May 29, 2022

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Future Technology

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: A Solid Fight


If you’re on the market for a top-tier Wi-Fi 6E mesh Wi-Fi system, you must be aware of the Netgear RBKE960 series (available as the 3-pack RBKE963) and the 2-pack Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12.

And maybe that’s why you’re reading this ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960 matchup post, which is intended to be the supplement to their full reviews.

In any case, you’ll quickly learn about the similarities and differences between these two and find out what to bring home, if at all, by the end of this page.

Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Netgear Orbi RBKE960
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Here are the router unit of the two. Both are powerful and large Wi-Fi machines.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: More differences than similarities

Right off the bat, these two are Wi-Fi 6E hardware that supports the top-tier 4×4 specs on all of the frequencies, including 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6Ghz.

They are also ready for Multi-Gig wired backhauls and will work great for a wired home. Both are expensive. The Orbi costs a bit more at $1500 for a 3-pack, while the Asus’ 2-pack goes for $900 for a 2-pack.

Finally, both are large physically, possibly among the largest routers you’ve seen. And that’s a good thing. Powerful broadcasters need to be of a certain size to deliver, as I explained in detail in this post about Wi-Fi antennas.

And the similarities end there. Let’s check out their differences, starting with the hardware specs.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Hardware specifications

ZenWiFi Pro ET12
Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System
Netgear Orbi
RBKE960 Series
Model ET12 Router: RBRE960
Satellite: RBSE960
Mesh-Ready Yes 
(2-pack)
Multiple identical routers
Yes 
(3-pack)
Router + Satellite(s)
Pre-Synced Hardware Yes Yes
Dedicated Backhaul
(default)
No  Yes (5GHz-2)
Wired Backhaul Yes Yes
(5GH-2 band unavailable to clients)
Multi-Gig Wired Backhaul Ready out of the box
Satellite daisy-chance
2nd satellite requires
a Multi-Gig switch
Dimensions 
(WxDxH)
4.53 x 4.53 x 9.45 in
(11.5 x 24.1 x 11.5 cm)
11 x 7.5 x 3.3 in
(27.94 x 19.05 x 8.38 cm)
Weight 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg) 3 lbs lb (1.36 kg)
Wi-Fi Designation Tri-band AXE11000 Quad-band AXE11000
1st Band
(2.4GHz)
4 x 4 AX 
Up to 1,148Mbps
(20/40MHz)
4 x 4 AX 
Up to 1,148Mbps
(20/40MHz)
2nd Band
(5GHz)
4 x 4 AX 
Up to 4800Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
5GHz-1 4×4 AX
Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
3rd Band 6GHz
4×4 AXE 
Up to 4800Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
6GHz
4×4 AXE 
Up to 4800Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4th Band None 5GHz-2 4×4 AX
Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
Backward Compatibility 802.11ac/n/g/a/b 802.11ac/n/g/a/b
Mobile App Asus Router Netgear Orbi
Web User Interface Yes
(comprehensive)
Yes
(neutered)
Login Account Required No Yes
Features Comprehensive, free Add-on premium
subscriptions via mobile app
AP Mode Yes
(as a router or a mesh)
Yes
(as a router or a mesh)
USB Port None None
Gigabit Port 2x LAN Router: 3x LAN
Satellite: 3x LAN
Multi-Gig Port 1x 2.5Gbps WAN
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
Router: 1x 10Gbps WAN, 1x 2.5Gbps LAN
Satellite: 1x 2.5 Gbps LAN
Link Aggregation Yes
(WAN and LAN)
No
Dual-WAN Yes Yes
USB Port None None
Processing Power 2.0GHz quad-core CPU, 
256 MB Flash, 1GB RAM
Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
Firmware Version
(at review)
3.0.0.4.386_47636 6.0.3.68_3.1.9
Release Date February 2022 October 2021
US Retail Price
(at launch)
$899.99 (2-pack) $1,499.99 (3-pack)
$599 (add-on Satellite)
Hardware specifications: ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs ZenWi-Fi ET8

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Differences in hardware

Though equally designed to stand upright, the hardware looks totally different. The ZenWiFi takes the shape of a square tower with a fancy light on top, and the Oribi is more of a simple white (or black) curvy box.

