Best mesh routers for 2021 Best 2022 mesh switches for mesh devices for wired access

Best mesh routers for 2021 Best 2022 mesh switches for mesh devices for wired access ...

The last couple of years have shown that having a reliable Wi-Fi network at home is essential -- whether you're working or learning from home, gaming online with friends, or calling up loved ones for regular video chats. If you've developed such networking habits during the epidemic, you may have noticed that the signal from your router isn't as strong as you would like it to be in some areas of your house. Those wireless signals can only travel so far on their own before your speeds drop off, especially if your home's layout and construction present barriers that those signals must overcome.

Mesh routers are a great solution for this problem. With dozens of devices scattered throughout your home, a good mesh router is more like swarms of routers that can relay your wireless signal to the modem faster than if they were merely standalone router, especially when you're connecting close to range. With the correct system, you could enjoy wireless speeds that are about as fast as your network can be through the majority, or entire, of your home. Better yet, you won't have to juggle your connection between your main network and a separate extension network like you would with merely sizing up your range extender -- the mesh router will automatically route your connections within 'one network'.

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The problem is that mesh Wi-Fi systems are more expensive than range extenders and typically more costly than traditional, stand-alone routers. It may take a mesh setup with three or more devices to provide fast speeds in every room in your home if it's large. The good news is that new mesh competition has been increasing on the market in recent years, which has led to significant price drops. Though we'd advise aiming slightly higher, basic, entry-level mesh systems can be obtained for as little as $20 per device.

Some of the best mesh Wi-Fi models include systems from Eero, which popularized mesh networking before it was bought by Amazon in 2019, as well as the latest setups from Asus, Netgear Orbi, and Google Nest. Mesh systems, such as those that were once valued at $400 or even $500, have risen in popularity thanks to all of these manufacturers and others, who now offer multipoint mesh router systems -- including the main router and additional satellite devices, or nodes -- that cost less than $300, if not more than $200.

We've still got a lot of routers and mesh systems we'd like to try -- including dozens of Wi-Fi 6 technologies that promise better speed and better performance. More mesh routers that support Wi-Fi 6E, which means they can access a newly unlocked mass of bandwidth in the 6GHz band, should be available in coming months, too, but it's probably too early to invest in swanky devices like that (and, believe me, they won't be cheap).

Expect regular updates to this post as new Wi-Fi mesh routers like those debut on the market. For now, here are the top mesh routers we'd recommend for anyone considering the upgrade.

Overall, I would say that it's a great overall result.

Chris Monroe/CNET/Chris Monroe (Cnet/Christoph Monroe).
Nov 2019 Nov 2019. Nov 2019, Nov 19 2019 Nov 20 2019

Google Wifi was a huge hit several years ago due to its ease of setup and its ability to provide optimum Wi-Fi connectivity for all of your connected devices throughout your home. Now there's the Nest Wifi, a second-generation follow-up that offers faster internet speeds and sturdier design, as well as Google Assistant smart speakers that are integrated into each satellite extender. The price is a little lower this time around, too -- $269 for the two-piece setup above, with roughly the same Wi-Fi area coverage as if he had purchased oblivious to launching 'three-part, $300 Google Wifi setup from years ago.

On average, the Nest Wifi recorded the highest top speeds 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 sufficient signal strength to provide adequate coverage at the CNET Smart Home, which is 5,800 square feet. It also passed our mesh tests, never dropping my connection as I went about my house running speed tests. I never caught it routing my connect through the extender when connecting directly to the router was faster, either.

The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support may seem like a missed opportunity, but the Nest Wifi includes modern conveniences such as WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization, and 4x4 MU-MIMO connections that provide faster aggregate speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro that can use multiple Wi Fi antennas at once. It's also fully backward-compatible with previous-generation Google Wifi setups, which is a nice touch. All of it is easy to set up, easy-to-use, and easy for everyone to rely on, making it the most well-rounded mesh router of the bunch, as well as the first one I'd recommend to just about anyone upgrading a home network.

