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ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Badass Multi-Gig Wi-Fi 6E Mesh Contenders

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If you’re on the market for a top-tier Wi-Fi 6E mesh Wi-Fi system, you must be aware of the Netgear RBKE960 series (available as a 3-pack RBKE963, 2-pack RBKE962, or a single router RBRE960) and the 2-pack Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 (also available as a single router.)

And maybe that’s why you’re reading this ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960 matchup post, which is intended to be the supplement to their full reviews.

Considering the confusing way Netgear names its Orbi sets, you can also consider this post as the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE963, ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE962, or ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBRE960 matchup.

In any case, you’ll quickly learn about the similarities and differences between these two and find out which, if any, to bring home by the end of this page.

Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Netgear Orbi RBKE960
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Here are the router unit of the two. Both are powerful and large Wi-Fi machines.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: More differences than similarities

Right off the bat, these two are Wi-Fi 6E hardware that supports the top-tier 4×4 specs on all of the frequencies, including 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6Ghz.

They are also ready for Multi-Gig wired backhauls and will work great for a wired home. Both are expensive. The Orbi costs a bit more at $1500 for a 3-pack, while the Asus’ 2-pack goes for $900 for a 2-pack.

Finally, both are large physically, possibly among the largest routers you’ve seen. And that’s a good thing. Powerful broadcasters need to be of a certain size to deliver, as I explained in detail in this post about Wi-Fi antennas.

And the similarities end there. Let’s check out their differences, starting with the hardware specs.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Hardware specifications

ZenWiFi Pro ET12
Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System
Netgear Orbi
RBKE960 Series
ModelET12Router: RBRE960
Satellite: RBSE960
Mesh-ReadyYes 
(2-pack)
Multiple identical routers
Yes 
(3-pack)
Router + Satellite(s)
Pre-Synced HardwareYesYes
Dedicated Backhaul
(default)
No Yes (5GHz-2)
Wired BackhaulYesYes
(5GH-2 band unavailable to clients)
Multi-Gig Wired BackhaulReady out of the box
Satellite daisy-chance
2nd satellite requires
a Multi-Gig switch
Dimensions 
(WxDxH)
4.53 x 4.53 x 9.45 in
(11.5 x 24.1 x 11.5 cm)
11 x 7.5 x 3.3 in
(27.94 x 19.05 x 8.38 cm)
Weight3.3 lbs (1.5 kg)3 lbs lb (1.36 kg)
Wi-Fi DesignationTri-band AXE11000Quad-band AXE11000
1st Band
(2.4GHz)
4 x 4 AX 
Up to 1,148Mbps
(20/40MHz)
4 x 4 AX 
Up to 1,148Mbps
(20/40MHz)
2nd Band
(5GHz)
4 x 4 AX 
Up to 4800Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
5GHz-1 4Γ—4 AX
Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
3rd Band6GHz
4Γ—4 AXE 
Up to 4800Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
6GHz
4Γ—4 AXE 
Up to 4800Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4th BandNone5GHz-2 4Γ—4 AX
Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
Backward Compatibility802.11ac/n/g/a/b802.11ac/n/g/a/b
Mobile AppAsus RouterNetgear Orbi
Web User InterfaceYes
(comprehensive)
Yes
(neutered)
Login Account RequiredNoYes
FeaturesComprehensive, freeAdd-on premium
subscriptions via mobile app
AP ModeYes
(as a router or a mesh)
Yes
(as a router or a mesh)
USB PortNoneNone
Gigabit Port2x LANRouter: 3x LAN
Satellite: 3x LAN
Multi-Gig Port1x 2.5Gbps WAN
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
Router: 1x 10Gbps WAN, 1x 2.5Gbps LAN
Satellite: 1x 2.5 Gbps LAN
Link AggregationYes
(WAN and LAN)
No
Dual-WANYesYes
USB PortNoneNone
Processing Power2.0GHz quad-core CPU, 
256 MB Flash, 1GB RAM
Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
Firmware Version
(at review)
3.0.0.4.386_476366.0.3.68_3.1.9
Release DateFebruary 2022October 2021
US Retail Price
(at launch)
$899.99 (2-pack)$1,499.99 (3-pack)
$599 (add-on Satellite)
Hardware specifications: ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs ZenWi-Fi ET8

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Differences in hardware

Though equally designed to stand upright, the hardware looks totally different. The ZenWiFi takes the shape of a square tower with a fancy light on top, and the Oribi is more of a simple white (or black) curvy box.

