Folks have been asking me to compare popular home mesh Wi-Fi systems of different vendors.
Stuff like eero vs. Netgear Orbi, TP-Link Deco vs. Linksys Velop, Google Wi-Fi vs. AiMesh, Aimesh vs. Synology mesh, so on and so forth.
While a particular mesh set’s performance depends on its hardware, it generally shares the common attributes available in all of the brand’s variants.
This post will give you an overview of how each mesh brand differentiates itself from others. I’ll also provide each brand with my overall rating, which is different from that of a specific mesh set.
When through, among other things, you’ll be able to tell which brand is the best for your case.
Dong’s note: I first published this post on March 24, 2021, and last updated it on November 1 with additional relevant information.
Table of Contents
The brief history of popular home mesh brands: Two types, one list
In my opinion, there are two types of mesh systems.
The first are those built from the ground up, which I call purpose-built or canned systems. They tend to be easy to use but lacking in features and settings. You generally have to get these in a 2-pack or a 3-pack.
The second are those made from a standalone router. You first get a single router and then add more hardware to scale up the coverage when need be. These are harder to use but generally give you more options in features and customization.
In most cases, though, the line between these two types is a blur. That said, I’ll list them all here in the chronological order of their first release, according to my memory and experience with them.
Consequently, this order has no meaning in terms of ranking or favoritism. And this post will also give you a sense of how home mesh has evolved over the years.
With that out of the way, let’s dive in.
1. The eero (Feb 2016): Ease-of-use trumps all
The eero — all lower case — is the mother of all canned home mesh systems. First introduced back in February 2016 as a 3-pack of identical routers, the eero started what I called the home mesh revolution.
Eero’s hardware as a service approach: Big on ease-of-use, little customization, privacy concerns
At the time, the eero’s idea was quite revolutionary. It was and has remained basically hardware as a service. You don’t really own the product outright but use it via a constant connection with the vendor who will supposedly take care of your home network for you.
As a result, the eero has always been super easy to set up and use — as long as you have a mobile device and a live connection to the Internet.
In return, you have zero or little control over the system — you can’t even set it up or make changes when there’s no Internet. There’s not much in customization, either.
From the get-go, eero has been big on collecting user data supposedly for performance optimization.
What data it collects is unclear, and I won’t pretend to know what the company does or does not do with what it collects — I didn’t.
But one thing is clear: you should be concerned about your privacy considering Amazon bought it in 2019. It could have bought any other more established networking brand if its interest had been purely home networking.
Eero: Hardware availability
The eero generally is available in identical units. Each can work as a router or a satellite.
However, with Wi-Fi 6 models, you’ll also find an extender unit, which can only work as a satellite.
Generally, you want to use same-tier units together, but mixing them up will likely work out, too, especially in a wired setup.
Eero: Modest hardware and performance
As for performance, the eero has always been modest at best. All variants use relatively low-end hardware housed in fancy-looking chassis.
Initially, most Wi-Fi 5 models were dual-band. Later on, there’s the “eero Pro” that’s tri-band. Finally, the eero 6 Pro is the second tri-band option. Both dual- and tri-band versions support wired backhaul, which improves the performance. So far, there’s no eero hardware with a Multi-Gig port.
The eero offers a few parental control and online protection features as subscriptions with the latest firmware. In addition, since early 2020, eero has been integrated with Apple HomeKit. (Apple certified the Wi-Fi 6 versions in late May 2021.)
Generally, if you have wired your home, the eero can be an easy option with good performance. Just make sure you’re OK with the data collection.
Who should get the eero
If you want something super easy to use and generally reliable, the eero is an excellent home mesh choice. It’ll make those with a modest broadband connection happy. But, on the other hand, if you want top speeds, total control of your network, or privacy, it’s as bad as can be.
Amazon eero's Overall Rating
Easy to set up and use
Reliable and scalable Wi-Fi coverage
Middling hardware designed to collect user data, slow Wi-Fi speeds
Login account, live Internet connection to vendor required for setup and ongoing management,
Minimum ports, limited port-related features (no Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation, etc.)
