Hardware Review: NetGear Orbi Mesh WiFi System Covers Lots of Space, at a Cost UPDATED

UPDATE: It’s been four years since I wrote this, and it’s worth adding some new information. First, the Netgear Orbi has been the most reliable wi-fi system I have ever owned. I’m still very happy with it. However, I’m surprised that the price hasn’t dropped much, especially for additional satellites.

Late last year, I moved my base station and satellite in my home, and found that I need an additional satellite to cover a sitting room, but also to get coverage in my garden. At the time, it cost around £200 for a satellite; that’s ridiculous, since the package of one base station and a satellite has dropped to around £229. I eventually got a satellite when Amazon had a deal on it, for around £130, and, at the time, was torn between upgrading to a newer Orbi system or continuing with this one.

Netgear now sells two wi-fi 6 systems, which offer a number of new technologies from faster speeds, to the ability to handle more devices. While you may not see much of a difference in speed on a wi-fi 6 system, you will when you have a lot of devices on your network. However, only those devices that support wi-fi 6 will be affected by those speeds. This article explains what wi-fi 6 offers.

Netgear has two wi-fi 6 Orbi systems. This one, which is on an Amazon deal as I write this, costs around £195, and offers speeds of up to 1.8 Gbps. The more expensive model, offering speeds of up to 4.2 Gbps, is around £450. The more expensive system is really overkill, and since I don’t have enough wi-fi 6 devices – only my iPhone and MacBook Air have wi-fi 6 – it’s not worth upgrading, for now. Also, the speeds I get are more than sufficient: I get around 500-800 Mbps in my office, and 200-300 Mbps in other parts of the house. While I do now have gigabit fiber, the only computer that needs the highest speed transfers is my iMac, which is wired via Ethernet. As long as my Orbi is still working, I’ll keep it.

In June 2016, I moved into a large, old farmhouse just outside of Stratford-upon-Avon. In my previous home – an old barn conversion – I used an Apple AirPort Extreme, which covered the house sufficiently. That house had thick stone walls, and was on three floors, and it seemed that the router, well placed at the center of the ground floor, spread perfectly in the space, providing excellent coverage of the entire house. However, it didn’t cover the back garden much; not even a table just next to the conservatory at the back.

The new house is a challenge. It doesn’t have the same thick stone walls, but it’s quite large; about 3,200 sq. ft. In addition, there’s no easy location to place my router to get optimal coverage. My internet comes in to one of the ground floor rooms in the corner, and leaving the router there meant that much of the house was dark. Running a flat Ethernet cable out into the hall worked a lot better, but it still didn’t cover all the rooms on the top floor sufficiently, and coverage on the patio outside wasn’t very good.

There are lots of wifi extenders, and other systems you can use to cover a large space, but they’re a bit complex to set up, and their throughput isn’t great. So I thought I’d try out the NetGear Orbi, which was released a few months ago. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

With the main router in the same location as before, and the satellite toward the back of the house upstairs, every room in the house is covered, and even the patio and much of the large garden now have coverage as well. It took a bit of testing to find the ideal location for the satellite. The main router is placed at the bottom of the stairs, about 1/3 of the way from the front door, and the satellite is on the first floor about 2/3 of the way from the front door. (If that makes sense…) This results in a good connection between the two devices, full coverage upstairs, and, since the satellite is near the door to a room that looks out on the garden, coverage outdoors as well.

The Orbi offers two networks; a standard network plus a guest network. So you can activate and deactivate the guest network whenever you want, setting a less secure password for your guests, but they won’t be on the same network as your devices. The main router has four ethernet ports and a USB port; I have my Philips Hue controller connected to it, and you can connect a hard drive if you want. And the satellite has four ethernet ports as well.

The Orbi is available in two versions, each with a router and satellite, and a third version which includes the router and a small wall-plug satellite. You can add another satellite using their app or setup system, if you need more coverage. (Satellites were not available individually when the device was released, and I see that, while you can buy them in the US, they’re not yet for sale in the UK.)

