Best mesh Wi-Fi systems of 2020

id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body”> If you’ve ever been frustrated by the dead zones in your home’s Wi-Fi network, then you might want to think about buying a mesh router, which uses range-extending satellite devices placed around the home to spread a speedy Wi-Fi signal from room to room. They’re typically pricier than a single-point, standalone wireless router, but a flood of new options released over the past year have brought the cost down quite a bit.

4 weeks agoChief among them are new systems from Eero, which popularized mesh networking before getting bought by Amazon earlier this year, as well as new offerings from Netgear Orbi and Google Nest. Mesh systems regularly sold for as much as $400 or even $500 a few years ago, but now all of these manufacturers offer a multipoint mesh router system that costs less than $300, if not less than $200.

We’ve still got lots of routers and mesh systems we’d like to try out — including some intriguing new options that use next-gen Wi-Fi 6 technology to promise better performance and faster speeds. But with plenty of speed and coverage tests already under our belt, we’re ready to make a couple of recommendations for anyone fed up with dead spots throughout their home.

Read more: The best Wi-Fi routers in 2020 

To help you choose the best mesh Wi-Fi system to meet your needs, here’s a rundown of how your top options stack up, along with other routers we tested them against, complete with test data for everything. Expect regular updates to this post in the coming months as more new Wi-Fi mesh routers come to market.

Best overall
Nest Wifi
Chris Monroe/CNET A few years ago, the Google Wifi became a breakout hit thanks to its easy setup and its ability to spread a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection throughout your home. Now, there’s the Nest Wifi, a second-gen follow-up that adds in faster top speeds and a better-looking design, plus Google Assistant smart speakers built into each range extender. The price is a little lower this time around, too — $269 for the two-piece setup above, with roughly the same area of Wi-Fi coverage as a three-piece, $300 Google Wifi setup from a few years back.

On average, the Nest Wifi notched the fastest top speeds that we saw from any Wi-Fi 5 mesh router (and faster speeds than the newest Linksys Velop system, which supports Wi-Fi 6 and costs more than twice as much). Plus, the two-piece setup offered enough signal strength to provide sufficient coverage at the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. It also aced our mesh tests, never once dropping my connection as I moved about my home taking speed tests. I never caught it routing my connection through the extender when connecting directly to the router was faster, either.

The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support might seem like a missed opportunity, but the Nest Wifi does include support for modern features like WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization, and 4×4 MU-MIMO connections that offer faster aggregate speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro that can use multiple Wi-Fi antennas at once. It’s also fully backwards compatible with previous-gen Google Wifi setups, which is a smart touch. All of it is easy to setup, easy to use and easy to rely on, making it the most well-rounded mesh router pick of the bunch, and the first one I’d recommend to just about anyone looking to upgrade their home network. Read our Nest Wifi review.

$269 at Best Buy Best for large homes
Eero
Chris Monroe/CNET Eero was an early pioneer of the mesh networking approach, and earlier this year, it got scooped up by Amazon. Now, with the CARA MENANG MAIN CEME ONLINE megaretailer’s backing, there’s a new Eero system that costs half as much as before — $190 for a three-piece setup that promises to cover up to 5,000 square feet. That’s a terrific price (and over $100 less than a three-piece setup from Nest).

Eero wasn’t the fastest mesh system we tested — in fact, it came in dead last when we looked at the top speeds for a single device from each system. Still, you won’t notice much a difference in your speeds compared to Netgear or Nest or any other system unless your home’s internet connection is 500 megabits per second or faster. 

What you will notice is that third device extending your range. In our coverage tests at the CNET Smart Home, it made a huge difference — and additional Wi-Fi devices cost $100 each, which is $50 less than Nest, making it less expensive to expand upon, too. Couple that with reliably sturdy mesh performance between devices, an excellent, easy-to-use app and a good company track record of support and security updates, and Eero fits right in as one of our top recommendations, particularly if you’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Read our Eero review.

$190 at Amazon Best performance
Netgear Orbi 6 (AX6000, tri-band)
Tyler Lizenby/CNET At a retail price of $700, the newest, brawniest version of the Netgear Orbi is too expensive to recommend outright — but if you just want the fastest mesh router money can buy, look no further.

