Having an amazingly powerful router in your home or office is one thing. Using one that doesn't force you to learn archaic terms such as Quality of Service and channel bonding is another. Western Digital - yes, the storage company - brings a refreshing simplicity to its My Net N900 HD Dual-Band Router ($179), along with a technology that makes sure your movies will stream stutter-free.
Design and Setup
Click to EnlargeFairly standard as routers go, the My Net N900 router is black with silver sides, and only lays flat - there is no stand for propping it up vertically, like the Netgear N900. Surprisingly, the router has seven Gigabit Ethernet ports as opposed to the more common four. (The Buffalo WZR-D1800H has five.) That means more room for extra LAN-based printers, desktops and networked drives.
WD nailed the setup process. Using bright colors and a subtle black background; you can get the router up and running in about 3 minutes if you choose all of the default options. There were only a handful of setup screens, and they were clearly marked in a way that makes sense: Pictures show you how to make the connections, and minimal text explains basic concepts, such as adding a password.
While we still prefer how Netgear and Linksys routers offer a separate app for managing your network, My Net's dashboard itself was one of the best we've seen. Because there isn't a separate app, it's easy to argue that My Net was one of the fastest installs we've ever done, even if the extra Netgear and Linksys apps provide more functionality, such as diagnosing problems.
Unlike many other routers, once you're done with the initial setup, you then can view a Web-based dashboard interface (called My Dashboard) that has a killer feature: along the side, there are notifications about things you might want to consider, such as enabling the FasTrack Plus feature (which worked quite well for making sure video streams played smoothly) and security.
You might not know, for instance, that most routers allow you to block specific sites (say, YouTube.com) from employees or curious children. But the My Net N900 points you to these features and many others. The advantage is that the notices are not just there to inform - click them, and they take you to that exact area of the advanced setup option. This meant enabling even advanced features took less time compared to other routers.
Once the router was up and running, we also had no trouble accessing two thumbdrives plugged into the two USB ports, viewing the drives on a laptop and copying files.
Click to EnlargeWhile the setup was supersmooth and the router provides some surprising extras, the performance and coverage is not that stellar. Using IxChariot in the 2.4 GHz band, the My Net N900 topped out at just 80 Mbps from 5 feet, sliding quickly to 41 Mbps at 50 feet and only 12 Mbps from 300 feet. The average router gets 90 Mbps at 5 feet and 15 Mbps at those distances.
By comparison, the Netgear N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4500 hit 164 Mbps at 5 feet, and was a still-strong 100 Mbps at 150 feet. The Buffalo AirStation AC1300/N900 Gigabit Dual Band WZR-D1800H, which uses the newer 802.11ac protocol, had absolutely blazing throughput of 360 Mbps at 5 feet, albeit with an adapter.
On the 5-GHz band, which is commonly used for media files that require a stutter-free feed, the speed maxed at 140 Mbps from 5 feet, 101 Mbps from 50 feet and only 14 Mbps from 150 feet. The router average is a slightly higher 143 Mbps from 5 feet and 56 Mbps from 50 feet.
This speed and distance bottleneck proved troublesome during our 6GB file transfer test - the total time was 65 minutes over the more stable 5-GHz channel. A 1.2GB file took 16 minutes to copy.
The My Net N900 router uses signal amplifiers to increase its range, but we found them to be less than effective. The router did not connect at all at 600 feet in the 2.4-GHz band or from beyond 300 feet in the 5-GHz band. The Amped Wireless High Power Wireless-N 600mW Gigabit Dual Band Router R20000G, which also uses amplifiers to extend its reach, hit 28 Mbps at 300 feet in the 2.4-GHz band, and 12 Mbps in the 5-GHz band.
One other minor ding - for some reason, our HP ENVY 17 laptops took longer than usual to establish a Wi-Fi connection with the WD My Net N900.
Western Digital touts its FasTrack technology, which prioritizes multimedia traffic such as movies, games and video to ensure smooth streaming. We watched an HD video on Hulu.com on an HP ENVY 17 laptop and downloaded a massive game demo from Gamespot.com at the same time. With the quality-of-service feature enabled, we did not see any pauses in Hulu at all. However, many routers from D-Link and others offer similar features that work about the same.
Western Digital's first foray into networked devices is a good effort. The My Net N900 HD Dual-Band Router's intuitive setup and diagnostic options will be valuable for Wi-Fi novices and power users alike, as will the plethora of Ethernet and USB ports. However, gamers and those looking for the highest performance should look toward such alternatives as the Netgear N900 or the Buffalo AirStation AC1300/N900 Gigabit Dual Band WZR-D1800H.