I should have written this Netgear Orbi RBK852 vs Asus ZenWiFi XT8 matchup long ago. They were among the first Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems you could find, and that, by the way, was the first similarity among a few they had.
But better late than never. On top of that, with Netgear’s recent release of the Orbi RBK860 series — similar to the RBK850 series plus a gloried 10GbE WAN port — this post is now as relevant as ever.
In many ways, the two represent the similarities and differences between the two Orbi and ZenWiFi mesh brands.
And for those who have asked me to do a matchup between the Orbi RBK852 vs ZenWiFi Pro XT12 this post will also help since I reviewed the X12 by comparing it to the XT8.
Netgear Orbi RBK852 vs Asus ZenWiFi XT8: Representing two wireless mesh concepts
As mentioned, there are more differences than similarities between the two. But let’s start with their names since both contain a lot of information.
Specifically, per their naming conventions, the Orbi RBK852 is a 2-pack of the Wi-Fi 6 RBK850 series, and the ZenWiFi XT8 is a Tri-band 8-stream Wi-Fi 6 set.
Understanding the model names
If you’re unfamiliar with these conventions of the two mesh brands, the boxes below will help.
Netgear Orbi’s naming convention
Generally, though not always, a Netgear Orbi set’s model number starts with RBK — RBK50, RBK13, RBK752, RBK852, and so on. Those supporting Wi-Fi 6E have an additional E, like the case of the RBKE960.
Dissecting the Orbi’s model name
There are three telling things in an Orbi model name: The first letter, the third (and 4th) letter, and the last digit. The 2nd letter is always the same — B is for Orbi.
- The first letter (often R, C, or N, but there might be more) means the hardware’s character.
- R: It’s a regular (standard) setup, be it a single router or a mesh system. So, for example, RBK852 means this one is a standard mesh system.
- C: There’s a cable modem involved. For example, CBK752 is a mesh system in which the router unit has a built-in cable modem.
- N: This is when the router unit is cellular-capable. N here is short for NR, or “new radio,” which is a fancy name for cellular Internet.
- The 3rd letter (often K, R, or S) means the hardware unit’s exclusive role.
- K = Kit. This means you’re looking at a multi-unit package that includes one router and at least one satellite. So RBK752 refers to a kit of more than one hardware unit. How many? See the last digit below.
- R = Router unit. For example, RBR750 is the router unit of the RBK750 series.
- S = Satellite unit. For example, RBS750 is the satellite unit of the RBK752.
- The 4th letter (if any): That’d be the letter E which stands for Wi-Fi 6E, like the case of the recently announced RBKE960 series.
- The last digit (often 0, 2, 3, etc.) shows the package’s total hardware units.
- 0 = Single hardware unit (either a router or a satellite.) Generally, it signifies a series of hardware releases.
- 2 = A 2-pack (router + one satellite). For example, RBK752 is a 2-pack cable-ready mesh that includes a CBR750 gateway and an RBS750 satellite.
- 3 = A 3-pack (router + two satellites). The RBK853 is a 3-pack mesh system with one RBR850 router and two RBS850 satellite units.
- The last letter or letters (if any): Most Orbi hardware doesn’t have this last letter. For those that do, it’s intended to add some extra, such as:
- B: This letter means the hardware is in black, like the case of the RBKE960B.
- S: It’s for “security” like the case of the RBR860S where the unit includes a one-year subscription to Netgear Armor (instead of a 30-day trial.)
- Extra: The middle digits (often 5, 75, 85, 96, etc) are Netgear’s in-house designations to show the hardware’s Wi-Fi specs. They are a bit arbitrary. Specifically:
- 5: This is for Wi-Fi 5. For example, the original RBK50 is a Wi-Fi 5 Orbi.
- 75: This is for a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 with two 2×2 bands and one 4×4 band. Example: the RBK752.
- 85: Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 hardware with all 4×4 bands. Example: the RBK850 series.
- 86: The same as the RBK850 series with the router unit having a 10GbE Mult-Gig port (instead of 2.5GbE) — the case of the RBK860 series.
- 96: Quad-band Wi-Fi 6E with all 4×4 bands. Example: the RBKE960 series.
If you’re still confused, you’re not alone, but generally, you get the idea. For example, the RBRE960 is the standard high-end Wi-Fi 6E router unit of the Orbi RBKE960 series.
Asus ZenWiFi’s naming convention
Asus have had more than half a dozen and counting ZenWiFi models, such as CT8, XT8, XD4, XD6, ET8, XT12, or ET12. There will be more in the future.