With full support for Wi-Fi 6 and a second 5GHz band that serves as a dedicated backhaul connection for the router and its satellites, the powerful system was downright impressive in our tests, with top speeds of nearly 900Mbps at close range in our lab. That’s one of the fastest numbers we’ve ever seen from a mesh router in that test, and it only fell to 666Mbps at a distance of a 75 feet — which is still faster than we saw from Nest Wifi up close, just five feet away.

Things got even more impressive when we took the Orbi 6 home to test its performance in a real-world setting. With an incoming internet connection of 300Mbps serving as a speed limit, the system returned an average speed throughout the whole home of 289Mbps, including speeds at the farthest point from the router that were 95% as fast as when connecting up close. That’s an outstanding result — no other mesh router I’ve tested in my home comes close.

Again, the problem is the price. $700 is simply too expensive for most folks, especially given that you’ll need a connection of at least 500Mbps in order to notice much of a difference between this system and others we like that cost less than half as much. Other Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems coming in 2020 will cost a lot less, too — it definitely makes sense to wait for those if you can. Still, if the Orbi 6 ever goes on sale, I know I’ll be tempted. Read the Netgear Orbi 6 review.

$904 at Walmart $700 at Amazon $700 at Best Buy Best value
Netgear Orbi (AC1200, dual-band)
Ry Crist/CNET I did a double take the first time I saw the price tag for the slimmed down, dual-band version of the Netgear Orbi mesh router system. At $130 for a two-piece setup or $200 for a three-piece setup, it’s a clear value pick — and a dramatic turnaround from the original Netgear Orbi, which was way too expensive at $400 for a two-pack.

Netgear brought the cost down by sticking with Wi-Fi 5, ditching the built-in Alexa speaker that comes with Orbi Voice and eliminating the tri-band approach and its dedicated, 5GHz backhaul band that other Orbi systems use to connect each device in the mesh. I wonder if Netgear missed an an opportunity by not branding this system as “Orbi Lite.”

It all makes for a less robust mesh system than other Orbi setups, but I hardly noticed in my tests. Among the Wi-Fi 5 systems I’ve tested, the dual-band Netgear Orbi actually notched the fastest top speeds at close range, it kept up with the Nest and Eero in our real-world speed tests, and it offered excellent signal strength in the large-sized CNET Smart Home.

Netgear’s app isn’t as clean or intuitive as Nest or Eero’s, and the network didn’t seem quite as steady as those two as it steered me from band to band in my tests, but those are quibbles at this price. If you just want something affordable — perhaps to tide you over until you’re ready to make the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 — then the new Netgear Orbi definitely deserves your consideration. Read our Netgear Orbi review.

$129 at Walmart Enlarge ImageWi-Fi 6 systems from Arris, Netgear and Asus led our top speed tests, while the Nest Wifi router had the fastest average download speeds of the Wi-Fi 5 systems we tested (it even outperformed the Wi-Fi 6 version of Linksys Velop). Meanwhile, a single Eero device doesn’t perform well at range when used on its own.

Ry Crist/CNET Top speeds
As I said, we’ve already run a good number of speed tests with these systems. When we clocked the top wireless transfer speeds for a single router from each system, it was the AmpliFi Alien, the Arris Surfboard Max, the Netgear Orbi 6 and the Asus RT-AX92U that led the way with top speeds comfortably north of 800Mbps at close range. No surprise there, as each one supports Wi-Fi 6, the fastest version of Wi-Fi yet.

Behind those two was the Nest Wifi, which took fourth place for fastest average speeds across all distances. The Nest Wifi doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, but it still managed to finish one spot ahead of the newest Linksys Velop system, which does. The new, budget-friendly, Wi-Fi 5 version of Netgear Orbi impressed us, too — it was even faster than the Nest at close range.

Meanwhile, a single Eero device registered a top wireless transfer speed of just under 500Mbps at close range. At a distance of 75 feet (23 meters), the Eero’s speed plummeted to 45Mbps.

That’s a noteworthy result (and it jumps right out at you in that graph above), but keep in mind that most mesh systems feature dedicated router devices that are slightly different than the Wi-Fi extenders. With Eero, any device can act as a Wi-Fi router or a range extender. Each one is designed to build the best mesh possible, not necessarily to ace a standalone speed test like this one.