This is what’s called a mesh wifi system; the tri-band router and satellite don’t lose bandwidth extending the network, which is the case if you use a standard network extension system. Devices automatically connect to the more powerful router, generally the one closest, and multiple devices connected don’t slow down throughput. There are several mesh wifi systems available now, and expect this technology to become more common (and hopefully less expensive).

Some reviewers have noted that the Orbi has slowed down their internet connection. I don’t connect to the internet with the Orbi; I have this connected to my ISP’s router via ethernet. I’ve always found that solution to be better; the ISP’s routers tend to connect more reliably.

The Orbi is pricey; at nearly $400 or £400, it’s quite an investment. But if you have a large home, or a small business, it’s a brain-dead simple way of getting good coverage. The wifi is fast and reliable, and drop-outs are rare. If you’re tired of trying to get a single router to work in a large home, it’s worth trying out the Orbi.

The Next Track, Episode #39 — Storing Media on a Network-Attached Storage Device

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxDoug and Kirk discuss storing a media library on a network-attached storage device. We focus on using a NAS with iTunes, but there’s some useful information for those using a NAS with other media software.

Listen to The Next Track: #39 — Storing Media on a Network-Attached Storage Device.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Turn On FTP on a Mac Running OS X El Capitan

There are lots of ways you can transfer files between Macs, and one of these is to use FTP. This method of file transfer can be practical if you have a lot of files to copy, and you want to manage how many get sent at a time.

Turning on FTP in OS X is quite simple, but it’s not easy to find. Go to the Sharing pane in System Preferences, and then enable Remote Login.

Remote login

This enables both FTP (or, more accurately, SFTP, or secure FTP), and SSH (secure shell). You can then use your favorite FTP client to copy files to and from that Mac.

How to Set Up an iTunes Library on a Network Attached Storage Device (NAS)

If you have a large iTunes library, you may have reached the point where you need to offload some of your media files to another drive. There are several ways you can do this. You can connect an external hard drive to your Mac, and use that to store your iTunes Media folder. If you use an iMac, this is probably the easiest choice. However, if you use a laptop, you may not want the hassle of connecting and disconnecting an external drive whenever you want to use iTunes.

Another option is to use a network attached storage device, or NAS. This is a storage device that your Mac connects to over your network–usually via Wi-Fi, but you can also use Ethernet–and that can give you vastly more storage, especially if your Mac has an internal SSD.

If you use both iTunes and another network device or app–such as Plex, a hi-fi media streamer, or Sonos’ wireless home audio system–you can use the NAS to store media that other devices can access too. You won’t need to ensure that your Mac is always on.

In this article, I’ll discuss how you can set up iTunes to use a NAS, and I’ll point out some issues you need to be aware of to ensure that iTunes works correctly.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

Learn How to Manage Your AirPort Network with Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network

WifiOver the years, I’ve had problems with my wi-fi networks, and my go-to guide has always been Glenn Fleishman’s Take Control ebook covering the topic. He’s just updated it again, and the new edition, Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network, is a compendium of tips and strategies for setting up and managing a network.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Join Wi-Fi wizard Glenn Fleishman and learn to create a fast, reliable, and secure Apple Wi-Fi network using 802.11ac or 802.11n AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and Time Capsule base stations.

You’ll find plenty of practical directions for working with Apple’s AirPort Utility configuration software (for Mac and iOS), including steps for setting up a base station, swapping in new gear, adding base stations to extend your network’s range, attaching USB drives or shared printers, enabling security, creating a guest network, and more. (For help with older gear or versions of AirPort Utility, the ebook includes a free download of any prior edition, dating back to 2004.)

You’ll also learn about what’s going on behind the scenes. If you better understand channels and bands, for instance, you may be able to reconfigure your network to dramatically improve performance. And, Glenn provides advice and directions for coping with tricky IP situations.

The book also provides directions for setting up a cellular iOS device as an Internet hotspot, and it discusses Apple’s Instant Hotspot feature.

If you use Macs, and have a wi-fi network, Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network is the book you need to make sure it runs smoothly.