What Is a Mesh Wi-Fi System?
Designed to blanket your home with wireless coverage, wifi systems are a hybrid of sorts, made from several networking components. There is a main router that connects to your modem and a series of satellite modules or nodes that you place throughout your house. They’re all a part of one wireless network and share an equivalent SSID and password. Unlike range extenders, which communicate with the router via the two .4GHz or 5GHz radio bands, most wifi system satellites use mesh wi-fi System technology to speak to the router and every other.
Each node is a hop point for other nodes within the system. This helps the nodes farthest from the router to deliver a robust wifi signal as they lecture other nodes and not counting on one-to-one communications with the router. Not all wi-fi systems use mesh networking. However, some use a fanatical radio band to speak with the router and with one another. Like mesh, the dedicated band frees up the standard-use 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands for client use.
How to choose the best mesh router for you
Finding the proper mesh wi-fi system starts with deciding whether you even need one. If you’ve got an outsized home of three 000 square feet or more, a daily router won’t cut it. An equivalent is real of multistory homes and oddly laid outhouses, which don’t necessarily match the range pattern of coverage most standalone routers deliver. Although your home seems like it will be well-served by a daily wireless router, many obstacles and signal-disruptions will make it challenging to urge strong wifi coverage in every part of your home.
The basic guideline is this: If your router leaves you with dead spots in your home or maybe in your yard, you’d probably be happier with a mesh wi-fi system instead.
Picking the proper mesh wi-fi system is far like all other wifi devices. Our reviews check out the design, range and throughput performance, setup, and which settings you’ll adjust. We glance at security protections and parental controls. We even check out whether a mesh extension is straightforward to adopt into your home decor or whether it’s something you’ll be wanting to tuck in out of sight. Any of our reviews will probe these aspects of a product. They can also highlight any unique features you’ll want to think about in your decision, like whether you would like voice interaction or how well a mesh System pairs with other connected devices within the home.
For many shoppers, though, it all comes right down to value — which extender provides the foremost for rock bottom cost. So we also consider what you get for your money, weighing what features and performance are worthwhile and how any given product compares with other devices from other manufacturers.
Mesh routers home in price from $120 to $400 or more. Because mesh systems use multiple devices, you’ll generally buy an entire mesh system as a two- or three-unit package. You’ll also purchase individual satellite units to increase a mesh network to a broader area. Respective companies generally sell for $100 to 200, although specialized units offering added functions may cost more.
In the end, our top picks are listed here because they’re the most straightforward mesh wi-fi systems you’ll buy. Whether it is a question of performance, value, or features, we call out the products that deliver the most superficial bang for your buck and explain why it’d be the proper choice for your home.
And inspect the newest router news, just like the best routers of CES 2021. Freshly announced products from Netgear, Linksys, TP-Link, et al. are coming soon that pair mesh wi-fi with new standards, like wifi six and the new wifi 6e, also as features like voice control. Stay tuned for more news and reviews.
Top Mesh Wi-fi System
|Our Pick||Rating||Wireless Specification||Wired Backhaul||Separate Bands||Security||Quality of Service (QoS)||Parental Controls||Number of Wired LAN Ports (Excluding WAN Port)||Number of Nodes
|TP-Link Deco M9 Plus Mesh Wi-Fi System||Excellent (4.5)||802.11ac||No||yes||WPA2||yes||yes||1 on main router, 2 on node||1|
|Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8)) ||Excellent (4.5)||802.11ax||yes||yes||WPA, WPA2, WPA3||yes||yes||3 on router, 4 on node||1|
|NETGEAR Nighthawk Pro Gaming XRM570 WiFi Router and Mesh WiFi System with 6 Ethernet Ports and Wireless speeds up to 2.6 ||Excellent (4.0)||802.11ac||No||yes||WPA3||yes||yes||4 on main router, 2 on node||2|
|D-Link EXO AC3000 Smart Mesh Tri-Band Router DIR-3060 ||Excellent (4.0)||802.11ac||yes||yes||WPA2||yes||yes||4||2|
|Asus ZenWiFi AC CT8 (2-pack) ||Excellent (4.0)||802.11ac||yes||yes||WPA, WPA2, WPA3||yes||yes||3 on each node||1|
|Google Nest Wi-Fi System||Excellent (4.0)||802.11ac||No||yes||WPA2, WPS, WPA3, WPA||yes||yes||1 on base unit||0|
|Synology Mesh Router MR2200ac ||Excellent (4.0)||802.11ac||No||yes||WPA3||yes||yes||2||1|
|Linksys Velop AX MX10 ||Excellent (4.0)||802.11ax||No||yes||WPA, WPA2, WPS||yes||yes||4||1|
|Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 System AX6000 (RBK852)||Good (3.5)||802.11ax||yes||yes||WPA2, WPS, WPA||No||No||4||0|
|Amazon Eero Pro 6||Good (3.5)||802.11ax||yes||No||WPA3, WPA2||No||yes||1 on router, 2 on satellites||0|
How we test mesh routers
Every router we review has been rigorously tested in our Utah and ny facilities, using Ixia’s IxChariot software to live throughput at distances between 5 and 150 feet. Like standard routers, we test performance at a distance to supply real-world information about coverage and speeds.