Rigid vs flexible mesh hardware

As a mesh system, The Orbi RBKE960’s hardware is a bit restrictive.

Like all previous Orbi sets, it includes a router and one more satellite. An Orbi router and Orbi satellite can’t neve work as the role of each other. In other words, if you have two Orbi routers, you can’t use one as a satellite.

What’s more, the Orbi RBRE960 router will work with the satellites of previous Wi-Fi 6 Orbi sets, namely the RBK850 or RBK750 series, but it will not work with any Wi-Fi 5 Orbi hardware.

On the other hand, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 includes identical hardware units — you can use each as a standalone router. And featuring AiMesh, each unit will work with all existing AiMesh routers as the main router or a satellite.

So, a whole piece of hardware, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is much more versatile than the Orbi RBKE960 series. And the two have many differences when you look more closely, too.

Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Quad-band Mesh Wi-Fi 6E System

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The Netgear Orbi RBKE960 uses two types of exclusive hardware units, router, and satellite, while the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 uses the same routers in both roles.

Multi-Gig wired backhaul, 10Gbps vs 2.5Gbps

Both solutions feature Multi-Gig ports.

The Orbi RBRE router has one 10Gbps WAN port and one 2.5Gbps LAN port, and the RBSE satellite has a 2.5Gbps LAN port.

As a result, out of the box, you can use the router and one satellite with a Multi-Gig wired backhaul — you connect the two using a network cable. But if you want to use more satellite via this type of super-fast backhaul, you’ll need a Multi-Gig switch in between then.

Each ZenWiFi Pro ET12 router doesn’t have a 10Gbps port, but it has two 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig ports (one WAN and one LAN).

As a result, you can use it with Multi-Gig wired backhaul no matter how many units you want to use in the mesh — you can daisy-chain the pieces. A Multi-Gig switch works, too, but is optional.

Dedicated backhaul band, Tri-band (160MHz) vs Quad-band (80MHz)

The Orbi RBKE960 is a Quad-band solution — the first of its type on the market. As a result, the Orbi uses the 5GHz-2 band as its dedicated backhaul band in a wireless mesh configuration. You can’t pick any other band for this job.

It’s worth noting that the 5GHz-2 band only works as backhaul — it never hosts clients (front-haul), even when you use wired backhauls. That’s the case with all Tri-band Orbi hardware. Also, none of the Orbi’s band features the 160MHz channel width, effectively capping at just half of the 4×4 specs at 2400Mbps.

The ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is a new Tri-band router that supports the 160MHz channel width of both the 5GHz and 6Ghz bands. As a result, it has no dedicated backhaul band. But even with signal loss, either of its 5GHz or 6GHz bands can deliver a 2400Mbps backhaul link.

It is worth noting, though, that the 160MHz channel width on the 5GHz band is susceptible to DFS interference, so chances are you might need to use it in the 80MHz. In this case, when used as backhaul, the 5GHz link will be 1200Mbps after signal loss.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 AiProtection Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Wi Fi Settings

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The former has a much richer web interface than the latter.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: Differences firmware and mobile apps

The firmware is where the Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is decidedly better than the Netgear Orbi RBKE960.

For one, the Asus has a robust web interface with many free features, including QoS, AiProtection, Parental Controls, and so on. You can also use the Asus Router app to manage most if not all of these features and settings.

Most importantly, neither the app nor the web interface requires a login account with Asus. For remote access, you can use the router built-in Dynamic DNS, which, by the way, includes a free SSL certificate which will help avoid the dreadful security/privacy message when you log in remotely.

