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Western Digital My Net N900 Review
Western Digital’s My Net N900 is a delightful surprise from a vendor not known for making wireless routers.
(4 out of 5)
- Excellent throughput at 2.4 GHz
- Very good throughput at 5 GHz
- Excellent range
- Intuitive setup and management software
- Has seven Gigabit Ethernet ports
- Two USB 2.0 ports for printer and NAS.
- USB ports sit too close to power on/off button
- Throughput not as robust at 5 GHz as in other competing high-end routers on the market.
The newest consumer wireless router on the market comes from an unlikely source: Western Digital. Yes, that Western Digital known mainly for storage products, today debuted a new lineup of wireless routers which includes the My Net N900 ($179.99 MSRP) dual-band router. I spent about a week testing the N900 prior to today’s announcement; the device is a beautifully engineered, high-performing piece of networking hardware.
WD’s N900 is the fastest router we’ve tested to date at 2.4 GHz, although not the fastest at 5 GHz. It’s also not the most feature-packed router available on the market, but it has the features the average user needs to manage and set up a rich, secured networking environment that deftly handles multimedia content. Plus, the WD N900′s software delivers a user experience the level of which is rare to find in home networking The My Net N900 is a delightful surprise from a vendor not known for making wireless routers and has a simple, easy-to-remember product name.
The N900 supports up to 450 Mbps on both bands. The casing is stylish with a silver fencing running around the body. This device is longer than typical consumer routers because it has seven Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports; most routers even for small business, have four LAN ports as standard. The rear panel also has a Gigabit WAN port, two USB 2.0 ports for sharing storage and printers and a power on and off button. I’m not too keen on the positioning of the power on and off button because it’s adjacent to the USB ports. You have to be careful when connecting and removing USB devices to not accidently turn the router off.
The front panel has four LEDs representing power, wireless status, WAN activity and WPS. There’s a single-touch WPS button also on front for push-button connection of WPS-enabled clients.
The N90′s ease of setup rivals Cisco Linksys’ E- and EA- series of routers. I had the device setup in two minutes. The router ships with a setup and resource CD; the CD’s sleeve has illustrations that detail how to connect wireless clients and Windows. I set up the device using a Windows 7 laptop as per the instructions, which requires connecting the laptop to a LAN port on the router and then just breezed through the setup wizard.
The set up process automatically configures both bands in Mixed Mode to support 802.11n and legacy clients, sets security, and generate a pass key to access both wireless networks. During setup, the wizard provides useful information such as why users need two bands and other networking tidbits.
Once setup is complete, the software goes online to check for firmware and then asks you to install additional software. This isn’t some gimmicky bloat ware; WD offers three free utilities to enhance your wireless networking experience: WD Print Share for managing shared printers, WD Quick View for monitoring router status, and My Net View, which is a very basic diagnostic tool that provides some good “at-a-glance” information about a network. Overall, the setup process is flawless.
Management with My Dashboard
The web-based management interface is called My Dashboard. The UI has a modern, intuitive design that is welcoming to those who may find managing a network intimidating. Settings are easy to find and configuration options are well-explained within the interface.
The N900 isn’t stuffed with a lot of advanced features, such as being able to do things like tweak the beacon interval of a wireless signal. Instead, its features are targeted to average family users—features such as parental controls (provided, by the way, by NetStar’s hosted service). The parental controls work well; you can block or give access to up to sixty URLs. My one gripe is that when you block a site and then remove the block to access the site, you have to refresh the browser once or twice before you can load the site and the router’s parental control message warning goes away. I suppose that occurs because parental controls are provided by an online service and it takes some time for changes to apply.
Other capabilities include firewall, DMZ, and MAC filtering. The router has IPv6 support, but it does not include an IPv6 DHCP server.
A highlighted feature is the proprietary QoS (Quality-of-Service) engine called FasTrack plus QoS. FasTrack plus QoS is designed to improve the streaming performance of video as well as VoIP and other types of network traffic. For further performance gains, Enhanced WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia), is also included.