We also test how well each router transmits and receives signals through drywall, brick, concrete, and even metal walls; and the way each handles coverage of a two- or three-story home.
Mesh routers get additional testing to ascertain how well each system does when sending a sign through the most router and thru the included satellite units. Beyond simple throughput tests, we also perform detailed heat map testing to determine how well a mesh Wi-fi system distributes signals over a more significant coverage area. This test involves taking dozens of measurements throughout our lab space. We use each mesh router with several connected devices during a real home that contains thick walls.
Other factors utilized in evaluating the routers include simple setup and use, software features, and available ports.
Top speeds of Mesh Router
As I said, we’ve already run a fair number of speed tests with these systems. Once we clocked the highest wireless transfer speeds for one wifi router from each course, it had been the Eero Pro 6 that led the way with a close-range top speed of 1,008Mbps. that creates it the sole mesh router we’ve tested that was ready to top out above gigabit speeds during this test. Meanwhile, the AmpliFi Alien, the Arris Surfboard Max, the Netgear Orbi 6, the Netgear Nighthawk, and the Asus RT-AX92U performed well, each with top speeds comfortably north of 800Mbps at close range. No surprise there, as those all support wifi 6, the fastest version of wifi yet.
Behind those came the Nest wifi, which holds the highest spot during this test among mesh wi-fi System routers. The budget-friendly, AC1200 version of the Netgear Orbi impressed us, too — it had been even faster than the Nest at close range.
Just know that these top speed tests happen in our lab. We wire each router to a MacBook Pro ($879 at Back Market) that acts as an area server, then download data from it to a different laptop on the router’s wifi network. That lets us see how briskly each router can move data without the variables and limitations that accompany downloading data from the cloud via your internet service.
Real-world speeds Performance of Mesh Router
Top speed tests are one thing, but it is vital also to take an in depth check out how well these mesh routers perform once you add within the range extenders and pull data from the cloud, the way they’ll be used 99% of the time. So, I took it all home, set it abreast of my 300Mbps AT&T fiber network, and spent quite a little bit of time running speed tests to seek out out.
It’s worth noting that, unlike our lab-based top speed tests, I run my at-home speed tests on a laptop with previous-gen Mesh wi-fi System. I’ll likely make the jump to wifi six at some point, except, for now, it is an excellent opportunity to ascertain whether these new wifi six routers can make any noticeable difference during a wifi home like mine.
And, because it seems, they do. Specifically, I could see the better performance at range, with speeds that did not dip the maximum amount therein main bedroom and back bathroom. With the top-performing Netgear Orbi AX6000 system, rates hardly fell in the least. Connecting near the satellite therein main bedroom and the back bathroom was almost nearly as good as connecting near the router itself within the front room.
That likely stems from the very fact that the router and the satellite are ready to use wifi 6 to relay signals back and forth more efficiently and faster. The system also dedicates a whole 5GHz band to the backhaul transmissions between the router and satellite, making an enormous difference.
Be aware that adding a band to the combination brings the worth up. The Asus models I tested cost about $400 approximately, while the Linksys Velop MX10, AmpliFi Alien, Arris Surfboard Max Pro, and Netgear Orbi AX6000 systems each cost about $600 or $700 for a two-pack. Of all of them, I prefer the Asus ZenWiFi AX the simplest — that one finished my performance tests during a very close second behind the Netgear Orbi AX6000, and at $450, it costs about $250 but that top-of-the-line system.
The Eero Pro 6 is another healthy option with a tri-band design and full support for wifi 6. That one costs $599 for a three-pack, which remains expensive, but almost the other system loves it charges for a three-piece setup.
Most recently, I’ve started testing the Linksys Velop MX5, which costs $400 for one tri-band router that you can repose on with additional Velop satellite devices. I’ll have more data once we’re ready to test it out as a mesh during a larger environment. Still, in my single router speed tests here, I test out a mesh router with no additional satellite devices; it finished second in overall average download speeds. A promising start, for sure.