Dissecting the ZenWiFi model names
These model names include two letters and a number. Here are what they mean.
- The first letter indicates the Wi-Fi standard:
- The second letter indicates the number of Wi-Fi bands:
- T means Tri-band. This is for a system where each hardware unit has three Wi-Fi bands.
- D means Dual-band — each hardware unit has two Wi-Fi bands.
- The last digit indicates the number of Wi-Fi streams each broadcaster has.
With that, we can now read each model name easily.
For example, the ZenWiFi ET8 is a tri-band Wi-Fi 6E system where each broadcaster is a Wi-Fi 6E tri-band system with each hardware unit having eight streams, including a 4×4 6GHz band, a 2×2 5GHz band, and a 2×2 2.4GHz band.
Both mesh sets are designed to work primarily in a fully wireless setup — they fit best in large homes where running network cables is not an option. But both can also work via wired backhauling — you can use a network cable to link the hardware units.
And that’s about where their similarities end, as you’ll note in the table below.
Orbi RBK852 vs ZenWiFi XT8: Hardware specifications
|Name||Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 Whole Home Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System||Asus ZenWiFi AX XT8|
|Two identical routers|
|Dimensions||10 x 7.5 x 2.8 in
(24.5 x 19.05 x 7.11 cm)
|6.29 x 2.95 x 6.35 in
(16 x 7.5 x 16.15 cm)
|Weight||2.86 lbs (1.3kg)||1.56 lb (710 g)|
|5GHz-1 Wi-Fi Specs
|4×4 AX: 2402Mbps
|2 x 2 AX: 1201Mbps
|5GHz-2 Wi-Fi Specs
|4×4 Wi-Fi 6: 2400Mbps
|4 x 4 AX: 4804 Mbps
|2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs
|4 x 4 Wi-Fi 6: 1148Mbps
|2×2 AX: 576Mbps
|Dedicated Backhaul Band||5GHz-2
(By default, flexible)
(5GHz-2 still not available to clients)
Gigabit as a pack
Multi-Gig as satellite
(Required for many functions)
|Web User Interface||Yes
|AP (Bridge) Mode||Yes||Yes|
|USB Port||None||1 x USB 3.0|
|Gigabit Port||Router: 4x LAN
Satellite: 4x LAN
|Multi-Gig Port||Router: 1x 2.5GbE WAN
|1x 2.5GbE WAN|
|Link Aggregation||Router: Yes (2Gbps WAN)
|Processing Power||2.2 GHz 64-Bit Quad-Core CPU||1.5GHz quad-core CPU,
256 MB Flash, 512 MB RAM
Orbi RBK852 vs ZenWiFi XT8: It’s the ease of use and stability vs flexibility, speed, and customization
From the get-go, the Orbi is designed for ease of use and stability. The entire Orbi ecosystem evolves around the dedicated backhaul concept.
Orbi RBK852: Ease of use, stability, and high cost
This concept is based on the fact that the hardware’s 2nd 5GHz band (the 5GHz-2 of the upper channels) is permanently delegated to link the mesh hardware units, leaving the 5GHz-1 as the only band to works as the fronthaul to serve clients.
In other words, all the 5GHz-2 band does is support connections between known devices, namely the Orbi router and the Orbi satellite. Without having to be compatible with any existing clients, Netgear can engineer this band proprietarily to deliver extremely long-range with a strong signal.
That said, the RBK852, as well as any Orbi set, has excellent range and coverage — supposedly as excellent as can be for a wireless connection.
However, when you use a network cable to link the hardware units or the RBR850 as a single router, the 5GHz-2 becomes useless — it’s a waste since it can’t work with clients.
To understand the Orbi’s permanent backhaul concept, which Netgear often refers to as “patented dedicated backhaul,” you can liken the mesh system’s router unit to a special 4WD pickup truck with a separate engine for the rear wheels dedicated solely to the job of pulling a trailer.
This engine makes sense and is great when the truck has a trailer attached (a mesh system) but becomes dead weight when the truck works just by itself (standalone router) — it’s now a full-time front-wheel-drive vehicle.
It’s probably not a good idea to consider such a truck unless you intend to use it to pull a trailer most, if not all, of the time.
The point is Netgear’s Orbi only makes sense when you need a fully wireless mesh Wi-Fi system and never when you need a standalone router, where the second 5GHz band is a big waste in terms of hardware cost and energy consumption.
