PC

Smaller Orbi RBK23 mesh router just as capable

Netgear Orbi RBK23
Netgear Orbi RBK23

The latest RBK23, made up of three identical units, is for those who want a smaller, more compact system

Netgear continues to expand its range of whole-home Wi-Fi systems with the new Orbi RBK23, a set of three wireless nodes that work in tandem to boost wireless signals in the home.

Also known as mesh Wi-Fi routers, the Netgear Orbi was the first such off-the-shelf system to launch in Singapore in November 2016.

Netgear has since introduced a dizzying number of models, with each variant offering something slightly different, such as the inclusion of wall-plug units.

The latest RBK23 is for those who want a smaller, more compact offering. It consists of three identical units, though one is marked the router (that should be connected to your Internet modem) while the other two are marked satellites.

While it has been scaled down in size, the RBK23 retains the white oval, vase-like design of its Orbi siblings. The wireless nodes are heavier than they look.

Coloured LEDs at the top of the units convey the status of the connection - a solid blue light means a good link between the main router unit and the satellite, while a magenta glow indicates otherwise.

It has a dedicated backhaul wireless channel reserved for communication between the router and satellite units.

  • SPECS 

    PRICE: $569 

    ETHERNET INTERFACE: 2 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit 

    LAN STANDARDS: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 

    SECURITY: WPA/WPA2 ADVANCED FIREWALL

    FEATURES: NAT, DoS and SPI 

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5 

    DESIGN: 4/5 

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5 

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5 

    OVERALL: 4/5

This feature, typically found in more premium mesh Wi-Fi routers, helps to maintain good connection speeds.

Like most mesh Wi-Fi routers in the market, each RBK23 unit comes with two Gigabit Ethernet ports, though this is fewer than the four ports available on other Netgear Orbi models.

A star topology, where the router has to be connected wirelessly to each satellite, was used by early Orbi models.

But Netgear has since added support for a daisy-chain configuration. This means a satellite can be linked to another satellite instead of the router. Daisy chaining is more flexible when it comes to placing the satellites.

It can be set up in 10 to 15 minutes using the Orbi mobile app (available on Android and iOS).

Conveniently, the app can scan the QR code on each Orbi unit to start the process. Most of the set-up time is spent waiting for the satellite to sync with the main router unit.

Netgear says it takes about six minutes to complete the syncing. I did not time it, but the syncing process certainly took long enough that I almost rebooted the system.

The app can be used to monitor the network and make basic changes to the Orbi's settings. And it works remotely when your smartphone is outside the home network, though a Netgear account is required for this feature.

Compared with the Netgear Genie app that was previously used to manage all the Orbi routers, the Orbi app looks better and is easier to use.

But a Web browser is still required to access more advanced settings, such as port forwarding or adding a static route.

Netgear has partnered Circle to add parental control technology to all its Orbi routers.

Users who enable this feature on the Orbi can enjoy basic features such as tracking the browsing history of devices on the home network for free. A paid subscription is required for additional features such as setting time limits for Internet usage.

With a tested download speed of around 374Mbps, the RBK23 is about as fast as the original Orbi (382Mbps) that I tested more than a year ago.

While these speeds are among the best for its class, the RBK23 is pricey ($569) compared with its rivals.

In fact, its biggest competitor could be Netgear's older and hence less expensive Orbi models that perform just as well, though they are bigger in size.

•Verdict: Netgear's latest Orbi continues to impress with its performance, but its pricing is not competitive enough.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline 'Smaller Orbi mesh router just as capable'. Print Edition | Subscribe