Online Protection and Parental Control require a monthly subscription
Home automation feature requires Amazon integration
No web interface, spartan Wi-Fi, and network settings
2. Netgear Orbi (Oct 2016): Thinking of going fully wireless, ain’t ya?
Netgear launched its first Orbi set, the RBK50, in October 2016, somewhat as the answer to the eero.
Netgear Orbi’s hallmark: Tri-band with dedicated backhaul
But it’s a lot more than that. The Orbi’s hallmark has always been the use of Tri-band, with one of the two 5GHz bands dedicated as the permanent backhaul that links the hardware units.
This dedicated backhaul approach has its pros and cons. Let’s put it in perspective via a crude analogy.
To understand the Orbi’s permanent backhaul concept, which Netgear often refers to as “patented dedicated backhaul,” you can liken the mesh system’s router unit to a special 4WD pickup truck with a separate engine for the rear wheels dedicated solely to the job of pulling a trailer.
This engine makes sense and is great when the truck has a trailer attached (a mesh system) but becomes dead weight when the truck works just by itself (standalone router) — it’s now a full-time front-wheel-drive vehicle.
It’s probably not a good idea to consider such a truck unless you intend to use it to pull a trailer most, if not all, of the time.
The point is Netgear’s Orbi only makes sense when you need a fully wireless mesh Wi-Fi system and never when you need a standalone router, where the second 5GHz band is a big waste in terms of hardware cost and energy consumption.
Tri-band mesh systems from other networking vendors might or might not dedicate one of the two 5GHz bands as backhaul, but they generally allow (users to program) all Wi-Fi bands to work for front-hauling. They are 4WD vehicles whether or not there’s a trailer attached.
In any case, the backhaul band of the RBK50 was the most powerful at its debut, and Netgear proprietarily tuned it solely for the back-linking purpose. As a result, the RBK50 was one of the most effective home mesh at launch and still is a formidable option today.
In a way, you can say that Netgear is the champion in dedicated backhaul technology. It has focused on this so much that in the Orbi ecosystem, the dedicated backhaul band, which uses the upper 5GHz channels, only works as such — it will not be available to clients.
Netgear Orbi: Full web interface, optional mobile app
What’s also great about the Orbi is that apart from being an (optional) app-operated system — like the case of the eero — it also has a full local web interface. That’s been the case with all Orbi sets.
Consequently, users can use it without having to be hooked to Netgear at all times. They also get a standard set of network customization — stuff like Dynamic DNS, port forwarding, VPN server, QoS, and many other settings — found in most standalone standard routers.
On top of that, starting mid-2019, you can also opt for Netgear Armor online protection as an add-on subscription. Since then, Netgear has also slowly moved toward coercing users into signing up for a login account and using the mobile app.
Netgear Orbi: Hardware availability
The Orbi comes in many variants, with the majority being tri-band. The RBK13, released in late 2019, is the only dual-band variant so far. They all are available in router + satellite combo, each with their exclusive role.
Indeed, the Orbi hardware is rigid. You can’t use the router unit as a satellite and vice versa, nor can you use hardware of different Wi-Fi standards — Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 — together. This rigidity makes the Orbi a relatively expensive choice, especially when you want to upgrade.
Netgear Orbi: The wired backhaul issue
Initially, the Orbi didn’t support wired backhaul. Later on, in late 2018, Netgear started to add this option (via firmware updates for older sets).
Unfortunately, even when you use wired backhaul, an Orbi’s 2nd 5GHz band, designed to work solely as the dedicated wireless backhaul band, is still unavailable to clients. As mentioned above, this has been the case since the very first Orbi, the RBK50.
My take is that Netgear has engineered this band using its proprietary technology to ensure the best range for the backhaul purpose. As a consequence, it no longer works with clients.
That’s true even when you use an Orbi tri-band router as a single broadcaster. In other words, there are no scenarios where the additional 5GHz band of an Orbi works for clients at all.
For this reason, Orbi is generally suitable only for those needing a fully wireless mesh system. Sure, you can use wired backhaul, but in this case, you’d pay for a hardware part that you’d never use.
Extra: Understanding Orbi model numbers
Dissecting the Orbi’s model name
If you ever wonder how to interpret this naming convention, keep in mind that there are three telling things in one: The first letter, the third (and 4th) letter, and the last digit. That’s because the 2nd letter (B) is for Orbi.
