In late December 2021, I realized that Netgear had been quietly and even retrospectively removing major features from its existing Nighthawk and Orbi devices via firmware updates, effectively reducing the hardware’s capability.
I published this review before that time. Consequently, while the hands-on experience remains largely relevant today, the rating and recommendation might no longer fully apply.
Even at a reduced street price of some $700, Netgear’s Orbi RBK850 Series — currently available as a 2-pack (model RBK852) — AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System is still crazy expensive.
For the most part, it’s an excellent Wi-Fi system but, for my money, not hundreds of dollars better than the recently released budget-minded Orbi RBK13.
But among its peers, the new Wi-Fi 6 Orbi is a better deal. It has a lot to offer, despite some of its features being unavailable till mid-next year.
That said, if you’re looking for a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system that delivers “no matter the cost,” the Orbi RBK850 is worth considering now.
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Netgear Orbi 850 Series (RBK852): A new but familiar design
I remember being shocked to learn about the Orbi AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System’s suggested retail price back in September.
At the time, Netgear priced it at $700 to be the most expensive home mesh system on Earth. “This thing must be very different!” I thought.
Beautiful but mildly unstable shape
Well, out of the box, hardware does have a bit of design change — it’s pretty nice-looking — but it largely remains the same.
The Orbi 850 Series shares the same ideas as most previous Wi-Fi 5 Orbi systems, such as the Orbi Voice or the CBK40. It includes two seemingly identical units; each takes the shape of a standing vase.
One is a router (model RBR850), and the other is a satellite (RBS850). Each weighs 2.86 lbs (1.29 kg) — not exactly light — and stands 10-inch (24 cm) tall with a body tapering toward the egg-shaped base that’s just 2.8-inch (7.11 cm) wide in the middle.
The whole thing looks elegant, but the small footprint means it might topple more frequently than you’d like. You can’t mount it out of the box, but there are two threaded holes on the underside, likely for some mounting accessories.
As for how the mesh works, you connect the RBR850 router to an Internet source (like a modem), and the RBS850 satellite will automatically extend the router’s Wi-Fi while sharing the same network settings. You only work with the router unit in terms of setup and management.
The Orbi AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 has the same setup process as the previous Orbi, and it’s simple. The router unit has a full web interface, just like any standalone Netgear routers, like the RAX200 or RAX120. So you can apply the standard method to put it to work. Here’s how that is, in brief:
- Hook the RBR850 router to the Internet using its WAN port.
- Connect a computer to one of its LAN ports, or its default Wi-Fi network printed on its label.
- From the connected computer, open a browser and navigate to routerlogin.com or the router’s default IP, which is 192.168.1.1. Follow the onscreen instruction to create an admin password and a Wi-Fi network.
And that’s it. Out of the box, the two hardware units are pre-synced. Place the satellite unit at a distance, and the two will create a mesh system.
Well-designed mobile app
Alternatively, you can also use the Netgear Orbi mobile app for the setup process. With this app, used in all Orbi systems, you have the option of creating an account and sign in with Netgear. In this case, you can use the app to manage the system when you’re away from home.
The app allows for an overview look of your home network with network maps of the connected clients. There are also many handy tools, including a speedtest.net-based internet speed test, and Wi-Fi Analytics that shows the signal strength in real-time.
Fast WAN with Link Aggregation but no multi-gig LAN port
Each of the new Orbi’s hardware units has four Gigabit LAN ports. The router also has a 2.5Gbps port that works solely as its WAN (Internet) port. There’s no way to turn it into a LAN port.
As a result, in your local network, the best speed you get caps at 1Gbps. The only time you can ever experience a faster rate is when you have a Gig+ or faster broadband connection. And then only fast Wi-Fi 6 clients can enjoy that speed, on a good day.
And the Netgear RBK850 is all about delivering super-fast Internet. Although its WAN port can do 2.5Gbps, the router can aggregate it and the first LAN port into a single 2Gbps broadband link.
This port design reminds me of the RAX200‘s and works with a modem without a 2.5Gbps port but two 1Gbps ports with Link Aggregation.
Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 but no support for 160MHz channel width
Like most other Orbi sets, the new RBK852 is a tri-band system. Each of its two hardware units is has a 2.4GHz band and two identical 5GHz bands, one of which works exclusively as the link between them as the dedicated backhaul.
As a result, the system can deliver fast speed in a large area, with no or low signal degradation, even in a wireless setup. In other words, you can expect clients connecting to the satellite to have similar speeds as when they do the router.
By the way, the system also supports wired backhaul — you can use a network cable to link the hardware units. In this case, it’ll be more reliable, with lower latency, but you’ll waste its dedicated backhaul band, which is still not available to clients.
Unlike other Wi-Fi 6 routers from Netgear, the new Orbi Wi-Fi 6 system doesn’t support the 160MHz channel width. So, as a 4×4 system, its top speeds will caps at just 2.4Gbps, or 1.2 Gbps, when working with existing 2×2 clients.
No support for previous Orbi hardware
Like all Orbi hardware, you can’t use the RBR850 router in the place of the RBS850 satellite and vice versa. That’s to be expected. What’s disappointing is that each unit, as their specific role, is incompatible with previous Orbi systems’ hardware.
Specifically, if you’re using an RBK50 or any other ORbi system and want to upgrade to this Orbi Wi-Fi 6, you can’t reuse any satellite units.
Initially, Netgear intended to make them all work together, but the differences between the Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 members of the Orbi family proved to be too great to overcome. And that’s quite sad news for existing Orbi users.
