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.
Table of Contents
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 4x4 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 |
Multiple identical routers
Router + Satellite(s)
(5GH-2 band unavailable to clients)
|Multi-Gig Wired Backhaul||Ready out of the box|
|2nd satellite requires|
a Multi-Gig switch
|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)
|Weight||3.3 lbs (1.5 kg)||3 lbs lb (1.36 kg)|
|Wi-Fi Designation||Tri-band AXE11000||Quad-band AXE11000|
|1st Band |
|4 x 4 AX |
Up to 1,148Mbps
|4 x 4 AX |
Up to 1,148Mbps
|2nd Band |
|4 x 4 AX |
Up to 4800Mbps (20/40/80/160MHz)
|5GHz-1 4×4 AX|
Up to 2.4Gbps
Up to 4800Mbps
Up to 4800Mbps
|4th Band||None||5GHz-2 4×4 AX|
Up to 2.4Gbps
|Mobile App||Asus Router||Netgear Orbi|
|Web User Interface||Yes|
|Login Account Required||No||Yes|
|Features||Comprehensive, free||Add-on premium|
subscriptions via mobile app
(as a router or a mesh)
(as a router or a mesh)
|Gigabit Port||2x LAN||Router: 3x LAN |
Satellite: 3x LAN
|Multi-Gig Port||1x 2.5Gbps WAN|
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
|Router: 1x 10Gbps WAN, 1x 2.5Gbps LAN|
Satellite: 1x 2.5 Gbps LAN
(WAN and LAN)
|Processing Power||2.0GHz quad-core CPU, |
256 MB Flash, 1GB RAM
|Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,|
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
|Release Date||February 2022||October 2021|
|US Retail Price|
|$899.99 (2-pack)||$1,499.99 (3-pack)|
$599 (add-on Satellite)
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.
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 4x4 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 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.
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Performance and rating
Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12's Rating
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 ports with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling, 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
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.
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.
Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series' Rating
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
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 backhaul; 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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26 thoughts on “ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Badass Multi-Gig Wi-Fi 6E Mesh Contenders”
I was looking into buying a new router and was looking at the ET12 but I couldn’t help but notice the upcoming WiFi 7 routers (tp link) and smartphones next year will undoubtedly have the new Snapdragon gen 2 chipset which includes WiFi 7, is it worth waiting at this point since we are probably less than 6 months away from having both WiFi devices and routers, or pull the trigger on the ET12, price is steep for something that will be superceded so soon?
Your guess is as good as mine on this front, Adam. Everything about Wi-Fi 7 is unknown for now. I’d get whichever works for my need right now, but if what you have is still working, then it makes sense to wait a bit longer. More in this post.
I’m skeptical of WiFi 7 anyways, from my understanding the 6Ghz signals are more heavily attenuated when passing through most building materials, and as a result more bit errors occur which force the router to use a lower order modulation scheme, the 4096 QAM will be very susceptible to noise and bit errors, I seriously doubt that 4095QAM scheme will be used unless it’s line of sight, probably resulting in the same performance as 6E in a typical household setup.
Either way at this point we have routers are capable of data rates that our ISPs can’t provide anyways, well 1Gbps at most in the UK.
I guess I’m starting to justify my upcoming ET12 purchase already 🙂
This article is so timely! Thank you.
You wrote that the best option for a fully wired home is the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 and for a partially wired home it’s Orbi RBKE960 Series.
I’m not clear which option is best for a fully wireless home. Did I miss that?
Right now I have the Orbi R50 and we are maxing it out constantly. At 42+ devices it started rebooting multiple times a day and throughput is becoming an issue with constant streaming (music, video), gaming, and dozens of peripherals (light switches, appliances, etc).
Generally, the Orbi is good for fully wireless, James.
For your situation, though, it might not be your Wi-Fi but your Internet. Also, those “smart” devices you have can make things complicated.
So a new system might help, or it might not.
Thank you, I appreciate the response. I have the Cox Gigablast service w/unlimited data. I typically get about 750mb/s down and I’m using an Arris SB6190 modem, though I have been considering an upgrade to the S33 or SB8200. That seems like enough internet, but I’m uncertain how to check how much of that bandwidth I’m using during peak hours.
I read the IOT article you shared and would prefer to run a separate network for peripheral devices but I’ve not been able to figure out how to do that within the Orbi interface. I don’t think it’s possible.
I’m not super savvy on these things, if I move to the Arriss S33 which has a 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port and an additional 1 Gbps Ethernet port, can I run two separate routers/networks?
No, you can only use one of the modem’s ports at a time — more here. The Orbi is generally restrictive in Wi-Fi options. There’s not much you can do.
Would love to know about client device maximums for each.
Specifically, Netgear told me the Orbi 960 can’t support my network (200 2.4GHz, 50 5GHz, and 50 Wired) devices, wondering if the XT12 can.
There’s no such thing, Bruce. In this post — make sure you read.
Is it confirmed that 850 series satellites will work with the RBK960 series? Based on your comment from the article, seems like that is what you are suggesting. I ask because some other internet posts say it might not so wanted to be sure.
“Moreover, the Orbi RBRE960 router will work with the satellites of previous Wi-Fi 6 Orbi sets, namely the RBK850 or RBK750 series”
That’s correct, at the time of the review, Phillip. You can check the new firmware versions since to see if things have changed.
Can you do a similar comparison article between the ZenWifi Pro XT 12 and this Orbi RBKE960?
No, that’d be apples to oranges. But this one will give you an idea.
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.
That depends, Stanley. There’s no concrete number — more in this post. But the rule is to leave your broadcaster out in the open. You can start with this post.
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
They have about the same ranges, Reto. If you go with wired backhaul, definitely pick the Asus. More in this post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
You call it a bug; others might call it a feature. But try configuring your QoS manually. That might help. 🙂
PS: Comments are nested up to only 5 levels.
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.