- The First letter (often R, C, or N but there might be more) means the character of the hardware.
- R: It’s a regular (standard) setup, be it a single router or a mesh system. So, for example, RBK852 means this one is a standard mesh system.
- C: There’s a cable modem involved. For example, CBK752 is a mesh system in which the router unit has a built-in cable modem.
- N: This is when the router unit is cellular-capable. N here is short for NR, or “new radio” which is a fancy name for cellular Internet.
- The 3rd letter (often K, R, or S) means the hardware unit’s exclusive role.
- K = Kit. This means you’re looking at a multi-unit package. So RBK752 refers to a kit of more than one hardware unit. How many? See the last digit below.
- R = Router unit. For example, RBR750 is the router unit of the RBK752.
- S = Satellite unit. For example, RBS750 is the satellite unit of the RBK752.
- The 4th letter (if any): That’d be the letter E which stands for Wi-Fi 6E, like the case of the recently announced RBKE960 series.
- The Last digit (often 0, 2, 3, etc.) shows the package’s total hardware units.
- 0 = Single hardware unit (either a router or a satellite.) Generally, it signifies the series.
- 2 = A 2-pack (router + one satellite). For example, RBK752 is a 2-pack cable-ready mesh that includes a CBR750 gateway and an RBS750 satellite.
- 3 = A 3-pack (router + two satellites). The RBK853 is a 3-pack mesh system that includes one RBR850 router and two RBS850 satellite units.
- Extra: The middle digits (often 5, 75, 85, 96, etc) are Netgear’s in-house designations to show the hardware’s Wi-Fi specs. They are a bit arbitrary. Specifically:
- 5: This is for Wi-Fi 5. For example, the original RBK50 is a Wi-Fi 5 Orbi.
- 75: This is for a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 with two 2×2 bands and one 4×4 band. Example: the RBK752.
- 85: Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 hardware with all 4×4 bands. Example: the RBK852.
- 96: Quad-band Wi-Fi 6E with all 4×4 bands. Example: the RBKE960 series.
If you’re still confused, you’re not alone, but generally, you get the idea.
Who should get the Orbi
Generally, the Orbi is expensive, and for those who have gotten their home wired, it’s a bit of a waste. That said, consider it only if you intend to use it in a fully wireless configuration.
Another thing to note is that Orbi, like most wireless systems, generally tends to have lag (latency) issues. So it’s not ideal if you want to play online games or use real-time communications (video conferencing etc.). The lag issue is especially prevalent if you use three or more hardware units in a daisy-chain topology.
Netgear Orbi Mesh System's Overall Rating
Fast, reliable Wi-Fi with extensive coverage
Full web interface with all standard settings and features
Useful, well designed mobile app
Wi-Fi 6 versions support WAN Link Aggregation and often have Multi-Gig support
No 160MHz channel support, limited Wi-Fi customization
No cross Wi-Fi standard hardware compatibility
Mobile app and security/Parental Controls features require a login account
3. Google (Nest) Wifi (Dec 2016): The true eero alternative
Google Wifi, nowadays known as the Google Nest Wi-Fi, in my opinion, was somewhat of a “gosh, why didn’t I think of it!” moment — the search engine giant was just jealous of the eero.
Indeed. Google debuted its first home mesh in December 2016. It was the true counterpart of the eero. It’s also hardware as a service with a bit of customization, even worse than the eero. (And it has been that way since.)
The replacement of OnHub
Truth be told, Google had been involved with Wi-Fi much earlier.
In mid-2015, the company introduced its first home Wi-Fi router, the OnHub, which used TP-Link hardware and Google’s firmware.
The OnHub was sleek and one of the first app-operated standalone routers on the market at the time. Later on, it morphed into the original Google Wifi, which became the now well-known Nest Wifi mesh, that’s been the biggest competitor of the eero.
Google (Nest) Wifi's Overall Rating
Easy to set up and use
Reliable and scalable Wi-Fi coverage
Integration with a Google account and other Smart Home devices
Middling hardware, slow Wi-Fi speeds
Login account required for setup and ongoing management
No Wi-Fi 6 option (yet), minimum ports, no Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation, or Multi-Gig
No access point (AP) mode as a mesh system
No web interface, spartan Wi-Fi, and network settings
My biggest issue with the Google Wi-Fi is that it can’t work in the AP mode as a mesh — you can only do that with a single hardware unit.