It was a little disappointing that we didn't see if Nest Wifi would be available in 2020 or 2021, but it may have been savvy on Google's part -- removing twi-band configurations like that will make Wi-Fi 6 more efficient for dedicated traffic between the router and its satellites, and tri- band designs like this become expensive quickly. I'd rather have a top-of-the-line Wi-Fi 5 system than an entry-level Wi Fi 6 system among dual-band mesh routers. Even with the Nest Wifi in its infancy, it fits the bill.

Read our Nest Wifi review.

$269 at Google Store.

Ideal for large families.

Amazon.com is a service that provides Amazon customer service.

Eero was an early adopter of the mesh networking approach, and in 2019 it was bought by Amazon. In 2020, we'll get two new versions of the Eero mesh router: the new EEro 6 and EERo Pro 6, both of which add support for -- you guessed it -- Wi-Fi 6.

Each system is priced at a value, resulting in obtaining.a three-piece setup with two range-extending satellites for about as much as some competitors charge for securing telecommunications equipment. The additional mesh Wi-Fi network extender will make a big difference in your speeds when you're connecting at range, which is great if you live in shady areas and need your Wi Fi network to cover surprisingly large areas.

I'd say the Eero Pro 6, which is $599 for a three-pack or less if you can score ya snooze. Unlike the regular Eero 6, which suffered with poor band-steering in my tests, the EEro Pro 6 setup I tested worked like a charm, spreading fast, reliable speeds throughout my home. It also has a three-band design with two 5GHz bands, which is critical for optimal mesh performance. It's also a great choice for Alexa users because of 'Zigbee radio' that pairs things like smart locks and smart lights with your voice assistant without having to buy additional hub hardware.

$599 isn't cheap by any stretch, but it's about as good a price as you'll find for twi-fi 6-enabled three-piece, tri-band mesh router. It's a worthy and sensible upgrade for large homes, so it'll be cherished by many. If you don't mind a three-piece system, consider the Eero Pro 6 two-pack, which costs $399.

Read our Eero Pro 6 review.

$229 at Amazon.com.
Best Buy sells you $229 at BestBuy.com.
Target offers $230 at Target for $230.

Best performance. Best performances.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET/Tyler Lizeby (CNet/ Tyler Lienb)/Jackson Lizerby

The Netgear Orbi AX6000 is too expensive to recommend outright -- but if you're looking for one of the fastest mesh routers money can buy, look no further.

With full Wi-Fi 6 support and a second 5GHz band that acts as 'backhaul' for the router and its satellites, the impressive device performed well in our tests, with top speeds of nearly 900Mbps at close range in the lab. That's one of the fastest numbers we've ever seen from a mesh router in that test, and it only slid to 666Mbps at 76 feet -- which is still faster than we saw from the Nest Wifi up close, just 5 feet away.

We took the Orbi AX6000 home to assess its performance in a real-world environment. With a 300Mbps incoming internet connection serving as limiting factor, the system returned average speeds of 289Mbps to Wi-Fi 5 devices and 367Mbps for WiFi 6, including speeds at the farthest point from the router that were 95% as fast as when connecting up close. No other mesh router I've tested in my home comes close to that.

Again, the problem is the price: $700 is simply too much for most people, especially considering that you'll need a connection of at least 500Mbps in order to notice if there's oblique difference between this system and others we like that cost less than half as much.

There's also the less expensive AX4200 version of the Orbi mesh system that costs $350. It's still a tri-band Wi-Fi router that supports Wi Fi 6, but it lacks the multigig WAN port found in the AX6000 model. We'll keep an eye on that one and update this page once we've tested it out.

Read our Netgear Orbi AX6000 review.

$674 at Amazon.com.
Walmart's $695 for $697 is great value for the $69.95.
Best Buy: $700 at BestBuy.com.

