The debate over whether access to the internet and WiFi should become a human right has been raging over the last couple of years.
This has been particularly present during Coronavirus lockdowns when the majority of people’s work or school had to be performed online and those without internet access are being left behind.
In order to be completely present and in the know nowadays is to be online. Luckily internet providers are well aware of this, and have created solutions to maximize your online capabilities.
Netgear is a leading computer networking company, creating products and services that utilize a variety of technologies that focus on reliability and ease of use.
Their products range from being used in business, at home, and even in pro gaming, ensuring strong connections between devices and the internet.
Two of their leading products are home WiFi kits, named the Orbi and the Nighthawk, both similar in function, but different enough that it can be difficult to know which one will suit your individual needs best.
This article will break down the difference between the Orbi and the Nighthawk to help you figure out which of the two systems will perfectly suit you and your home.
What To Look For
Before we can figure out which system works best for you, we need to figure out what it is that you need.
There are several different factors that you need to consider when setting up a new WiFi system, and each will depend on the kind of home you have, and what you intend to be using the internet for.
So with that in mind, let’s run through what different elements you need to consider when deciding what system to set up.
This one is pretty simple, the larger the area that the WiFi system can cover, the more access to the internet you can get around your house.
A common complaint when it comes to WiFi is that it works when you’re near the router, but once you leave that room the connection can become unstable or even unusable.
If your router only has a small area coverage, or your home’s walls are super thick concrete, then you may want to invest in a new system that either has a much wider, stronger coverage, or a mesh system, that allows you to install multiple routers around your home for maximum functionality.
The faster your wifi speed, the faster you can stream, download, or simply access spaces online. If Netflix is constantly buffering, or Twitter is taking way too long to load, then it could be an issue with your WiFi Speed, and you may need to find something that can run faster.
Connected Device Capacity
Something a lot of people aren’t aware of is the fact that most routers have an upper capacity for how many devices they can handle being connected to.
If you’re living in a family of five, where everyone has their own mobile, laptop, and internet-capable television, as well as multiple Wi-Fi speakers such as Google Home assistant or Amazon’s Alexa dotted around the place, then you’re likely to start hitting that capacity faster than you expect.
This is also something that you need to consider when you’re looking for a new system, as you need it to be able to handle the number of devices that you want to have connected. Tied to this is the amount of Ethernet ports that each router has.
The internet works at its best when it’s connected via an ethernet cable, rather than WiFi. So for your high-priority devices such as the primary computer or main television — the things you want to guarantee are going to have the strongest connection to the internet — it is more reliable to use ethernet rather than WiFi.
If you have multiple devices like that, such as a home office with multiple computers or printers for example, then you want a router that is able to support this.
Orbi VS Nighthawk
With these factors in mind, let’s run down what the differences between these two Netgear products.
The main factor where these differ is that the Netgear Nighthawk makes use of the latest technology, stronger brandwidth, and faster speeds compared to the Orbi, which is a little older and not so up to date with the tech.
However, the Orbi mesh system will allow you to cover your entire home with good strength WiFi, whereas the Nighthawk is limited to one room. The Nighthawk comes with Plex media server, where the Orbi is more basic, with no extra feature like that.
These factors are important to consider when deciding between the two, but how do the systems stand up to a side-by-side comparison? For that we will take into account the factors mentioned previously and measure how the two systems compare.
As mentioned above, the Orbi mesh system allows you to blanket your whole house with WiFi without compromising the quality. This is because a mesh system is basically like having multiple routers in whatever room you want.
For example, you could have one downstairs and two upstairs, depending on where you need the best signal and how many devices are typically in each area.
Although each box has a decent amount of coverage on its own, a mesh system is very effective especially if you have a larger house or a house with particularly thick walls or floors.
Taking this into consideration will absolutely help you decide whether to use the Orbi system or a Nighthawk.
If you have the need for a mesh system, then you need to get the Orbi, as this system comes with multiple routers to allow for full coverage.
However, this is an expensive option. So if you only have a small home, then you can save some money and just get the Nighthawk system. This device still has an area coverage of up to 2500 square feet of wireless coverage.
This should be enough to cover most homes, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the further away from the router, the thinner the signal is going to be.
Winner: It’s a tie – the best depends on what kind of house/home you have
Unlike area coverage, this factor is not so dependant on your living situation. Everyone always wants the fastest possible speed – I can’t think of one good reason why you wouldn’t. Just how fast you need it does depend on what you’re using the WiFi for.
If you simply need it for Facebook and recipe websites, you’re probably not going to see much of a difference between getting a super fast speed and getting a regular speed.
However, if you’re planning on streaming videos from Netflix whilst gaming online with people in a different company whilst playing music from 3 different speakers around the house all while chatting to several different people online, then you’re going to want to find the fastest you can so that you don’t see any dips in quality.
