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Wireless Reviews

Setup

Orbi departs from the "mesh" Wi-Fi crowd in the way it sets up. There is no need to install an app, surrender your email or mobile phone number or sign up for a cloud service. The lack of companion cloud service works to Orbi's favor for those who eschew the approach taken by eero, Luma and other Wi-Fi product upstarts. With no cloud service needed, Orbi will continue to operate, even when NETGEAR moves on to newer products.

Although Bluetooth 4.1 is built in, the Orbi setup guide directs you to (gasp!) launch a web browser and log into http://orbilogin.com to complete setup. Many folks may not need to do even that, since the Orbi Router and Satellite come already paired. Setup was more like installing a pair of powerline adapters than setting up any other of the mesh products tested so far. I plugged them in and looked at indicator "halo" on the Satellite to determine whether I needed to move it for a better signal (I didn't).

About the only reason you have to log into Orbi is to change the default admin password, change the network name and set a wireless password. I'm surprised Orbi departs from NETGEAR's policy of setting a unique network name and password as it does on its other genie-based routers. Perhaps this will change in a future firmware release.

Update 11/11/16: Orbi defaults to the SSID ORBI50, but does set a unique word-salad+number (Ex. octopusbanana45) wireless password. HTTPS administration is also supported, but not with automatic redirection. You need to preface the admin URL with https://.

The main setup quirk is that you can only use the http://orbilogin.com URL if you are connected wirelessly. If you still connect via one of those archaic Ethernet networks like me, you'll need to hit the default IP of 192.168.1.1.

Orbi setup - two essential steps

Orbi setup - two essential steps

Features

Orbi departs from the "mesh" approach in feature set as well. eero provides only the bare essentials and Luma tries to differentiate itself with additional security features. But the Orbi router implements a good deal of the standard NETGEAR genie OS. So it supports more router features that advanced users may need than eero, Luma or even Ubiquiti Networks' Amplifi. Check the screenshot below that shows the Advanced Home page; it will be pretty familiar to anyone who has used another NETGEAR router.

Orbi Advanced Home

Orbi Advanced Home

I'm not going to do a feature deep dive, so download the User Manual if you want details. But here's a quick key feature summary:

  • Supports static, dynamic, PPPoE, PPTP and L2TP WAN types
  • IPv6 WAN (Auto detect, Auto Config, 6to4 Tunnel, 6rd, Pass Through, Fixed IP, DHCP, PPPoE)
  • Router / AP mode
  • DHCP server address reservations
  • OpenDNS based Parental controls
  • Dyamic DNS (NETGEAR, No-IP, Dyn.com)
  • OpenVPN (required V1.3.0.12 or higher)
  • Static and triggered port forwarding
  • Allow / block network connection access control
  • Schedulable keyword / domain based website blocking
  • Schedulable outbound service blocking
  • Emailable logs and blocked site access alerts
  • Detailed logging
  • Device list with IP address, MAC Address and connection type
  • Static Routes
  • Secure remote management with IP control and port number change
  • UPnP NAT traversal controls and portmap table (enabled by default)
  • Traffic Metering w/ counter reset and limit warning
Updated 11/30/16

Two missing features even casual users may desire are support for Wi-Fi Guest networks and any sort of QoS / Traffic prioritization / bandwidth shaping. Guest networks are said to be coming, but there is no firm schedule I know of.

Firmware V1.4.0.16 adds Guest network and other features, but doesn't include QoS / Traffic prioritization.

Wireless Features

Since this is a rather unique wireless router, these features deserve more attention. Let's start with the basic wireless setup. The wireless setup screen is the same in Basic or Advanced mode. It lets you set the channels for the 2x2 class client / device connect radio. The 2.4 GHz setting offers Auto and Ch 1-11, while the 5 GHz allows only low-band channels (36 - 48).

Wireless security is password method only; no RADIUS support. Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) is also supported by pressing the Sync button to start a WPS pushbutton session.

Basic wireless

Basic wireless

The high band is used by the 4x4 backhaul radio, which has no controls. You can, however log into it by getting its IP address from the Connected Device listing and using the Router's login credentials. That will bring you to the page below, which is mostly see-and-not-touch. The hamburger menu offers only Status (this page), Connected Devices, Firmware Update and Logout options. Note there is no information presented about the backhaul connection.

Basic wireless

Basic wireless

Even though there is a Firmware update option, you don't have to log into the Satellite to update it. When I updated to 1.3.0.12 after testing to verify whether OpenVPN had been added (it had), I did it all from the Router.

The only other control related to the Satellite is the ability to generate a new backhaul password, i.e. resync the Router and Satellite, found in the Advanced Wireless menu shown below. Note the lack of bandwidth controls, which accounts for the 400 Mbps 2.4 GHz linkrate shown above. This indicates QAM-256 support for that radio.

Advanced wireless

Advanced wireless

Since Orbi is a multi-device system, inquiring minds want to know how smoothly devices move between Router and Satellite. I had no problem during my open air testing; the NETGEAR A6200 client moved from Router to Satellite without requiring a forced reconnection. But, as is typically the case, that movement was due to the client and nothing in Orbi's bag of tricks. NETGEAR says Orbi currently supports only band-steering and 802.11k and 802.11v. 802.11r AP to AP roaming is coming in a "future" firmware release.

Routing Performance

Orbi has been retested.

Routing throughput was measured using the latest V4 router test process using v1.2.0.6 firmware. Table 2 summarizes the results and includes Luma and TP-Link Archer C5 V2 for comparison. Luma isn't found with other AC1200 class routers in the Charts because it could not run the wired functional test suite. So it would be unfair to rank it with other AC1200 class routers. But Luma ran the new performance tests just fine, so can be fairly compared for them.

Luma does, in fact, perform better than Orbi and the TP-Link for both TCP and UDP benchmarks. I now use the total simultaneous benchmarks to judge routing performance, since many products tend to max out the unidirectional tests.

Test Description NETGEAR Orbi Luma TP-Link Archer C5 V2
WAN - LAN TCP (Mbps) 924 941 919
LAN - WAN TCP (Mbps) 935 941 919
Total Simultaneous TCP (Mbps) 1570 1764 881
TCP Connection Fail Pass Fail
WAN - LAN UDP (Mbps) 406 960 364
LAN - WAN UDP (Mbps) 342 950 459
Total Simultaneous UDP (Mbps) 964 1898 794
UDP Connection Fail Fail Fail
Table 2: Routing performance comparison

Because Orbi acts like a normal wireless router, I was able to run the complete new functional test suite on it. It posted a functional score of 90.6, which means it failed 23 of the 245 tests in the functional suite. But some of the failures could cause problems for some users since they involved DNS and DHCP failures. The complete test results spreadsheet can be downloaded here.

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