Best Wi-Fi 6 system in the market.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET Tyler Lidenby (CNet Tyler) Liz Enenbrough/Tyler Lizendby
Mar 2020 Mar 20 Mar 2019 Mar 21 Mar 2030 Mar 22 Mar2020 Mar 2 Mar 2015 Mar 02 Mar 2019, Mar Mar 05 Mar 20, 2020

It's not as fast as the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6, but the Asus ZenWiFi AX (model number XT8), which won an Editors' Choice Award, is a lot faster than the latter -- and at $450 or less for , it'll be surprisingly affordable to buy.

In reality, the ZenWiFi AX offers the same multigig WAN ports as the Orbi 6, the identical dedicated backhaul band to keep system transmissions separate from network traffic, and the exact same ease of setup and stable mesh performance, as well as a similar strong range performance. It even comes in white or black, so you can choose between two.

I also appreciated the depth of control in the Asus app, which allows you to control your network and customize that backhaul as you see fit. If $450 is a little too much for your wallet, know that there's Asus ZenWiFi AX Mini, which is an upgraded version of the system. It isn't as powerful or a tri-band system as its big brother, but it comes with three devices that all support Wi-Fi 6, which makes it interesting. There's also a new dual-band ZenWifi system scheduled for 2021, the ZenDWift XD6 -- it was impressive but it suffered in my tests, and it doesn't cost as much as the xT8 here. Between the three of them, the XT8 is the one I'd buy.

Read our Asus ZenWiFi AX review.

$375 at Amazon.com.
Walmart's Walmart Price $444 is $44.44 per item.
Best Buy is offering $450 at BestBuy.com.

Best value for money.

Ry Crist/CNET/ Ry CRIST/ CNET

The first time I saw the Netgear Orbi mesh router system's slimmed down, dual-band version, I did a double take. It's a solid value pick, and reflects soaring sales from the original Netgear Orbi, which cost $400 for dozens of consumers.

Netgear cut costs by sticking with Wi-Fi 5, ditching the built-in Alexa speaker that comes with the Orbi Voice, and skipping the tri-band approach and the dedicated 5GHz backhaul band that other Orbiti systems utilize to connect each device in the mesh. Netgear missed an opportunity by not branding this system as "Orbi Lite."

It all makes for a less robust mesh system than other Orbi configurations, but I didn't notice it in my tests. The dual-band Netgear Orbi achieved the fastest top speeds at close range among the Wi-Fi 5 systems I've tested, it matched the Nest and Eero in our real-world speed tests, and it had outstanding signal strength in the large-sized CNET Smart Home.

Netgear's app isn't as intuitive or clean as Nest' or Eero', and the network didn'' t look quite as steady as those two when I went from band to band in my tests, but that'd be a shame at this price. If you're looking for something affordable -- perhaps to tide you over until you are ready to make the switch to Wi-Fi 6 -- then the new Netgear Orbi is definitely worth your consideration.

Read our Netgear Orbi AC1200 review.

Target: $200 for $200 at Target.
Lenovo, which has a market capitalization of $310, provides 310 dollars.
Crutchfield, $200 at Crunch Field, $600 at Thorntonfield.

Top speeds are the highest speeds available.

As I mentioned earlier, we've already done a number of speed tests with these devices. When we looked at the top wireless transfer speeds for a single Wi-Fi router from each system, the Eero Pro 6 dominated with 'close-range top speed' of 1,008Mbps. It's the only mesh router we've tested that surpassed gigabit speeds in this test. Meanwhile, the AmpliFi Alien, Arris Surfboard Max, Netgear Orbi 6, Netgeek Nighthawk, and Asus RT-AX92U performed well, each with top speeds comfortably nearing 800Mbps at close range. No surprise there, as they all support Wi-Fi 6, the fastest version of Wii yet.

In this test, the Nest Wifi took the top spot among Wi-Fi 5 mesh routers. The budget-friendly, AC1200 version of the Netgear Orbi impressed us, too -- it was even faster than the Nest at close range.

Just know that these high speed tests are conducted in our lab. We connect each router to a MacBook Pro that acts as 'local server' and download data from it to another laptop on the router's Wi-Fi network. That allows us to see how quickly each router can move data without the variables and limitations that come with downloading data from the cloud via your internet service.

