local server and then downloads the data to another laptop on the router's Wi-Fi network. So we can see how quickly each router can move data without the variables and restrictions that occur when downloading data from the cloud through your internet service provider,

Here are the average download speeds per room for each Wi-Fi 5 system we tested in a small house with an area of ​​1300 square meters and an internet connection of 300 Mbit / s. In such a small environment, you won't notice a big difference in speed from system to system.

Ry Crist / CNET

Realistic speeds

Top speed testing is one thing, but it's also important to carefully examine how well these mesh routers work when you add the range extenders and retrieve data from the cloud as used 99% of the time. So I took everyone home, set them up on my 300Mbps AT&T fiber network, and spent some time doing speed tests to find out.

With a single range extender that routes the signal from each router, all three of our recommended Wi-Fi systems were able to register an average of 200 Mbps for the entire household in at least 90 speed tests, all of which were performed with different results on different days and in different places in my 1,300 square meter house. In the room farthest from the router, everyone clocked in at an average speed of around 150 Mbit / s, which is a strong result.

netgear-orbi-voice-speed-test-data

Here's a look at the table I use to record speed tests in my home, along with my results from the Netgear Orbi Voice tests. Notice the little red, orange, and yellow dots – these are all dots where the network is messed up and sometimes completely disconnected from my connection.

Ry Crist / CNET

The same applies to the previous generation of Netgear Orbi Voice, which also achieved good results in terms of speed in this test. However, the system poorly optimized my connection when I was traveling around the house and often passed my signal through the extender when it would have been better to connect directly to the router, or vice versa. I had no problems with Nest or Eero at all.

Of these four Wi-Fi systems, Eero achieved the fastest average speeds at close range, while Nest and Orbi Voice were slightly ahead in range, but none of the average speeds in the rooms I tested differed significantly. This indistinguishable performance is a strong argument for the new Netgear Orbi because it is the cheapest. But there are two reasons why it is not my top choice.

First, the app controls are clearer and less helpful than Nest or Eero. Second, although the problem wasn't as common as with Orbi Voice, there were several points in my Orbi tests where I lost connection to the router when I moved my laptop around the house. Nest and Eero never dropped me because they automatically directed me from band to band within a single network to get the best connection possible.

The Wi-Fi 6-mesh systems I tested at home performed significantly better than previous generation systems from a distance – probably due to the fast next-gen connection between router and satellite.

Ry Crist / CNET

What about Wi-Fi 6?

I tested three Wi-Fi mesh systems at home that support the new fast Wi-Fi standard – although it's worth noting that I'm running my speed tests on a laptop with previous-generation Wi-Fi hardware. I'll probably upgrade here in 2020, but right now it's a good opportunity to see if these new Wi-Fi 6 routers make a noticeable difference in a Wi-Fi 5 house like mine.

And as it turns out, they actually do it. In particular, you can see better range performance compared to the devices tested so far. This is likely due to the fact that the router and satellite can use Wi-Fi 6 to route signals back and forth at higher speeds. Even if you are using a laptop that is a few years old, it means that the connection to the satellite up close is as fast as the connection to the router itself up close. If you are using Wi-Fi 6 devices or if your connection is faster than mine (again 300Mbps), you will probably notice an even bigger difference.

At least for now that's a relatively small upgrade considering the cost of these things. The Arris and Asus models I tested cost around $ 400 each, while the Linksys Velop system costs around $ 700. Next is on my list the new Wi-Fi 6 version of Netgear OrbiIt also costs $ 700. We ran maximum speed tests for this system (see section above) and signal strength tests for the CNET Smart Home (see section below) in the laboratory, but I still need to test time saving at home.

All of these are expensive options, but maybe tempting for people interested in making their home networks future-proof. However, please note that your router can only retrieve data from the cloud as fast as your internet connection allows, With the average download speed in the US currently around 100 Mbit / s, there is little chance that you will be able to fully utilize a Wi-Fi 6 router in the near future – apart from a few key figureheads like the iPhone 11 ($ 699 at Apple) and the Samsung Galaxy S10 ($ 820 at Amazon) and Note 10 smartphones, there are not yet many client devices that can fully use Wi-Fi 6.

All in all, I think it's a bit early to choose a Wi-Fi 6-mesh system. If you are not lucky enough to live with a gigabit high-speed internet connection, in my opinion they are not worth the effort.

