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Netgear Orbi CBK40 Review: Easy but Pricey Cable Upgrade

The Orbi CBK40 share the same design yet is totally different from all other Orbi sets.
The Orbi CBK40 shares the same design yet is different from all other Orbi sets. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Since the original Orbi RBK50 that came out two years ago, Netgear has released many variants of its popular Wi-Fi system. The Orbi CBK40 is the latest and a special one. It’s the first Wi-Fi system on the market that has a built-in cable modem.

The new hardware means, with it, cable users can skip the modem when replacing their Internet box. However, at $400, the system is pricey. It’ll take almost three years for you to get your money back assuming you pay a $10/month equipment rental fee.

Cost aside; the CBK40 proved to deliver fast speed and excellent Wi-Fi coverage in my testing. That said, for those still using a rental cable gateway — and only for them alone — this mesh system is an easy recommendation.

Dong’s note: I tested the CBK40 with Comcast. However, the system’s supposed to work with other cable companies, such as Spectrum or Cox. Check with your provider to make sure.

Netgear Orbi CBK40 WiFi System with Built-in Cable Modem

7.6

Performance

8.0/10

Features

7.0/10

Design and Setup

8.0/10

Value

7.5/10

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Easy to setup
  • Built-in fast cable modem

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Middling Wi-Fi specs
  • No WAN port, no telephony capability

Netgear Orbi CBK40: Familiar mesh, high price

The Orbi CBK40 is a typical Wi-Fi system. It comes in two units. The first (model CBR40) is the cable gateway, which is a router and a cable modem combined in a single box. The other is a satellite extender unit (model RBS20). You use the gateway to connect to the Internet and then place the satellite unit some distance away to extend the Wi-Fi coverage.

As a set, the Orbi CBK40 similar to the standard Orbi RBK40 thanks to its AC2200 Wi-Fi designation. The only difference is the CBK40’s satellite unit is smaller and has only two LAN ports, instead of four.

Currently, at $400, the CBK40 costs more than the RBK40 set — which itself is pricier than competing systems –, plus a high-speed cable modem. The thing is, with the CBK40, you’ll have just one box at your Internet drop, instead of two. Maybe its cord-cutting benefit is worth the extra dollars, maybe not — it’s your call.

The cable connector, in the place of a WAN port, means the system only works for cable Internet users.
The cable connector, in the place of a WAN port, means the system only works for cable Internet users. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Limited use

It’s important to note that the CBK40 only works with a cable Internet service. Similar to a cable gateway, its m gateway unit doesn’t have a WAN port. Instead, it has a coaxial connector, so you won’t be able to use it if you change your Internet service to fiberoptic or DSL.

What’s more, if you use both Internet and phone service from your cable provider, the CBK40 won’t work, either, since the gateway unit has no telephony capability.  

Like all Orbi system, the CBK40 works with all other Orbi satellite units, such as the RBW30, the RBS40, or the RBS50. As a result, you can start with just the gateway unit — currently costs $299 — and add a satellite or two later when you want to increase the Wi-Fi coverage.

However, if you’re already using another Orbi system, you might want to think twice before getting the CBK40. The reason is you’ll have to remove the existing system’s router unit and use the gateway unit of the CBK40 in its place. As far as I know, you can’t use a router unit of any Orbi systems as a satellite unit. Consequently, in this case, you better off getting a separate cable modem.

Middling specs

The CBR40’s built-in cable modem, per Netgear, is capable of delivering up to 1.4Gbps of internet speed. That’s nice, but in reality, you will never experience that with the system because of its 2×2 Wi-Fi specs which cap at 867Mbps.

So, in the real world, you’ll get the actual Wi-Fi speed of around 500Mbps at best. Still, that’s plenty fast, considering most cable users get 250Mbps or lower of download speed. So, the system will work out for the majority of cable Internet plans. But if you have a gigabit-class cable plan, the CBK40 is not the mesh you want.