With this in mind, the Netgear Orbi can get 3GB/s (gigabytes per second), whilst the Nighthawk can only get 1.8 GB/s – you may notice that one of these numbers is bigger than the other.
If you did see that then you can probably figure out that the Orbi is the system with significantly faster WiFi speeds.
Again, the system is more expensive, and therefore you get what you pay for. If you’re needing faster internet, then you need to go for the Orbi system.
Winner: Orbi – 3 is a bigger number than 1.8.
Connected Device Capacity
This differs depending on which model of the system you get, but across the board, the numbers are pretty similar. The Netgear Nighthawk system claims to be able to support up to 50 different devices, which would be a tall order, even in a large family.
Conversely, the Orbi can only handle around 25, which is still a lot but, is half the capacity of the Nighthawk.
Especially if you choose to get a high-end Nighthawk like the X4S, you’ll be able to simultaneously support a high number of WiFi devices with high speeds and quality of service.
However, each node of the Orbi mesh system has 4 Ethernet ports compared to the Nighthawk’s singular node which can only support 2 Ethernet cables.
This means that you can have a permanent and strong connection to many more devices using the Orbi rather than the Nighthawk.
Winner: Nighthawk – Being able to connect 50+ devices in a world of Smart Fridges and Toasters is an absolute win.
Although not always a dealbreaker, given how essential WiFi is to a home nowadays, it’s nice for the devices that provide the internet to look nice and fit your home decor, if possible. Comparing the Nighthawk to the Orbi system is pretty black and white.
I mean that literally, the entire range of Nighthawk routers has a sleek black design, whilst the Orbi, which is minimalist and white, looks more like a vase than a router.
The ventilation on the Nighthawk is cleverly integrated onto the top surface, giving it an interesting texture. It also has a single blue light on the front that indicates whether it’s switched on or not.
Its sleek matte black design certainly looks modern, however it also definitely looks like a router, which some people might think is a little clunky and want to hide away.
The Orbi on the other hand is cool and has soft curves to help it match with a minimalist design, however, its also pretty big.
Standing at 9 Inches tall, it might not be so easy to hide away if wanted or even fit on many shelves. Whilst it looks better, it takes up a lot more space than the Nighthawk.
Winner: Orbi – It was a tough decision, and someone else might have a different opinion, but for me, style outweighs function in this instance.
Both Netgear routers can be accessed and managed via a mobile app as well as on a browser. However, the advanced settings for the Orbi can only be accessed via a browser online.
From here you can perform little tweaks such as creating different outputs or naming the WiFi, or changing the password. However, this interface hasn’t been updated in over a decade, so more people would rather use the app.
This is where the Nighthawk has an advantage. The Nighthawk has a specific app, rather than the general one the Orbi uses.
This app allows you to control which devices can connect to the network, and set up separate channels for different uses, such as a guest channel so that your main network stays completely secure.
Winner: Nighthawk – It has better app support and is more accessible to people who may struggle with the browser interface.
Overall, both of these systems are great devices with their own pros and cons for each feature. Tallying up the marks from the article is no good, as it ended up as a tie. So what are we to do?
Well, speaking personally, I would say that the best way to determine which system is going to be best for you and your home is to look at your budget and to look at how many devices you’re going to be needed to connect to the system.
If your budget can stretch to the Netgear Orbi, and if your home needs a massive area coverage, then you might as well get the Orbi.
It’s got a great design, great quality of service, and internet speed, and can blanket your entire home with high-quality WiFi. This is the premium choice for larger homes.
However, if your budget is smaller, or you only have a small home, then there is no reason not to get the Nighthawk system.
It’s much cheaper and has great quality over a small area. Plus, this system, being newer, is set to receive further improvements via firmware updates. This makes it the more cost-effective choice for smaller homes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do These Routers Support The Latest Versions Of WiFi?
No, only the latest Nighthawk models can use WiFi 6, which rolled out earlier this year. The Orbi models can currently only support WiFi 5 unfortunately.
What Is The Difference Between A Network Extender And A Mesh Network?
Simply put, a network extender increases the range that your modem can supply WiFi to by repeating the signal.
Typically these create a separate network name, and can, unfortunately, slow down traffic significantly – although they are supposed to make it easier to use WiFi all around the house, they can sometimes be more hassle than they’re worth.
The alternative is a mesh system, like the Orbi. These are typically complete replacements for your home network, either in tandem with your current modem or in some circumstances, completely replacing it.
It’s important to note that not every system can be used without a preexisting modem but some models, like the Orbi CBK40 can.
Can You Purchase WiFi Extenders For The Nighthawk?
Yes! You can get decent WiFi extenders for the Nighthawk router to cover any dead spots, however, as mentioned above they aren’t always the best solution as they can end up slowing down your connection.
That said, Netgear does create very high-quality products and so it’s probably safe to assume that extenders bought from them that match the system should be beneficial in a small space.
Important to note: You cannot use a Nighthawk extender with an Orbi modem as the two systems are not compatible with each other.