On the other hand, Netgear has been entering its hardware’s local web interface and free features, and the RBKE960 is one of the latest hardware with this treatment.

Specifically, the company has been removing certain free features, including remote web-based management, from the hardware to coerce users into using the mobile app.

Not only you must register an account with Netgear — privacy risks implied — to fully enjoy Orbi, you have to pay for annual subscriptions for features that once were free, including Parental Controls and QoS.

Asus Mobile App Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Mobile App

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The Asus Router app comes with everything you’d need, while the Orbi App will nag you to pay subscriptions for features that were once free.

Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12

Pros

Wi-Fi 6E-ready, extensive Wi-Fi coverage with top performance in specific setups with possible fast Wi-Fi performance in certain setups

Dual Multi-Gig pots with Multi-Gig wired backhaul, flexible port configurations

Excellent performance and coverage as a standalone router

Tons of useful features and settings, flexible Wi-Fi customization

AiMesh 2.0 full support, helpful mobile app, no login account required

Cons

Bulky, no USB, only four network ports

Fluctuating performance as a fully wireless mesh due to the lack of a dedicated backhaul band

Expensive, not wall-mountable

You can see how the two compare in the chart below in terms of performance. They deliver similarly in performance overall, with the ZenWiFi having faster sustained rates in most cases, by small margins.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960 Mesh Router Performance
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The router unit’s performance

Note that the Orbi doesn’t allow using its 6GHz band as the backhaul. As a result, I could only test it via 5GHz backhaul (dedicated, default) or wired Multi-Gig backhaul.

ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960 Mesh Satellites Performance
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs Orbi RBKE960: The satellite units’ performance
<WB>: Wired backhaul, via a 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig connection
<5BH>: The 5GHz band working as the backhaul — the 5GHz-2 of the Orbi
<6GHz>: The 6GHz band working as the backhaul — not available in the Orbi
Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Quad band Mesh Wi Fi 6E System Box

Pros

Powerful hardware with Quad-band Wi-Fi and Multi-Gig wired backhaul support

Excellent Wi-Fi coverage, fast performance

More Wi-Fi networks than previous Orbis, including two additional virtual SSIDs

Cons

No web-based Remote Management, few free features, Mobile app (with a login account and even subscriptions) is required to be useful

Rigid Multi-Gig ports’ roles, few Multi-Gig ports

The 2nd 5GHz-band is unavailable to clients even with wired backhauls, no 160MHz channel width on 5GHz

Limited Wi-Fi customization, bulky design

First of all, you should consider either of these two if you have a broadband connection that’s 500Mbps or faster. Folks with slower Internet should get something more affordable instead.

While either will work in a fully wireless configuration, in this case, the Orbi has the edge over the former in terms of reliability, thanks to its dedicated backhaul band.

On the other hand, in a wired configuration, the Orbi still loses half of its 5GHz spectrum. And this use case is where the ZenWiFi shines.

That said, strictly from Wi-Fi coverage and performance points of view:

  • For a wired home: The ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is the best fit. If you want to extend the coverage, get a third unit or you can also consider the GT-AXE11000 as the main router.
  • For a fully or partially wired home: The Orbi RBKE960 Series is likely a better choice. It’ll work well in a fully wireless or mixed wired and wireless setup, since its 5GHz-2 band is always working as teh dedicated backhaul anyway.

But if you factor in the free features, costs, and privacy concerns, it’s best to get your home wired and go with the ZenWiFi Pro ET12. Wiring is always the optimal way to extend your Wi-Fi coverage anyway.

And in that case, there are other more affordable wired mesh options, including those that support Multi-Gig wired AiMesh, especially if you want to skip Wi-Fi 6E and wait for Wi-Fi 7.

That said, neither of these two is a must-have, but either will work out well, with the Orbi leaning towards the ease of use and the ZenWiFi having more in value and the cool factor.

Want to see more Wi-Fi solutions compared against each other? Check them all out here.



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