The first router with an inbuilt hard drive.
Western Digital surprised a lot of people recently when it announced it was entering the router business. After all, what could the hard drive manufacturer bring to an already crowded market?
Integrated storage, for a start. Most of the new WD My Net routers are fairly conventional, but the N900 Central features a built-in hard drive, turning it into an effective network-attached storage (NAS) device. That's something that a number of other routers can accomplish as well, but they require an external USB hard drive.
We tested the N900 Central 1TB version using simple file copy tests, with files both large and small, over a Gigabit Ethernet network. In our tests, we compared it to an internal hard drive, a Linksys E4200 router with attached USB drive and a low-cost dedicated NAS, the four-bay QNAP TS-412. As expected, the internal drive smoked it, but it also fell well short of the QNAP. Still, it handily outperformed the Linksys, showing that there is some benefit to having an internal drive. The N900 Central also has a USB 2.0 port in case you want to expand its storage quota in the future.
In terms of networking features, it's fast -- as fast as money can buy, which is good, because purchasing this router requires a lot of it. It features dual-band 450Mbps wireless and Gigabit on all wired ports (four LAN and one WAN). It has no ADSL modem, so you'll need to bring your own if you use the latter.
At 10m, through two plaster walls, the router maintained a healthy wireless signal strength when we tested it. At that range, over a 10GB file transfer with a 450Mbps wireless adapter, it maintained an average speed of 6.1MB/s in the 2.4GHz band, which is more than enough to support HD video. At 5m it hit 13.1MB/s. That was 0.7MB/s and 3.1MB/s (respectively) slower than a Netgear WNDR45000 tested the same way, but still solid.
The admin interface is both excellent and frustrating. It's super-simple, largely designed for beginners. It does make it very easy to get the router up and running, though, and is definitely a fresh take on router administration. The integration with the WD 2go service, which allows secure remote access of files stored on the device, is also quite nifty. But for advanced users, deeper settings aren't just hidden -- they're inaccessible. Forget about things like user groups for shares, folder security settings, advanced QoS settings and fine firewall controls.
We found this out the hard way when our test PC running Windows 7 Home Premium refused to acknowledge the existence of the network share. Even though we could see the router, we couldn't access the shared folder through standard Windows File Sharing/SMB. Trying to access the SMB settings on the router proved impossible. It turned out to be a Windows 7 problem -- eventually Windows decided to install drivers for the My Net and everything started working fine, but the inability to control or even see SMB settings to diagnose the problem was a major pain.
Aside from those frustrations, however, the WD My Net N900 Central is a fine product: a unique combination of router and NAS. It's not a particularly strong NAS, but it's clearly better than most routers at the task. It is a very fast router, switch and access point, and it's simple enough to not scare the heck out of your non-technical parents.
Pros : Very simple administration, combo NAS and router, top-speed local networking.
Cons : Relatively weak NAS features compared to a dedicated device, that price.
Verdict : 8 out of 10. Highly recommended.
Available from Western Digital, retailing for $400