Netgear Orbi 960 WiFi 6E mesh system review: All the speed you could need

This pricey mesh network setup will serve up super-fast WiFi for years—and yards—to come.
Netgear Orbi 9 router
The router and satellite nodes look nearly identical. sta

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The dream is to have super-fast internet just about everywhere. Mesh WiFi systems help enable that beautiful reality, and Netgear’s flagship Orbi system dishes out some of the fastest home internet I have ever experienced—full stop. This pricey system offers high-end features designed for sharing a fast connection across a very large home, and it truly delivers thanks to some clever tech and smart design. It’s also quite a bit more secure than the router your ISP tried to get you to use when they installed your service. Is it overkill for many people? Probably, but that’s what makes it great. 

Netgear Orbi 960 mesh WiFi

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PopSci readers can get 10 percent off at Netgear.com right now by using the code: “POP10” at checkout.

Overview

  • The Orbi 960 system includes one router node and two satellite nodes that link up to cover roughly 9,000 square feet of terrain with WiFi connectivity. 
  • This router provides access to typical WiFi bands, but WiFi 6E hardware inside can access the newly available (and decidedly less crowded) 6GHz band.
  • Netgear’s subscription-based security service offers in-depth safety features and network protection for a monthly price.

Pros

  • Extremely fast and reliable coverage over a large area thanks to 12 internal antennas
  • Broadcasts on the 6GHz band for devices that can access it
  • Attractive design
  • Offers a fast wired connection thanks to 10Gbps WAN and 2.5Gbps LAN ports, which are uncommon on home routers
  • Easily expandable with extra nodes
  • Netgear Armor provides solid subscription-based security that’s easy to manage
  • Easy to set up, considering its advanced nature

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Only a limited number of devices currently support 6GHz
  • Netgear Armor software requires a monthly subscription

Verdict: Netgear’s $1,500 WiFi system offers some of the fastest and most flexible wireless coverage available, thanks to its advanced hardware and robust software.

Netgear Orbi 960 hardware and setup

There are three individual devices inside this kit. The router connects directly to your modem and includes the high-speed 10Gbps WAN and 2.5Gbps LAN ports. The other two devices are satellite nodes that connect to the main router and expand coverage to a total of 9,000 square feet (depending on your structures, layout, and network interference). 

This is a $1,500 high-end system, so it comes in an elegant box that’s simple to unpack and includes just about everything you need to set up your network. The typical Orbi 960 system comes with white nodes, but you can also get the Black edition if you buy directly from Netgear itself. Buying direct also gets you a year of access to the Netgear Armor software, which we’ll dive into more later. 

Netgear Orbi Router back
The router has an extra port not found on the satellites. Stan Horaczek

The setup is relatively simple. Each node has a sync button onboard, so once you’ve set up the router, it’s easy to get it to talk to the satellite nodes without navigating software menus. We got our network set up and all our devices (including a slew of smart-home stuff) connected in under an hour. This is a quad-band 802.11a/n/ac/ax router—offering simultaneous tri-band 2.4/5/6GHz coverage with dedicated backhaul—so you’ll have to ensure you connect devices correctly if you want them to work together. For instance, I use some older connected gear that still works perfectly but requires 2.4GHz connectivity in order to play nicely. Other than some slight troubleshooting, the setup is extremely simple. If you run into any issues, it will likely have to do with the band you’re using, which is one slight downside to having all of these built-in options.

Setting up the software

A QR code on the router begins the setup process with a simple scan. Downloading the mobile app is actually the first step in the entire setup process, and it guides you through easily and efficiently. It’s not quite Apple’s “tap devices together and they magically work,” but it’s simple enough for a network system this advanced. 

The Orbi mobile app is surprisingly slick in light of many other network management utilities that feel as modern as an Atari 2600. The same is true for the web app, which actually offers even more options and controls than the mobile version. The Orbi app allows you to track devices on the network, test internet speed, manage guests, monitor network security, and more. 

Several features require a subscription beyond the Orbi’s already high purchase price. Netgear Armor is an excellent suite of security features that costs $99 per year for its subscription. It offers robust and easy-to-manage protection that we think is worth the investment. We even gave the tech a Best of What’s New award when it debuted in 2021.

The other subscription is the $69 annual Premium plan, which enables a number of useful parental control features. It allows you to observe and manage your family’s usage and screen time. 

Generally speaking, the Orbi software is all-around excellent. It offers deep access to complex settings if you have the know-how (and desire) to do so. But, the sleek design and relatively intuitive interface make it simple to navigate for networking novices. It can get a little intimidating just because there’s so much going on in the software, but once you’ve climbed the short learning curve, it pretty much runs on autopilot unless you want to tinker. 

Netgear Orbi 960 wireless performance

Netgear Orbi 9 satellite node
You can add additional satellites to the system for $599 each. Stan Horaczek

We’re not going to be publishing specific speed test numbers here because, without a carefully controlled testing environment, your results can vary widely depending on several factors. For our testing, however, we relied on a whole gaggle of connected devices, laptops, TVs, smart home devices, and tablets. We also connected a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra because it’s one of a limited number of WiFi 6E devices that can actually take full advantage of its bandwidth.

In our speed tests, this system ran faster than any other mesh setup we’ve tried. The interface has an internet speed panel that includes an Ookla speed test functionality to regularly monitor the speed of your network. 

While speeds are typically their fastest when you’re near the router or a satellite, the Orbi system provides an impressively uniform blanket of wireless connectivity across the entirety of my house. My home isn’t anywhere near 9,000 square feet. Still, it has some trouble areas for WiFi, including a basement area that typically struggles to maintain a fast and reliable connection for 4K streaming. That wasn’t an issue with this system, however. That’s one of the benefits of mesh. 

Each node provides such a wide coverage area, thanks to the 12 built-in antennae, that this may feel like overkill for smaller spaces. I was able to arrange the nodes so that I got a strong signal all the way to the back of my yard on my half-acre lot. The network easily moved through walls and other obstacles and didn’t create any dead spots. 

So, who should buy the Netgear Orbi 960 mesh WiFi system?

At $1,500, the Netgear Orbi 960 mesh system is an investment, though you can get 10 percent off with the code “POP10” right now. With 9,000 square feet of promised coverage, it’s dramatic overkill if you’re simply trying to toss internet around your apartment. For some, however, all that tech is ideal. The WiFi 6E and 6GHz compatibility make this a pleasantly future-proof system. Even as new devices arrive on your network, you’ll already be able to take full advantage of their connectivity. 

While this system provides burly enough hardware and ample access to in-depth settings for hardcore users, it’s also easy enough to set up and maintain that you don’t have to be a networking pro to get the most out of it. And if you need to cover an even bigger area, expanding your mesh network is extremely easy (if a bit expensive). This is a true flagship home networking setup and if you have the need and the cash, it’s absolutely worth it.

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Stan Horaczek

Executive editor, gear and reviews

Stan Horaczek is the executive gear editor at Popular Science. He oversees a team of gear-obsessed writers and editors dedicated to finding and featuring the newest, best, and most innovative gadgets on the market and beyond. He lives in upstate New York with his family, a three-legged dog, and a truly unreasonable collection of hundreds of vintage film cameras and lenses.