Published on December 4th, 2012 | by Greg0
Western Digital My Net N900: A Fantastic New Entrant
For the past few years, home networking has been dominated by the same set of companies. Netgear, Linksys/Cisco, D-Link, and TrendNet all put out a wide range of gear, as do firms like Buffalo who’ve seen some ups and downs in the market (see our recent review for a look at their latest) and Belkin. We’ve seen many contenders, and though some don’t make much of an impression (Engenius), it’s always great to see a little extra competition shake up a fairly mature space.
We’d like to welcome Western Digital to the arena. Their My Net series was shown off a few months ago at an event here in New York City, and we’ve finally got our hands on their near-top-of-the-line model, the My Net N900. They just released an upgrade to the family that supports the still-infant 802.11ac protocol, but we’d recommend holding off on buying 802.11ac equipment except in special cases (where you’ve got an exceptional need for the additional speed, and are replacing other network gear, since upgrading the router itself to the new and yet-unfinalized standard won’t do anything by itself).
A router has two basic parts, the hardware and the software. On the former front, this is the first truly new thing we’ve seen in routers perhaps since included USB ports and MIMO antennas. If you’re like us, you have a lot of wired equipment in addition to the wireless devices- we use consoles and desktops and have hubs and switches to support ethernet cabling. Almost all consumer routers out there offer four ports, plus a fifth for connection to your cable or DSL modem. But this one offers three additional ethernet ports, so up to seven devices can be directly connected. It’s a bit wider than most other routers to handle the increased capacity, but otherwise looks fairly standard for a modern router, black and metallic accents, blue lighting. We liked the styling, but no one will call it sexy.
And we mentioned USB ports earlier- this model offers two, which is pretty handy for those who want to connect multiple storage devices (our external hard drives worked nicely). One of them is colored blue, which usually indicates USB 3.0 functionality, but that isn’t the case here. Instead, it simply indicates that one of the ports has direct access to the processor and operates faster. There are the other typical features- a firewall and UPnP, for instance. Range and speed was quite good- one of the best yet on the 802.11n band, though a bit more average operating at the older 2.4GHz. We measure
On the software front, things are a bit more mixed. This is a dual-band router, offering support for 801.a/n on the 5GHz band and 802.11b/g on the 2.4Ghz band. The firmware is custom- no DD-WRT support here- and we upgraded to the latest firmware (1.05.12 at press time). Installation was a bit odd- we downloaded the nearly- 500MB file from their site, attempted to upload it, only to realize that it was much easier to go through the utility built into the router. Default settings (admin/password) seemed to work fine, connecting to our ISP, and even checking out IPv6 settings as well. WPS is supported for one-touch connection, and we found this router to handle AirPlay impressively well. WD has been touting it’s FasTrack Plus technology, a sort of packet-level QoS (quality of service) that is supposed to help handle situations where you are streaming video and it might get impacted by other traffic. We found the web interface to be excellent, intuitive and responsive, and one of the best we’ve seen- there are handy alerts (though they sometimes will offer warnings even if you’ve asked them to be ignored). You can modify many settings without needing to reboot each time, a huge plus during setup.
We tried streaming Hulu and Netflix to good effect; starting large network transfers only briefly paused the stream and then everything seemed to work well. It wasn’t bulletproof, but surprisingly decent. However, we should note that reboots due to performance degradation and connectivity loss were regular, every few days or so. Some heat issues might have been the cause, moving the router to a cooler location appeared to help. This is a sophisticated router with lots of configurable settings, and we often would manually optimize rules and ports, but hadn’t done so yet to properly simulate an average home network user.
Overall, despite an occasional drop-out, this is an excellent router- the best we’ve tried this year, offering everything you could want except for 802.11ac. We look forward to seeing how Western Digital (and competitors) can top it. If you have a lot of wired connections, this is the best model on the market, and is available for a reasonable $140 or less online.