Rigid vs flexible mesh hardware

The Orbi RBKE960’s hardware is a bit restrictive as a mesh system.

Like all previous Orbi sets, it includes a router and one more satellite. An Orbi router and Orbi satellite can never work as the role of each other. In other words, if you have two Orbi routers, you can’t use one as a satellite.

Moreover, the Orbi RBRE960 router will work with the satellites of previous Wi-Fi 6 Orbi sets, namely the RBK850 or RBK750 series, but it will not work with any Wi-Fi 5 Orbi hardware.

On the other hand, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 includes identical hardware units — you can use each as a standalone router. And featuring AiMesh, each unit will work with all existing AiMesh routers as the primary router or a satellite.

So, a whole piece of hardware, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is much more versatile than the Orbi RBKE960 series. And the two have many differences when you look more closely, too.

Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 23Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Quad-band Mesh Wi-Fi 6E System
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The Netgear Orbi RBKE960 uses two types of exclusive hardware units, router and satellite, while the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 uses the same routers in both roles.

Multi-Gig wired backhaul, 10Gbps vs 2.5Gbps

Both solutions feature Multi-Gig ports.

The Orbi RBRE router has one 10Gbps WAN port and one 2.5Gbps LAN port, and the RBSE satellite has a 2.5Gbps LAN port.

As a result, out of the box, you can use the router and one satellite with a Multi-Gig wired backhaul — you connect the two using a network cable. But if you want to use more satellite(s) via this type of super-fast backhaul, you’ll need a Multi-Gig switch.

Each ZenWiFi Pro ET12 router doesn’t have a 10Gbps port, but it has two 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig ports (one WAN and one LAN).

As a result, you can use it with Multi-Gig wired backhaul no matter how many units you want to use in the mesh — you can daisy-chain the pieces. A Multi-Gig switch works, too, but is optional.

Dedicated backhaul band, Tri-band (160MHz) vs Quad-band (80MHz)

The Orbi RBKE960 is a Quad-band solution — the first of its type on the market. As a result, the Orbi uses the 5GHz-2 band as its dedicated backhaul band in a wireless mesh configuration. You can’t pick any other band for this job.

It’s worth noting that the 5GHz-2 band only works as backhaul — it never hosts clients (front-haul), even when you use wired backhauls. That’s the case with all Tri-band Orbi hardware. Also, none of the Orbi’s bands features the 160MHz channel width, effectively capping at just half of the 4×4 specs at 2400Mbps.

The ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is a new Tri-band router that supports the 160MHz channel width on both 5GHz and 6Ghz bands. As a result, it has no dedicated backhaul band. But even with signal loss, either of its 5GHz or 6GHz bands can deliver a 2400Mbps backhaul link.

It is worth noting that the 160MHz channel width on the 5GHz band is susceptible to DFS interference, so chances are you might need to use it in the 80MHz. In this case, when used as backhaul, the 5GHz link will be 1200Mbps after signal loss.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 AiProtectionHome Wi-Fi Router Setup and Maintenance: Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Wi Fi Settings
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The former has a much richer web interface than the latter.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Differences in firmware and mobile apps

The firmware is where the Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is decidedly better than the Netgear Orbi RBKE960.

For one, the Asus has a robust web interface with many free features, including QoS, AiProtection, Parental Controls, etc. You can also use the Asus Router app to manage most, if not all, of these features and settings.

Most importantly, neither the app nor the web interface requires a login account with Asus. For remote access, you can use the router’s built-in Dynamic DNS, which includes a free SSL certificate that will help avoid the dreadful security/privacy message when you log in remotely.

On the other hand, Netgear has been entering its hardware’s local web interface and free features, and the RBKE960 is one of the latest hardware with this treatment.

Specifically, the company has been removing certain free features, including remote web-based management, from the hardware to coerce users into using the mobile app.

Not only must you register an account with Netgear — privacy risks implied — to fully enjoy Orbi, you have to pay for annual subscriptions for features that once were free, including Parental Controls and QoS.