That said, you can only use it as the only router of your home or in a double NAT setup if you must keep your ISP-provided gateway.
Later on, with Nest’s acquisition and the release of the subsequently Google Nest Wi-Fi version, the Google Wi-Fi can now integrate with other Nest smart home devices, such as the Nest thermostat.
Google hasn’t released any Wi-Fi 6 version of the Google Wi-Fi, and for that reason, I haven’t reviewed it for this website. (I’ve worked with them all in my past life.)
Generally, consider Google Wi-Fi a genuine alternative to the eero. It has the same level of ease-of-use and privacy concerns. It’s a question of Amazon vs. Google, as in who you’d trust more with your data.
4. Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi (Oct 2016): Quirky but cool and effective
Around October 2016, Ubiquiti Labs introduced the AmpliFi HD as a single router that can also work as a mesh system with two add-on plug-in satellites.
The HD at the time was the first Wi-Fi router with a color touchscreen. It was a novelty. You can use this screen to manage the router (or mesh), but you’ll need the mobile app to do more.
AmpliFi: The novelty in limited hardware options
The AmpliFI HD, and subsequently the Wi-Fi 6 version of the AmpliFi Alien, sure are fun to use and effective, both as a single router as well as a mesh.
While they don’t offer many customization and features, they are not available in any other system. One of which is the Teleport VPN which makes using VPN a super easy option for home users.
So far, there are only two options, however. You can either go with the HD (Wi-Fi 5) or the Alien (Wi-Fi 6.)
Who should get the AmpliFi
If you’re into ease-of-use, performance, and cool stuff, either the HD or the Alien is a great choice. The latter also supports wired backhaul if you want to build a fast-performing mesh.
AmpliFi Mesh System's Overall Rating
Dead-easy to set up and manage
Excellent Wi-Fi coverage
Fast performance, wired backhaul supported in Wi-Fi 6 versions
Users can manage the backhaul link and virtual Wi-Fi networks
Useful VPN and ad-blocking features
Cool hardware design
The HD has no wired backhaul option, the Alien's MeshPoint has only one LAN port, and only works with the one router of the same Alien Kit
No dedicated backhaul band
5. Linksys Velop Intelligent Mesh (Jan 2017): Don’t forget the “intelligent” part!
Belkin released the first Linksys Velop (model WHW0303) in January 2017 to answer both the Orbi and the eero. The full name is Linksys Velop Intelligent Mesh, with an emphasis on “Intelligent.” But of course!
Linksys Velop: A more flexible option
The intelligent notion is a bit subjective, but the original Velop sure is more flexible.
It’s a tri-band system that has “dynamic backhaul,” meaning it’ll use any of its three bands at any given time as backhaul or fronthaul, depending on the situation.
As a result, users will have access to all three bands. And if you use wired backhaul, you won’t lose any band for the backhaul link, making it a better alternative to the Orbi.
Linksys Velop: Full web interface with mobile app coercion
Like the Orbi, the Linksys Velop has both a full web interface and the Linksys mobile app.
Together with Wi-Fi 6 hardware, though, Belkin has started to coerce users into using the mobile app and a login account, which can be upsetting for long-time Linksys fans.
As a result, the Velop generally has fewer features and customization options than the Orbi. But it’s still much better than the eero on this front.
Linksys Velop: Hardware availability
Apart from the original tri-band option, the Linksys Velop has also been available in dual-band, including the Velop Dual-band and Velop Plug-in, both dual-band. Its Wi-F 6, the MX4200, or MX5300 hardware, has always been tri-band.
A Velop home mesh set tends to come in multiple identical routers. You can use any as the router role, and the rest will work as a satellite(s).
When to consider a Linksys Velop
A tri-band Linksys Velop is an excellent alternative to the Orbi, and a dual-band one is about as good as the eero in a wireless setup.
In a wired backhaul configuration, though, the Velop is better than the other two.