Real-world speeds are comparable to real-time speeds.

Top speed tests are one thing, but it's also important to examine 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. I took each one home, connected it to my 300Mbps AT&T fiber network, and spent a lot of time running speed tests to find out.

a Dell XPS 13 laptop that uses Wi-Fi 5, with separate speed tests on an iPhone 12 Pro that supports WiFi 6. I performed the majority of these at-home tests using an xPS13 laptop with Wi Fi 5, and separate test tests with an iphone 12 pro that support Wi fi 6. In order to get a feel for how these routers perform with both current- and previous-generation hardware, I'll continue to run tests on both types of client devices.

For more information on my entire review, go here. Moderner client computers that support Wi-Fi 6 will typically be able to reach sustained speeds that are considerably faster than those found with older, Wii 5 devices -- but older-gen devices such as those that do not support wi-fi 6 may still benefit from a mesh router that supports WisFi 6.

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My data indicates improved range performance, with speeds that didn't drop as much in the master bedroom and back bathroom. Speeds barely slowed with the top-performing Netgear Orbi AX6000 system. Connecting my old laptop to the satellite in that master bedroom and back bathroom was as easy as connecting it to a router in the living room.

That likely results from the fact that the router and satellite are able to utilize Wi-Fi 6 to relay signals more efficiently and at faster speeds. The Orbi AX6000's tri-band design also does a lot of lifting, as it allows the system to dedicate an entire 5GHz band to backhaul transmissions between the router and satellite.

Just be aware that adding an extra band to the mix increases the price. The Asus models I tested cost about $400, while the Linksys Velop MX10, AmpliFi Alien, Arris Surfboard Max Pro, and Netgear Orbi AX6000 systems cost approximately $600 or $700 for a two-pack. Of them all, I like the Asus ZenWiFi AX the most -- that one performed well behind the Netgear Orbi Ax6000 and at $450, it costs about $250 less than that top-of-the-line system.

The Eero Pro 6 is another strong option, with a tri-band design and Wi-Fi 6 support. That one costs $599 for a three-pack, which is still high, but less than just about any other system as it charges for one.

I also tried the Netgear Nighthawk mesh Wi-Fi system, which supports WiFi 6, but doesn't have an extra backhaul band. That means that your network traffic has to share bandwidth with the transmissions between the router and the satellite, but it also reduces the cost. At $230 for a two-pack, it's surprisingly appealing, but the performance was too weak to recommend it.

Another option is the TP-Link Deco X20 mesh router. I tested that one out at my home, but we won't be able to test its top speeds in our lab until later this year. At $270 for a three-piece system -- and with full Wi-Fi 6 support -- the Deco X20 is basically the same thing as Amazon's standard, non-Pro Eero 6 system, but it did ostensibly better in my at-home tests of steering me to the right band, which increased its overall speeds.

It's also worth noting that your router can only retrieve data from the cloud as fast as your internet connection allows. With the average download speed in the United States currently hovering around 100Mbps, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to push a Wi-Fi 6 router to its full potential anytime soon -- though, like I said, you will see slightly faster speeds to client devices that support WiFi 6.

If you don't have Wi-Fi 6, there's nothing wrong with skipping it and switching to a previous-gen, WiFI 5 option in order to save money. I've tried a number of bargain picks like that -- the AC1200 version of Netgear Orbi, currently available in ten packs for $125, is my top recommendation, with the right balance of performance and value. If you want to get really cheap, you can opt for a system like Vilo, which costs just $20 per device, plus shipping. It's the slowest mesh router I've ever tested, which isn't bad, but it was still functional and able to maintain average download speeds of 100Mbps in that back bathroom of mine.

Quality of coverage Quality levels of protection

Speed tests are all well and good, but a mesh router system is simply too expensive for squatting in. We opted for the CNET Smart Home, a four-bedroom, 5,800-square-foot home on the edge of Louisville, Kentucky, for our next test. Our goal is to determine which system provided the strongest signals and Wi-Fi access throughout the whole building.