Asus Mobile AppNetgear Orbi RBKE960 Mobile App
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The Asus Router app comes with everything you’d need, while the Orbi App will nag you to pay subscriptions for features that were once free.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Performance and rating

Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12's Rating

8.4 out of 10
Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12
Performance
8.5 out of 10
Features
10 out of 10
Ease of Use
8 out of 10
Value
7 out of 10

Pros

Wi-Fi 6E-ready, extensive Wi-Fi coverage with top performance in specific setups with possible fas Wi-Fi performance in certain setups

Dual Multi-Gig pots with Multi-Gig wired backhaul, flexible port configurations

Excellent performance and coverage as a standalone router

Tons of useful features and settings, flexible Wi-Fi customization

AiMesh 2.0 full support, helpful mobile app, no login account required

Cool design

Cros

Bulky, no USB, only four network ports

Fluctuating performance as a fully wireless mesh due to the lack of a dedicated backhaul band

Short 6GHz range

Expensive, not wall-mountable

You can see how the two compare in the chart below regarding performance. Both deliver similarly in performance overall, with the ZenWiFi sustaining at faster rates in most cases, by small margins.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960 Mesh Router Performance
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The router unit’s performance

Note that the Orbi doesn’t allow using its 6GHz band as the backhaul. As a result, I could only test it via a 5GHz backhaul (dedicated, default) or wired Multi-Gig backhaul.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960 Mesh Satellites Performance
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The satellite units’ performance
<WB>: Wired backhaul, via a 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig connection
<5BH>: The 5GHz band working as the backhaul — the 5GHz-2 of the Orbi
<6GHz>: The 6GHz band working as the backhaul — not available in the Orbi

Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series' Rating

7.3 out of 10
Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Quad-band Mesh Wi-Fi 6E System
Performance
8.5 out of 10
Features
6 out of 10
Ease of Use
8.5 out of 10
Value
6 out of 10

Pros

Powerful hardware with Quad-band Wi-Fi and Multi-Gig wired backhaul support

Excellent Wi-Fi coverage, fast performance

Multiple Multi-Gig ports

More Wi-Fi networks than previous Orbis, including two additional virtual SSIDs

Easy to use

Cros

Expensive

No web-based Remote Management, few free features; mobile app (with a login account and even subscriptions) is required to be useful

Rigid Multi-Gig ports' roles, few Multi-Gig ports

The 2nd 5GHz band is unavailable to clients even with wired backhauls, no 160MHz channel width on 5GHz

Limited Wi-Fi customization, bulky design

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Which to get

First, you should consider either of these two if you have a broadband connection that’s 500Mbps or faster. Folks with slower Internet should get something more affordable instead.

While either will work in a fully wireless configuration, in this case, the Orbi has the edge over the former in terms of reliability, thanks to its dedicated backhaul band.

On the other hand, in a wired configuration, the Orbi still loses half of its 5GHz spectrum. And this use case is where the ZenWiFi shines.

That said, strictly from Wi-Fi coverage and performance points of view:

  • For a wired home: The ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is the best fit. If you want to extend the range, get a third unit, or you can also consider the GT-AXE11000 as the primary router.
  • The Orbi RBKE960 Series is likely a better choice for a fully or partially wired home. It’ll work well in a fully wireless or mixed wired and wireless setup since its 5GHz-2 band always works as the dedicated backhaul.

But if you factor in the free features, costs, and privacy concerns, it’s best to get your home wired and go with the ZenWiFi Pro ET12. Wiring is always the optimal way to extend your Wi-Fi coverage anyway.

And in that case, there are other more affordable wired mesh options, including those that support Multi-Gig wired AiMesh, especially if you want to skip Wi-Fi 6E and wait for Wi-Fi 7.

Neither of these two is a must-have, but either will work out well, with the Orbi leaning towards ease of use and the ZenWiFi having more value and the cool factor.

Want to see more Wi-Fi solutions compared against each other? Check them all out here.

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14 thoughts on “ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Badass Multi-Gig Wi-Fi 6E Mesh Contenders”

  1. Hi Dong
    How much am I losing by putting my NETGEAR RBK 853 Mesh network behind solid wooden closet doors. I have a network of 4 units around a large 8,000 sq ft home but its disappointing with lots of weak areas?

    The network is driven by a FIOS Verizon modem and I’m paying for 1gig speed.