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All the information required for a telephone-based cable activation can be found on the gateway unit's underside.
All the information required for a telephone-based cable activation is on the gateway unit’s underside. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Easy setup

Setting up the Orbi CBK40 is similar to that of any router with a web interface, though, you also have the option to use the Netgear Orbi app. You first set up the router, then add the satellite unit via a sync button on the back of each hardware unit. Each hardware unit has a ring-shaped LED light top that glows in different colors to help with the placement. Specifically:

  • Blue: The Orbi router and satellite successfully synced, and the connection between the router and satellite is good.
  • Amber: The Orbi router and satellite successfully synced, and the connection between the router and the satellite is fair. Consider moving the Orbi satellite closer to the Orbi router.
  • Magenta: The Orbi gateway and satellite failed to sync. Move the satellite closer to the router and try again.

This light won’t stay on but goes off after a few minutes.

Quick cable activation

Setting up the router unit with the cable service is easy, too, and similar to activating any other modem or gateway. I detailed the process in this post but here are the steps:

  1. Connect the gateway unit to the service line, then turn it on then wait for a few minutes till the sync light on the front, which shapes like a globe, shows solid blue.
  2. From a computer connected to the gateway via a network cable or Wi-Fi, launch a web browser, you’ll get to a page where you can activate the unit. Alternatively, you can call the provider and give them the unit’s model number (CBR40), its serial number and its MAC address. They will activate it for you.

It took me less than five minutes to have the review unit activated with Comcast.

You can easily find out to which hardware unit a client is connected.
You can easily find out to which hardware unit a client is connected. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Responsive web interface, decent feature set

The Orbi CBK40 shares the same Netgear Genie web interface as other Netgear routers. It’s not one of my favorites due to the bloated amount of menus and sub-menus. However, the interface is now responsive, much better than those used in Netgear routers released a few years back.

The Orbi CBK40  also shares a similar set of features to other Netgear routers. You’ll find all standard router settings and can also set up the CBR40 as a VPN server.

What’s more, you can integrate the system with Google Assistant or Alexa voice command. I didn’t test this out, however. In my opinion, enabling voice commands for a router can bring in more problems than benefits.

In all, the CBK40 has more features and settings than most other Wi-Fi systems. But compared to the Asus Lyra Trio, it’s far behind. For example, it doesn’t have built-in online protection or a robust QoS engine.

Excellent performance

The Orbi CBK40 worked very well in my testing. Being a tri-band system, it has a dedicated backhaul band that works solely to connect the two hardware units. As a result, there’s very little signal loss.

The system’s range was also impressive. The gateway unit by itself could easily cover some 1800ft² (≈165m²) without any problem in my trial. It has such a long-range that I could place the satellite unit some 75 feet away and still noted only mild signal degradation between the two. With both hardware units, the system can easily cover some 4500ft² (≈420m²). Keep in mind that Wi-Fi signals depend on the environment so your mileage will vary.

The signal hard-off worked well, too. I could move seamlessly between the two hardware units without losing connectivity. Overall, during my three-day stress test of heavy and constant usage, I didn’t run into any problem.

As for the Internet, since my Comcast connection tops at 250Mbps — and I did get that in full — there was no way for me to find out how fast the Orbi CBK40’s built-in cable modem speed could reach. Chances are it’s more than fast enough for most cable users.

Conclusion

The Netgear Orbi CBK40 is not for everyone. For one, it only works for cable users and only those without a cable digital telephone plan.

Most importantly, it’s expensive. You can get a mesh system with more features, like the Asus Lyra Trio, plus a separate cable modem and still have some dough to spare. However, if you want to have the fewest number of boxes and wires to keep your place the least cluttered possible, the CBK40 is still a great choice.

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Before Dong Knows Tech, I spent some 18 years testing and reviewing gadgets at CNET.com. Technology is my passion and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

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