We first calculated the home's upstairs and downstairs floor plans and then fed that information into NetSpot' s free software for measuring signal strength. We chose the most appropriate spots for routers and range extenders, as well as dozens of precise points from which to measure each network's signal strength, both inside the home and outside.

We then set up each router we were testing and spent a day taking measurements. What resulted was a colorful set of neat heat maps that showed us just how intense the signal is from room to room.

A couple of things about those heat maps. To be fair, we measured a two-piece setup for each system -- one router and one extender. We may do additional tests with two extenders in play if the system includes one, as was the case with the 2019 Eero system we used, but for these heat maps, we wanted to give you a good comparative look at how these systems perform.

Second, we placed each router and extender in the exact same spot for each test -- the software approximates their location, which is why it looks like they're in slightly different locations from map to map.

Finally, it's worth noting that these graphs only show the total signal strength of each system in the house, not their actual download speeds. That being said, better signal strength leads to faster wireless connections. My testing partner-in-chief Steve Conaway summarised it this way: "Yellow means you're in heaven, green means good enough, and blue means WTF."

The first thing that we noticed from our coverage tests was that the Netgear Orbi AC1200 delivered a strong signal to the basement, even with the router and range extender located upstairs. That ties with our speed test data, in which the Netgear kept up with the Nest and the Eero at range. These coverage tests suggest that the Netgear may outperform those two systems entirely in a large-sized home.

Those three -- the Nest, the 2019 Eero, and the dual-band, AC1200 version of the Netgear Orbi -- are our top Wi-Fi 5 devices. But what about the Wi-Fi 6 devices we tested?

Take a look. As you can see, there isn't a significant, across-the-board improvement in signal strength -- but the AX6000, Wi-Fi 6 version of the Netgear Orbi was notably strong, with particularly strong signal quality near the router and extender. The latter might explain why it performed so well in our tests, when wireless speeds near the extender were practically as fast as if I were connecting near to the router itself.

That's a better result than I've seen from any other system I have tested, and it''es one of the main reasons why sizing 1.750 dollars for 'two-piece' Orbi 6 is the only option in the expensive tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh setups that I am currently comfortable recommending.

In the adjacent GIF, I've highlighted the other important takeaway, which is the coverage for the whole, three-piece Eero setup. No big surprise, but that three-piece setup provided noticeably better coverage than the two-part Nest and Netgear setups, because we were able to add an additional range extender down in the basement.

If you've got a 4,000 square foot or more home, you should consider getting fewer range extenders. Even better! Check out my top pick for large homes, the three-piece Eero Pro 6 setup. It's more of a upgrade pick than if it were aimed at $599 (and is currently on sale for $479). It also comes with deluxe tri-band design and Wi-Fi 6 support, and it'll cost you $549 (which is presently on offer for $379) to get you upscale triband support.

What about Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E is a new designation for Wii 6 devices that are equipped to send data in the 6GHz band, which routers could not do until recently, when the Federal Communications Commission voted to open that band to unlicensed use. The 6GHz band has more than twice as much bandwidth as the 5GHz range, and there aren't any older-generation Wi-Fi devices using it, so the idea is that it's like a private, multilane highway for your internet traffic.

There are already a couple of routers that support Wi-Fi 6E that are available for purchase. The Linksys Velop Atlas Max 6E mesh system, which costs $900 for a two-pack, or $1,200 for an three-Pack, is one of the most expensive mesh routers you can currently buy.

Wi-Fi 6E routers like those are certainly impressive hardware, but I won't be recommending that anyone buy one this year. Remember, the only devices that can connect over 6GHz are other Wi-Fi 6E devices, and, aside from the Samsung Galaxy S21 and a handful of others, there are currently hardly any on the market.

Even if you do own a device like that, you'll most likely be better off on the 5GHz band than on 6GHz. Seriously. In most cases, both bands will top out at the speed you're paying for from your internet provider, but the 6GHz band has a significantly shorter range than 5GHz.