Netgear Orbi AX6000 (RBK852): Hardware specifications
|Hardware||Router (RBR850)||Satellite (RBS850)|
|Dimensions||10 x 7.5 x 2.8 in (24.5 x 19.05 x 7.11 cm)||Same as Router|
|Weight (each unit)||2.86 lbs (1.3kg)||Same|
|Wi-Fi Specs||Tri-band 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 AX6000: 2400Mbps (5GHz) + 2400Mbps (5GHz)+ 1200Mbps (2.4GHz)||Same|
|Processors||Quad-core 2.2GHz processor||Same|
|Memory||512MB NAND flash and 1GB RAM||None|
|AP (bridge mode) Support||Yes||Yes|
|Dedicated Wireless Backhaul||Yes||Yes|
|Wired Backhaul Support||Yes|
(Dedicated backhaul band unavailable to clients.)
(Dedicated backhaul band unavailable to clients.)
|Ports (each unit)||One 2.5Gbps WAN port, Four Gigabit LAN ports||Four Gigabit LAN ports|
|Price (at launch)||$699 for one router and one satellite||n/a|
Standard feature set
Thanks to the full web interface, the Netgear Orbi AX6000 has all the network settings and standard features found in most routers. So you’ll find all the usual suspects, including QoS, Dynamic DNS, fixed IP address reservation, port-forwarding, and so on.
There’s also a Traffic Meter feature that helps with monitoring and controlling the Internet bandwidth. The router can also work as an OpenVPN server.
If you have a modem, the Orbi RBK852 can work as its default router mode. If you want to use it with an existing router or gateway, there’s an option to make it work in the access point mode. In this case, though, you can’t use any of its features.
Overall, the Orbi 850 Series has a standard set of features, more than most purpose-built mesh systems.
By the way, like some other Orbi systems, including the RBK13, the RBK852 comes with the Netgear Armor online protection and Circle by Disney Parental Control features. The former requires the Netgear mobile app to work, and the latter has a separate app of its own
Limited Wi-Fi settings
Similar to other Netgear routers, the Orbi RBK852 is rather thin on Wi-Fi settings. For example, you can’t use the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands as two separate networks. Nor can you pick their channel width. But you do have an option to turn off Wi-Fi 6 for some reason.
In short, generally, you want to leave most of Orbi RBK852’s Wi-Fi settings at default. Home users will see that as ease of use, while savvy users might find it lacking.
Netgear Orbi AX6000 (RBK852)’s detail photos
Netgear Orbi AX6000 (RBK852): Excellent mesh performance
The good news is the Orbi RBK852 sure beats all other Orbi sets and many mesh systems on the market, where it matters the most: Performance. It did well in my testing.
As a single router, the Orbi RBR850 almost topped the chart of mesh routers with the sustained speed of some 835 Mbps for close range and nearly 780 Mbps at 40 feet (12m) away.
The router also had an excellent range. I was able to get a decent connection to it from some 80 feet away, with one wall in between. So when placed in the middle, it can likely handle a home of 2000ft² (186m²).
Compared with standalone Wi-Fi 6 routers, the Orbi RBR850’s lack of a multi-gig LAN port and 160MHz channel hampered its standing. It was below the average. It’s important to note that I tested it and all Wi-Fi 6 routers, using 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 clients since faster clients didn’t exist yet.
But the Wi-Fi 6 Orbi made up for that when working as a mesh. Thanks to the dedicated backhaul, its Orbi RBS850 satellite unit topped the mesh satellite charts with some 820 Mbps at close range and almost 800 Mbps at a long range. Both were faster than the Arris SURFboard mAX Pro by small margins.
The system also had excellent coverage. With the two units, I was able to get a decent signal in a large area. It’s safe to say it can easily cover roughly 5000ft² (465m²). But this changes depending on the environment.
The seamless handoff worked quite well, too. I did note, though, that my test Wi-Fi client hardly jumped when I was in between the two hardware units, likely due to their long range. But when I walked past one, the device would switch to the closest unit automatically.
Intermittent lag spikes, delay in reporting connected clients,
One thing to note, though, is that I experienced intermittent lag when connected to the satellite unit. High latency in a wireless mesh setup is relatively common, however.
That said, if you intend to use the RBK852 in a home with a lot of real-time communication, like video conferencing, it’s a good idea to link the two units via a network cable. Hopefully, this will improve via future firmware updates.
By the way, while you can view the currently connected clients using the web interface or the mobile app, there’s a significant delay in reporting to which hardware unit they belong. At times, a connected client didn’t even show on either the satellite or the router list.
Orbi 850 Series Wi-Fi 6 System's Rating
Fast, reliablWiFiFi with large coverage
Full web interface with all common settings and features
Useful, well-designed mobile app
2.5Gbps multi-gig WAN ports
Support WAN 2Gbps Link Aggregation
No 160MHz channel support, limiteWiFiFi customization
Not compatible with Wi-Fi Orbi hardware
No multi-gig LAN port, intermittent lags
The Netgear Orbi 850 Series AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 mesh system — tested as 2-pack RBK852 — is a sure and easy way to cover a large property with fast Wi-Fi. It’s also proof that upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 now will cost you. So, maybe you should wait a while, at least till all of its features are available.
But if you’ve already made up your mind on getting a Wi-Fi 6 mesh, compared with the similarly-priced and comparably-specced Arris SURFboard mAX Pro, the Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 is a better choice thanks to the number of features and settings it offers.