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A mesh router system makes the most sense in a large environment – such as the 5,800 square meter CNET Smart Home.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Quality of reporting

Speed ​​tests are all okay and good, but a mesh router system is too much of a good thing in a 1,300-square-foot house like mine. For our next test, we went to the CNET Smart Home, a 5,800-square-foot, four-bedroom house on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. Our goal: Determine which system offers the strongest signals and the best WiFi access on the entire site.

For this purpose, we created the floor plans of the house on the upper and lower floors and fed this data into the free software from NetSpot for measuring the signal strength. We have selected the most sensible locations for the routers and range extenders, along with dozens of specific points where the signal strength of each network can be measured both inside and outside the home.

Here you can see the signal strength of each system in the CNET Smart Home with a single router that sends the signal to a single extender. Both are on the ground floor. Yellow is best, green is good and blue is bad. All three systems provided comparable coverage here, although Netgear was impressed by how strong the signal stayed in the basement.

Steve Conaway / CNET

Then we set up each router accordingly and measured one after the other for a day. The result was colorful heat maps that showed us how strong the signal is from room to room.

A few things about these heat maps. First we tested each of our top systems with a single router, then with a router and an extender, then in the case of Eero with a router and two extenders (we haven't tested the three-part Nest or Netgear setups yet). ,

Second, you should know that we placed each router and extender in exactly the same place for each test (the software is moving closer to its location, which is why it looks like they are in slightly different locations from card to card).

Finally, you should emphasize again that these cards show the overall signal strength of each system in the entire house and not the actual download speed. However, better signal strength means better radio speed. My test partner Steve Conaway summarized it like this: "Yellow means you are in heaven, green means good enough and blue means WTF."

The first big finding from our reporting tests is that Netgear Orbi did an impressive job of getting a strong signal down in the basement, even when the router and range extender were upstairs. This is consistent with our speed test data, where Netgear always kept up with Nest and Eero within range. These coverage tests indicate that Netgear may outperform these two systems in a large enough home.

I highlighted the other takeaway key in the adjacent GIF, which shows the cover for the full three-part Eero setup. Not a big surprise, but this three-part setup offered significantly better coverage than the two-part nest and Netgear setups, as we were able to add an additional range extender in the basement.

All three systems offered comparable coverage in a large room like the CNET Smart Home – but the $ 250 Eero starter kit extends the third device. We placed it in the basement where the signal strength tends to be weak and it made a big, noticeable difference.

Steve Conaway / CNET

Translation: If you have a large house that is at least 4,000 square feet, you should primarily set up a setup with more than one range extender. I think Eero is the best option for $ 250 and better value than the three-piece Nest Wifi kit that costs $ 269.

I can only recommend that most spend the extra $ 20 on Eero to get the consistent performance and superior smartphone app. Note, however, that a three-piece Netgear Orbi-Mesh kit is now available for $ 229 a number of other new options that will be launched in 2020, I will update this section as soon as we have had the opportunity to test it.

The Wi-Fi 6 version of Netgear Orbi delivered some of the best results we've seen in our reporting tests so far. Expect a full review of this system in the coming weeks.

Steve Conaway / CNET

What about Wi-Fi 6? We also test the respective signal strengths of these systems. So far, only a slight increase in the amount of yellow has been observed in our heatmaps. However, the Netgear Orbi 6 is an outstanding device, whose particularly strong signal brings orange into the heatmaps. We haven't tested any other router with such a strong signal. Expect a full review of this system in the coming weeks.

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A recently announced Netgear Nighthawk Wi-Fi 6-mesh router will only cost $ 230 for a 2-pack when it launches later in January.

Netgear

What's next in 2020?

It's going to be a busy year for the router beat. Here is just a selection of the new routers that we presented at CES at the beginning of January:

All six of these systems support Wi-Fi 6 – and note that three of them cost no more than Nest Wifi's current top pick, that only supports Wi-Fi 5, Two of these new options cost significantly less.

Needless to say, I have a keen interest in testing these new systems. So expect new speed tests as soon as we can hold them in your hands. Together with the Wi-Fi 6 version of Netgear Orbi, which we are still working on, we are planning a review of Netgear's new Nighthawk Wi-Fi 6-mesh system later this month too. Stay tuned.

Originally published earlier. Updated regularly – most recently to take a look at the new hardware announced at CES 2020.