Furthermore, in Wi-Fi 6 (and 6E) Orbi sets, Netgear removes the use of the DFS channels entirely to ensure stability. Without DFS, Wi-Fi 6 can use channels up to only 80MHz in width and, therefore, deliver only half the potential speed of the standard.
Consequently, the Orbi RBK852 has just half the bandwidth of its Wi-Fi 6 specs on the 5GHz band, and only half of that is available to the clients, as you might have noted in the table above.
Other than that, the Orbi’s web interface has little Wi-Fi customization — you can’t even separate the bands as different SSIDs — and over the years, Netgear has slowly removed free features to coerce users into using its Orbi mobile apps where it can charge users a premium for add-on features, such as Netgear Armor.
It’s worth noting that, hardware-wise, an Orbi router (the RBR850) and Orbi satellite (RBS850) can work only in their rigid role. To form a mesh, you need at least one router and one satellite and then add more of the latter to increase the coverage. If you have just two routers or two satellite units, they can’t work together.
ZenWiFi XT8: Flexibility, speed, customization, and affordability
The ZenWiFi approach is entirely different. It’s the same as any AiMesh hardware.
Specifically, the mesh set includes two identical routers. Each can work as a standalone router or a mesh member. And if you need to increase the coverage, you can get more units or any AiMesh-supported hardware.
All ZenWiFi hardware can work either as the primary router of a mesh system or a satellite. And that’s also the case with any other AiMesh hardware.
By default, the 5GHz-2 band is a dedicated backhaul band. However, you can easily open it to clients — effectively making it no longer “dedicated”.
This approach dramatically increases the front haul bandwidth, and when you use wired backhauling, all bands of the XT8 are available to serve clients.
Speaking of wired backhauling, when working as satellites of another AiMesh router with a 2.5Gbps LAN port, the XT8 is ready to deliver Multi-Gig wired backhauling, increasing the entire mesh system’s bandwidth significantly.
But in any case, the XT8 is designed primarily to work as a fully wireless system. Over there years, there have been instances where new firmware updates caused a wired setup to fail. So the XT8 has been more buggy than the RBK852.
In return, it offers lots of Wi-Fi customization and network settings. Most importantly, you get all features for free, there’s no premium add-on to ponder over, and the Asus mobile app doesn’t require a login account which lowers the privacy risks.
In August 2022, the XT8 had a firmware update that enabled it to support the UNII-4 portion of the 5GHz spectrum, making it even better in a fully wireless setup.
Finally, you can get it for about just two-thirds of the RBK852’s cost. And that brings us to the real-world performance of the two.
Orbi RBK852 vs ZenWiFi XT8: Performance and ratings
Fast, reliable Wi-Fi with extensive coverage
Full web interface with all common settings and features
Useful, well-designed mobile app
2.5Gbps Multi-gig WAN ports
Support WAN 2Gbps Link Aggregation
No 160MHz channel support, limiteWiFiFi customization
Not compatible with Wi-Fi Orbi hardware
No multi-gig LAN port, intermittent lags
Fast Wi-Fi performance and large coverage at a comparatively affordable cost
Improved and flexible AiMesh
Lots of network settings and useful features, including free real-time online protection for life
Full 4×4 dedicated backhaul band with optional wired backhaul support
Multi-Gig WAN port with Dual-WAN and WAN link aggregation
No 160MHz 4×4 support for Wi-Fi 6 clients in a dedicated wireless backhaul setup
No Multi-Gig LAN port or LAN link aggregation
Only four network ports on each hardware unit
Firmware can be buggy, especially via wired backhaul
Storage performance (when hosting an external drive) could be better
Generally, you should consider the ZenWiFi XT8 or the Netgear Orbi RBK852 (or any Orbi, for that matter) when you need a fully wireless mesh system. Specifically, you live in a large home, and it’s just too hard, or you’re too lazy to run network cables.
Both can work with wired backhauling. However, in this case, the Orbi RBK852’s 5GHz-2 band is completely wasted, and the ZenWiFi XT8 has had issues in the past.
The two deliver similar Wi-Fi performance, with the Orbi having a slightly better range (but worse in latency) in my experience. As for features and settings, the XT8 has lots more to offer, but that also means there are more chances you can cause issues without knowing it.
And finally, the XT8 has a USB port to work as a mini NAS server and costs significantly less.
Looking to compare other Wi-Fi solutions? Check them all out here.