Linksys Velop's Overall Rating
Generally reliable Wi-Fi with excellent coverage
Helpful mobile app, full web interface
Flexible wired/wireless backhaul
Modest Wi-Fi speed with no support for 160MHz channel bandwidth in Wi-Fi 6 models
Mobile app (and login account) coercion
Spartan Wi-Fi settings, modest feature set
Generally no Dual-WAN or Link Aggregation
No setting backup/restore
6. TP-Link Deco (April 2017): More bang (and options) for your buck
TP-Link introduced its first Deco set, the M5, in April 2017 as a much better alternative to the eero.
Deco also requires a login account and a mobile app to work and therefore can also cause privacy concerns. It’s worth noting that the company is headquartered in Shenzhen, China.
The M5 was a dual-band 3-pack set that was more affordable yet came with many features, including Antivirus, QoS, and others. It did, too, require a mobile app and a login account. And it was also hardware as a service.
TP-Link hardware availability
Over the year, the Deco has remained the same in terms of features for the most part. All variants are app-operated.
However, TP-Link has been one of the most prolific home mesh makers.
The Deco has been available in most hardware options, including dual-band and tri-band of various performance grades and Wi-Fi standards. So it’s fair to say it’s a mesh brand that gives users the power to choose.
Who should get a Deco
Generally, Deco is middling on all counts. This brand has a good combo of performance, features, and price without much standing out. But it’s reasonably priced.
That said if you want an easy-to-use canned mesh system that will give you decent performance (and not much else) for the money, pick a Deco set that fits your budget.
TP-Link Deco's Overall Rating
Affordable with lots of hardware options
Easy to use mobile app
Reliable Wi-Fi coverage
Spartan Wi-Fi customization, network settings, and features
Limited port-related features
App and login account required, no real web user interface
Confusing HomeShield/HomeCare online protection and Parental Control features
7. Asus’s AiMesh (Feb 2018): The most versatile (and potentially temperamental) home mesh option
Asus introduced the AiMesh option as an add-on feature via firmware update in February 2018, together with the release of the RT-AC86U.
Since then, this has been one of the most significant home mesh development, thanks to its versatility. You can create many mesh combos from more than a dozen (and counting) broadcasters and use them however you want. Well, almost so since some combos are better than others.
In any case, you’ll get a mesh with the most features, settings, and likely the best performance. But, most importantly, you can also use them without worrying about your privacy at all.
In return, you need to tread relatively lightly with your choice of hardware since a wrong combo can be a headache. In all, AiMesh is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a gratifying option for those who are up for a bit of a challenge.
AiMesh is so significant that I dedicate a whole lengthy post for it alone. Check it out.
Asus AiMesh's Rating
The most flexible way to build a robust, scalable home Wi-Fi mesh system
Excellent performance, top-notch feature set
Built-in online protection
No vendor login required or other privacy risks
Certain routers combos can be buggy
Terrible Wi-Fi management when mixing dual-band and tri-band hardware
System-wide Guest network, when available, is limited to one SSID instead of three per band
8. Synology Mesh (Oct 2018): The professional-grade home mesh
Synology released the MR2200ac in October 2018. Together with it, it introduced a mesh feature which is the true counterpart of Asus AiMesh.
Similarly, you can use two or more supported routers to form a mesh system. However, in my opinion, Synology Router Manager (SRM) is by far the best firmware for a mesh system.
Unfortunately, since then, Synology hasn’t introduced any Wi-Fi 6 hardware or any new hardware for that matter. Up to now, there are just two hardware options, namely the MR2200ac and the RT2600ac.
Nonetheless, Synology’s mesh feature was also a significant development — I detailed it in a separate post. So check it out and see why you should consider getting it, even today.
Synology Wi-Fi Mesh System's Rating
Fast, reliable, and extensive Wi-Fi coverage
Advanced interface with high-quality add-on features
Highly-customizable network and Wi-Fi settings
Effective Parental Controls and online protection
Advanced Guest network
Limited hardware and combo options, no satellite-only hardware, users have little control over the satellites
No 10Gbps or 5Gbps Multi-Gig option, no hardware with two or more 2.5Gbps ports
9. TP-Link OneMesh (April 2019): A patch-up home mesh
In April 2019, TP-Link introduced its OneMesh approach somewhat as the answer to Asus’s AiMesh. It’s also an alternative to the company’s popular Deco home mesh family mentioned above.