I also tested the Netgear Nighthawk mesh wi-fi system, which supports wifi six but doesn’t include an additional backhaul band. Meaning that your network traffic has got to share bandwidth with the transmissions between the router and, therefore, the satellite, but it also brings the value way down. It’s pretty tempting at $230 for a two-pack, but the performance was too shaky on behalf of me to recommend it.
I’ve also tested the TP-Link Deco X20 mesh router at my home, though we cannot be ready to test its top speeds in our lab until early 2021. At $270 for a three-piece system and with full support for wifi 6, the Deco X20 is an equivalent thing as Amazon’s standard, non-Pro Eero 6 system, but it did a far better job of steering me to the proper band during my tests, which raised its overall speeds.
It’s also worth remembering that your router can only pull data from the cloud as fast as your internet connection allows. With the typical download speed within the US currently sitting around 100Mbps approximately, there’s little or no chance you’ll “> that you’re going to be ready to push a wifi six router to its full potential anytime soon — though you will see slightly higher speeds to client devices that support wifi 6. The list of devices like that’s growing, including flagship smartphones like the iPhone 12.
Quality of coverage
Speed tests are all well and good, but a Mesh Wi-fi System is an overkill during a 1,300-square-foot home like mine. So, for our next test, we headed to the CNET Smart Home, a four-bedroom, 5,800-square-foot house on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. Our goal: to work out which system provided the most vital signals and wifi access across the whole place.
To do this, we planned out the home’s upstairs and downstairs floor plans, then fed that data into NetSpot’s free software for measuring signal strength. We chose the top sensible spots for the routers and range extenders, alongside dozens of specific points from which to live each network’s signal strength, both inside the house and out.
Then, we found out each router we were testing and spent each day measuring measurement after measurement. What resulted was a colorful set of nifty-looking heat maps showing us just how strong the signal is from room to room.
A couple of things about those heat maps: first, to keep things fair, we measured a two-piece setup for every system — one Mesh wi-fi system router and one extender. We may do additional tests with two extenders live if the system includes one, as was the case with the 2019 Eero system we used. Except for these heat maps, we wanted to offer you an honest comparative check out how these systems perform.
Second, we placed each router and extender within the very same spot for every test — the software approximates their location, which is why it’s like they’re in slightly different places from the map to map.
Finally, it’s worth reiterating that these maps show you the mixture signal strength of every system throughout the house and not their actual download speeds. That said, better signal strength means better wireless rates. My partner-in-testing Steve Conaway summed it up like this: “Yellow means you’re in heaven, green means ok , and blue means WTF.”
The first big takeaway from our coverage tests was that the Netgear Orbi AC1200 did a mighty job of spreading a robust signal to the basement, even with both the router and, therefore, the range extender located upstairs. That lines up with our speed test data, where the Netgear consistently maintained with the Nest and, consequently, the Eero at the range. These coverage tests suggest that during a large-enough home, the Netgear might outperform those two systems outright.
Those three — the Nest, the 2019 Eero, and therefore the dual-band, AC1200 version of the Netgear Orbi — are our top Mesh wi-fi system. But what about the wifi six systems we tested?
Well, take a glance for yourself. As you’ll see, there’s not an enormous, across-the-board improvement in signal strength — but the AX6000, wifi 6 version of the Netgear Orbi was a standout, registering powerful signal strength near the router and extender. The latter might help explain why it had been ready to do so well in our tests, where wireless speeds near the extender were practically as fast as if I were connecting near the router itself.
That’s a far better result than I’ve seen from the other system I’m tested. It is a big reason why a $700 two-piece Orbi 6 system is that the only pick therein high-end class of pricy tri-band wifi six mesh setups that I’m currently comfortable recommending.
I’ve highlighted the opposite key takeaway within the adjacent GIF, which shows the complete, three-piece Eero set up coverage. No huge surprise, but that three-piece setup provided noticeably better coverage than the two-piece Nest and Netgear setups because we were ready to add a range extender down within the basement.
Translation: If you have an outsized home that’s 4,000 square feet or more, then you ought to prioritize getting a setup with quite one range extender. Last year’s wifi 5 version of Eero may be a good value pick at $100, but a three-piece Nest wifi kit, which costs $349 –, for Black Friday, you’ll get that three-piece Eero set up for just $174.
Even better? Inspect my top overall pick for giant homes, the three-piece Eero Pro 6 setup. At $599, it’s more of an upgrade pick, but it nets you a flowery tri-band design with full support for wifi 6.