    Thanks
    Stanley

    Reply
  2. Very good comparison review

    I have 2 questions

    1 in regards to the range in which one has the stronger output signal

    The orbi seems bigger and I guess has larger antennas does that size advantage result in a stronger signal.

    2 I have an xt8 I use as a router in my house with 5 xt 8 satellite
    Could I just use an et12 as a satellite to increase range over the Xt 8or do I lose features if I don’t use an et12 as a router or are there any benefits in exchanging the routers from xt 8 to et 12

    All my system is backhauled by cat 6 wired cables

    Reply
  3. Hey Dong, I was wondering if you could do a test for me since you have so many ASUS routers. I have an RT-AX89X and I host webpages/game servers behind it. If I attempt to connect to the webpages/game servers using my wan IP with QoS enabled it fails to load the page/connect to the game server. Disabled everything loads/runs fine. I’ve been arguing with ASUS for over a month and they keep claiming it’s a hardware bug but I’m asserting it’s a software bug. I was wondering if you could test on some of your ASUS routers connecting to a game server/web page that has been port forwarded and then connect from your LAN to the WAN ip using QoS enabled and tell me if you get the same result? Thank you for your time.

    Reply
    • I can confirm that your assessment is generally incorrect, Jerky. I used the same router for years with QoS and multiple server applications behind it, including a web server.

      That said, it’s all about the specific configurations. I’d check on those. Between Dynamic DNS, port-forwarding, QoS, gaming-related settings, and the settings of your server, there are a lot you could have overlooked or misconfigured. Sometimes, it can be a little thing.

      Reply
      • I’ve never had a problem with any of the ASUS routers I’ve owned till I got the RT-AX89X. It’s the first one I can’t seem to get QoS to work with port forwarding and connecting to the wan ip. My old ones did it no problem. It’s nothing complicated. Just 443 forwarded to an internal lan webserver.

        Reply
        • I just want to clarify something. I’m saying your hosting a webserver behind the RT-AX89X and then you attempt to connect to it via lan.

          LAN Computer -> WAN FQDN Port 443 -> Port forward -> lan computer(whatever port it’s hosted on)

          When you have QoS enabled it fails on my RT-AX89X. QoS off works. This is a factory reset fresh, basic setup, port forward 443, Adaptive QoS on.

          Reply
          • That might happen. Port-forwarding might not work when you try to access the service from within the local network due to the lack of support for NAT loopback.

            Try from a computer outside your network, like from your friend’s house. When you’re at home, use the server’s local IP, not your DDNS domain or your WAN IP.

            The RT-AX89X is quite different from most Asus routers since it uses a Qualcomm chip. If you can’t figure this out, I’d recommend turning QoS off. πŸ™‚

      • Can’t seem to reply to the reply at the bottom but yes it works outside of the lan. If any user outside my lan connects to my wan address it works fine. The thing is ASUS refuses to acknowledge that as a problem and yeah I can just disable QoS but if a large download starts going or a large upload then things like real-time meetings and stuff can start to hiccup(the exact reason I had it on before I found out it breaks that stuff). As I have 1 gig down but for some reason every cable isp in this country thinks no one needs any upload.

        It’s weird though as I’ve never had a router do this before. Even weirder that it works properly with QoS off but doesn’t with QoS on. But yeah.. can’t get ASUS to recognize it as a software bug. I also wonder if it only effects the RT-AX89X as its the only router ASUS has with dual 10gigbit and I’m assuming the chipset is pretty different than even their other large routers.

        Reply
        • You call it a bug; others might call it a feature. But try configuring your QoS manually. That might help. πŸ™‚
          PS: Comments are nested up to only 5 levels.

          Reply
          • Honestly tried everything when it comes to it. Adaptive QoS and straight normal QoS. On adaptive, I manually set everything 10% lower than what my general real-world speeds are.. nothing fixes it. You turn QoS off though immediately fixed. On immediately broken. So frustrating for a $400+ router to have such an issue.

            Guess that is why I was asking if you could replicate as they claim it’s just my hardware and want me to RMA it but they can’t explain why it immediately goes away when you turn QoS off saying I don’t really need QoS since I have 1 gig down. They never seem to actually talk to their networking people honestly as it’s very easy to replicate. Anyways thanks for the conversation.

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