The idea is you can get a standalone router and then use a supported extender — the first being the RE300 extender — to form a mesh.
I was pretty excited about it at the time. Among other things, this setup means the router will decide the network’s features and settings, making it seem a great alternative to AiMesh.
Alas, at the core of it, OneMesh has turned out to be similar to using a router and extender — the RE300 works with third-party routers, too.
As a result, OneMesh, while easy and affordable, is slow and far inferior to the alternatives. Over time, I find it less and less of a practical option.
Over the years, TP-Link hasn’t delivered much on the idea, with a limited number of routers supporting this feature and even fewer extenders being made available. And so far, none of these extenders are tri-band or support wired backhaul.
In all, for now, consider OneMesh is what it really is: An easy and ineffective way to expand your network. It’s only suitable for those needing to deliver no more than a very moderate broadband connection.
TP-Link OneMesh's Rating
Affordable and easy to set up
Responsive web interface, useful mobile app
Supported in many Wi-Fi 6 routers
No dedicated or wired backhaul options
Modest Wi-Fi speeds
Routers can't work as satellite units
No high-end satellite hardware
10. Arris Surfboard mAX (Oct 2019): The new kid on the home mesh block
In October 2019, CommScope released its first ARRIS Wi-Fi 6 device, the SURFboard mAX PRO AX11000 mesh system. It’s also the company’s very first standalone Wi-Fi router. Before this, ARRIS is a known brand for cable modems and gateway.
The mAX PRO is the top-of-the-line hardware that can deliver Gigabit speeds. Since then, the system has gone through a few changes, including a completely new app.
The gist of it, though, the SURFboard mAX remains the same. The canned mesh system has almost no feature or setting at all. It’s also the only one on the market that, so far, has no support for wired backhaul.
That has been the case with all variants, including the latest SURFboard mAX AX6000.
In all, the SURFboard mAX is an excellent system if you only care about expanding Wi-Fi coverage and don’t mind paying a lot for it.
ARRIS SURFboard Mesh System's Overal Rating
Decent Wi-Fi speeds, large coverage
Effective dedicated wireless backhaul band
Zero customization and feature
Fluctuating Wi-Fi speeds
Poor Parental Control feature, terrible setup process
App and vendor account required to work
No wired backhaul, limited port-related features
No local web user interface
11. Netgear Knighthawk MKxx (Mid-2020): Wi-Fi EasyMesh made for a wired home
In mid-2020, Netgear released its first Wi-Fi EasyMesh-based system, the Nighthawk MK63. (And in early 2021, it unveiled the MK83.) This mesh brand is an alternative to the networking vendor’s Orbi family.
The Knighthawk mesh line shares the same feature set and mobile app as Netgear’s Nighthawk routers. It, too, has a full web interface with lots of customization. Most importantly, it doesn’t come with a permanently dedicated backhaul — it’s excellent for wired backhaul.
On top of that, supporting the Wi-Fi EasyMesh concept, there’s a chance it will work with hardware from other vendors of the same standard.
Like the EasyMesh concept, the Netgear Nighthawk mesh is relatively new. So far, I have only reviewed the MK63, which turned out to be a pretty good mesh option.
But generally, if you’re looking for a flexible system that’s won’t dig a hole in your wallet, the MK63 is a good choice. In fact, it can be an excellent one if you have gotten your home wired.
Netgear MKxx Nighthawk's Overall Rating
Reliable Wi-Fi coverage at affordable pricing
Full web interface, optional mobile app
Wired backhaul support
Web interface lacks some common networking settings
Limited number of ports, switch required for the dual-band version to use wired backhaul
Lacks basic Wi-Fi settings, no 160 MHz channel width
No multi-gig port, Dual-WAN or Link Aggregation
Finicky QoS, online protection, require a mobile app and is not free
Home mesh brands: The takeaway
There you go. These are all popular home mesh systems in the market. There are others, but chances are they are not as significant.
You’ll note that none of the brands above will give you everything. In the end, you have to choose between ease of use, performance, features, and privacy. Find a combo you can tolerate and go with it.