Just take a look at my at-home test-data for that Atlas Max setup below. The Galaxy S21 was used to perform a complete set of speed tests for each of the router's three bands, with the main router in my living room and solitary extender in the master bedroom. The router performed well, but it's the green 5GHz band that performed best. As I walked away from the main router, the 6GHz band, shown in yellow, saw its speeds drop. As I approached the extender, the speeds on 5GHz increased a bit, but I didn't notice lingering differences in latency.

That sluggish range also undercuts the assumption that the 6GHz band will improve mesh systems by acting as the backhaul band for the router and its satellites. If you're using the 6GHz band as the backhaul, you won't be able to distribute those satellites as evenly throughout your home. That means you may have to acquire a second satellite to cover the area -- and with Wi-Fi 6E, it's hefty. The new Wi-Fi 6E mesh router from Netgear Orbi still uses a 5GHz band as the backhaul, which is perhaps surprising.

That's not to say that Wi-Fi 6E is a flimsy upgrade. It's just too early to commit. With so much available bandwidth and so little interference from other devices, the 6GHz band might prove ideal for next-generation, high-bandwidth connections, such as wireless VR headsets, which require to move a lot of data at relatively close range with as little distraction as possible. But that's not a good argument to make for buying in now, before those devices even exist, and when Wi-Fi 6E costs an arm and limb. If you're in a large public venue such as an airport or stadia, utilizing octa-core 6GHz networks are advisable due to their relatively high speeds, plenty of room for everyone's traffic, and fewer devices competing for bandwidth. But that's an argument for getting a Wi-Fi 6E phone or laptop, not securing it with tv.

As more Wi-Fi 6E systems come onto the market, I'll continue to test them and I have more tests planned for the Atlas Max, so stay tuned. When I have more data to share on 6E, I'll post it here, but for now, don't rush out to buy a Wi-Fi 6 E router, mesh or otherwise.

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FAQs for Mesh routers

Have a question? Look me up on Twitter (@rycrist) or send a message directly to my inbox by clicking the little envelope icon on my CNET profile page. In the interim, I'll post answers to any frequently asked questions in the comments.

Is a mesh router better than 'a regular router'?

With multiple devices working together to provide a reliable connection over x-ray space, deploying t-shirts or hats is often better than utilizing merely one, standalone router, especially in small to large homes. In a home or apartment that's less than 1,500 square feet, utilizing swivel routers may be more hardware than you need.

Yet, even tiny houses have dead zones, and mesh routers will help address such problems much better than regular router. My home is 1,300 square feet, and it's a good example. My 300Mbps fiber speeds in the back rooms farthest from the router typically drop to double or even single digits with an average, single-point router like the one provided by my ISP. In those back rooms, I can still reach triple-digit speeds, which are about as fast as when I'm connecting closer to the router.

Is mesh Wi-Fi a substitute for your router?

Yes -- a mesh router will replace your existing router.

You'll need to connect one of the devices in the system to your modem using an Ethernet cable, like your current router, to set one up. From there, you'll plug in the other mesh devices in your home that are already in use, so they can boost the signal and send your traffic back to the modem-connected device whenever you connect from more than a few rooms away.

What are the disadvantages of a mesh network?

Mesh routers are useful for maintaining constant speed throughout your entire home, and the best of the bunch are capable of reaching gigabit speeds. Single-point, standalone routers typically cost less than mesh router models with comparable specs, so they'll typically offer higher top speeds for the same price.

Mesh routers have often fewer ports than single-point router systems, as well. Some lack USB jacks, while others restrict you to only one or two spare Ethernet ports for wired connections to media streamers, smart home bridges and other common peripherals. Several mesh routers do not include any additional ports on the satellite extenders.

You may also experience a tiny increase in latency when the system is routing your connection through one of the satellite extenders -- in my tests, it usually results in merely noticing tens of milliseconds per ping.

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