I witnessed a performance improvement with the FasTrack plus QoS feature turned on. Streaming a Netflix video with FasTrack off, took 24 seconds to buffer. Once I enabled FasTrack, the same video buffered in 14 seconds and started playing without lag. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a slow Internet connection to begin with, don’t think the N900′s QoS is going to somehow make that connection amazingly fast. Your bandwidth pipe is fixed by your ISP and no router can change that. However, that little perk I saw with FasTrack on shows that the N900′s QoS works as advertised and can improve performance primarily within the network, but my Netflix stream did buffer a bit faster.
The N900′s features aren’t designed with wireless networking nerds in mind. They are quite user-friendly and enhance whole-home multimedia. The interface does quite a bit of user-hand holding; automatic notifications, for example, give important reminders such as informing that the router’s administrator’s password hasn’t been changed from the default.
Inside the interface is a Setup Storage wizard to configure USB storage devices. USB devices can be configured not only as shared storage throughout the network, but as DLNA, iTunes, and FTP servers.
Once you add and configure a device, you can browse to it as a share. For example, from Windows, clicking on the “Network” icon, lists the N900 router and then clicking on the router lists the USB drives connected to the router. Any client on your network can access data from that drive as well as stream content from it. You can also restrict access by setting permissions to the drive within the Setup Storage wizard.
Copying a 1GB movie file to an attached 4GB USB flash drive gave a Write speed of about 8MBps. Not bad for wireless and certainly not the speediest way to copy large files across a network (better via wired), but copying and accessing smaller files wirelessly is fine.
WD’s N900 cranked out top throughput when tested at the 2.4 GHz band in Mixed mode, averaging about 90 Mbps at a distance of about 15 feet away from the router. It retained consistently better throughput and sustained that throughout even better than previous best performer at 2.4 GHz, the Netgear N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4500 (check price).
The throughput is a bit disappointing in 5GHz Mixed Mode, but it still managed a very decent 132 Mbps testing at a distance of 15 feet. The top 5 GHz band throughput is still owned by the Netgear N900 and the Cisco Linksys EA4500 App Enabled Dual-Band Wireless Router with Gigabit and USB (check price).
What’s even more puzzling is that switching the Western Digital N900 to 5 GHz all-N mode actually hindered throughput rather than increased it. I typically register higher throughput when the 5 GHz band is configured in N-only mode. I did notice you can’t set the 5 GHz band to only use 40 MHz channel width, only 20/40 MHz.
This doesn’t mean you will get bad performance from the WD N900; it only means that its 5 GHz performance is not as robust as Netgear’s and Cisco Linksys’ highest-end routers. This is fine for most homes because most of us have a mix of old and new devices and will want to run a router in Mixed mode. The average household will mostly use the 2.4 GHz band and reserve the 5 GHz for newer devices that support 5 GHz. Also, the WD N900′s throughput is also not so significantly lower than Netgear and Cisco Linksys’ devices to be worrisome. It does show that Netgear and Cisco Linksys have hardware more optimized for the 5 GHz traffic than Western Digital.
Testing was performed using Ixia’s IxChariot testing suite and an HP Elitebook 8440W and HP Proliant ML300 server as throughput endpoints.
Click here for 2.4 GHz performance results
Click here for 5 GHz performance results
Router Summer Sleeper Hit
I was skeptical when I first heard that Western Digital planned to enter the router market. I thought it would focus on selling networkable hard drives (one of WDs new routers, the My Net 900 Central, ships with 1 TB or 2 TB internal storage) that happen to do some routing and give wireless access.
Instead, Western Digital has created an impressive networking device. Excellent throughput at 2.4 GHz, very good throughput at 5 GHz, a great interface and some useful free apps makes the N900 a winner. Plus, with three extra Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB ports, it’s fairly priced (although a USB 3.0 port, would be nice). Western Digital’s entry into the consumer router space is bound to stoke the competitive fires in other networking vendors and we are likely to see some amazing products out this year from other vendors. In the meantime, Western Digital’s My Net N900 is a successful debut. It earns 4 stars (with a few points knocked off for the less than expected throughput at 5 GHz) and is a new Editor’s Choice pick for high-end, consumer routers.
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By Samara Lynn, PCMag