And remember also that these top speed tests take place in our lab. We wire each router to a MacBook Pro ( $1,053 at Walmart ) that acts as a local server, then download data from it to another laptop on the router’s Wi-Fi network. That lets us see how fast each router can move data without the variables and limitations that come with downloading data from the cloud via your internet service provider.

Enlarge ImageHere are the average download speeds by room for each Wi-Fi 5 system we tested in a small, 1,300-square-foot home with a 300Mbps internet connection. You won’t see much of a difference in speeds from system to system in such a small environment.

Ry Crist/CNET Real-world speeds
Top speed tests are one thing, but it’s important to also take a close look at how well these mesh routers perform when you add in the range extenders and pull data from the cloud, the way they’ll be used 99% of the time. So, I took each one home, set it up on my 300Mbps AT&T fiber network, and spent quite a bit of time running speed tests in order to find out.

Read more: Best internet providers in 2020

With a single range extender relaying the signal from each router, all three of our top-recommended Wi-Fi systems were able to register a whole-home average of about 200Mbps across a minimum of 90 speed tests each, all of them conducted at different times on different days and in different spots throughout my 1,300-square-foot house. In the room farthest from the router, each one clocked in with an average speed of about 150Mbps, which is a strong result.

Enlarge ImageHere’s a glimpse at the spreadsheet I use to record speed tests in my home, with my results from the Netgear Orbi Voice tests. Note the little red, orange and yellow blips — those are all points at which the mesh messed up, sometimes dropping my connection outright.

Ry Crist/CNET Same goes for the previous-gen Netgear Orbi Voice, which also performed well in this test as far as speeds are concerned. However, the system did a poor job of optimizing my connection as I moved throughout the house, often routing my signal through the extender when it would have been better to connect directly to the router, or vice versa. I didn’t have problems like that at all with the Nest or Eero.

Of those four Wi-Fi systems, the Eero netted the fastest average speeds at close range, while the Nest and Orbi Voice were slightly ahead at range, but none of the average speeds for any of the rooms I tested in were noticeably different from each other. 

That sort of indistinguishable performance is a strong argument in favor of the new Netgear Orbi, since it’s the cheapest. But there are two reasons why it isn’t my top overall pick. First, the app controls are clunkier and less helpful than the Nest or Eero. Second: Though the issue wasn’t as frequent as I experienced with the Orbi Voice, there were multiple points during my Orbi tests at which I lost my connection to the router as I moved about the house with my laptop. The Nest and Eero never dropped me as they automatically steered me from band to band within a single network for the best possible connection.

Enlarge ImageThe Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems I tested in my home were each able to perform noticeably better than previous-gen systems at range (the master bedroom and back bathroom). Even if your home uses Wi-Fi 5 gadgets (like mine does, where I run these tests), you’ll still benefit from that Wi-Fi 6 connection between the router and the satellite.

Ry Crist/CNET What about Wi-Fi 6?
I’ve tested five Wi-Fi mesh systems in my home that support the new, faster Wi-Fi standard — though it’s worth noting that I run my speed tests on a laptop with previous-gen Wi-Fi 5 hardware. I’ll likely make an upgrade here in 2020, but for now, it’s a good opportunity to see whether or not these new Wi-Fi 6 routers will make any sort of noticeable difference in a Wi-Fi 5 home like mine.

And, as it turns out, they actually do. Specifically, you can see better performance at range, with speeds that don’t dip as much in that master bedroom and back bathroom. With the top-performing Netgear Orbi 6 system, speeds didn’t even dip at all. Connecting near the satellite in that master bedroom and back bathroom was almost as good as connecting near the router itself in the living room.  

That likely stems from the fact that the router and the satellite are able to use Wi-Fi 6 to relay signals back and forth more efficiently, and at faster speeds. Even if you’re using a laptop that’s a couple of years old, like mine is, that means that connecting to the satellite at close range is just about as speedy as connecting to the router itself at close range. If you’re using Wi-Fi 6 devices, or if your connection is faster than mine (again, 300Mbps), you’re likely to see an even greater difference.