Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
WD My Net Central N900 wireless router
The My Net Central N900 has an internal hard drive and relatively easy-to-use remote access features
- Fast wireless performance
- Internal hard drive worked well
- Remote access is easy to use
- Somewhat sluggish hard drive performance
- Certificate issues with WD 2go Web site
If you want a fast 802.11n, dual-band router, as well as a neat network storage solution in one unit, the WD My Net Central N900 is a good choice. It's relatively simple to use and it also includes useful remote features and automated quality of service for games and other types of traffic.
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
The Western Digital My Net Central N900 is a dual-band, 802.11n wireless router with a twist: it has a built-in hard drive so that you can easily store and share content across your network and over the Internet. It's a very convenient and neat solution if you don't want to have too many cables protruding from your router and it also means that you don't have to fiddle too much with settings and configurations to set up network storage.
Ease of use and internal storage
To set up the My Net Central N900 router, all you have to do is attach your modem to the router's WAN port, connect your PC via an Ethernet cable, switch on the router and point your Web browser to 'wdrouter'. This will bring up the main Web interface, which is reliant on icons and text to describe each of the sections you can access. There is no wizard to get you started, so you'll need to click on the 'Connect to Internet' icon to set up your ISP details. The router will attempt to connect for about 30sec before giving up and allowing you to enter your username and password details. We were up and running in about a minute.
You can quickly set up your wireless networks, both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, from the same page. Network names and passwords for both networks can be entered, but if you want to change channels or other settings manually, then you will have to enter the 'Advanced Settings' and click on the 'Wireless' icon once more. The segregation of basic and advanced features is handled well for the most part, with features such as port forwarding not visible unless you venture into the 'Additional Features' part of the interface.
Even the internal storage can be configured from the basic part of the interface — it's just a matter of clicking on the 'Storage' icon and then clicking 'Next' a couple of times before you get the to the hardest bit, which is deciding whether you want to leave the disk open, or whether you want to give only specific users access to it. By default, it is set to 'Public', which allows anyone on your local area network to access it. You can also choose to enable or disable services such as DLNA and iTunes serving. The drive will show up in your network (as long as you have network discovery enabled in Windows 7) with the name of 'MYNETN900C'. You can simply double-click on it to open it and then use it like any other folder on your computer. You can map folders from the drive to your computer by right-clicking them and selecting 'Map Network Drive'.
A 1TB capacity allows you to store lots of large video files in addition to a comprehensive music library and photos. The drive is a WD10JPVT, which is one of WD's Scorpion Blue drives. This has a thinner form factor than traditional 2.5in notebook drives of such a capacity — it's 9.5mm as opposed to 12.5mm, and it's designed to offer larger a capacity in smaller form factor for thin laptops and other devices, such as this router. It's a high-density disk that has two platters for its 1TB capacity and those platters spin at 5400 revolutions per minute. Filling up the drive can take a long time; transfers of movie-sized files from our PC to the router's internal hard drive over a Gigabit Ethernet connection averaged 11 megabytes per second (MBps). You can easily use the drive to stream video and music to computers on your network, and the drive can also be used as a destination for your computer backups. It will work best when it's only being used by one or at most two computers on your network at the same time, but streaming performance might be degraded a little if the drive is also writing data from another computer at the same time.
Physical design and performance
The physical design of the router is nothing that will stand out. The wireless antennas are contained within the unit and the shape of the router is a basic, thin rectangle. The status lights are blue, but they are not very bright, which we like — it's a router that won't be conspicuous wherever it is placed, unlike the Netgear R6300, for example. There is a fan inside it that helps to keep the notebook-sized hard drive cool and it makes a low whirring sound whenever the unit detects that there are client devices attached to the router, be it phones or laptops via Wi-Fi, or PCs via Ethernet. When no computers or phones are actively connected to the router, the hard drive spins down and so does the fan, which is good if the router has to reside in your bedroom, for example. Power consumption, even with the hard drive running, was about 11W at most during our test period, with the power draw being around 9W most of the time when using the router with one wired PC and one active wireless client.
While the internal hard drive is the main drawcard of the My Net N900 Central, it's also designed to appeal to gamers and heavy Internet users who can benefit from quality of service features. To this end, the My Net N900 Central features FasTrack Plus, which is designed to automatically detect the type of traffic that passes through the router. This means that movies, games and voice can all be detected and prioritised without you having to fiddle with any settings. During our test period, we didn't notice any performance issues when streaming videos from the Internet and across our network, while at the same time performing downloads in the background, but then again, we don't have problems with this usage model on other high-end routers either.
The overall performance of the My Net N900 Central turned out to be very good. As mentioned, its streaming performance over our iiNet ADSL2+ Internet connection was flawless (we used services such as NBA LeaguePass, NBL.TV and ABC's iView) and its wireless networking performance was stellar. We observed fast rates when using both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, from short-range and mid-range distances. The router supports simultaneous dual-band operation and it is rated at 450MBps for each band. We tested the wireless performance using a laptop equipped with an Intel Centrino 6300 Advanced-N adapter, which can handle those speeds, and we served data from a PC attached to the router using a wired Gigabit Ethernet connection.
Using the 2.4GHz band, our short-range test, which is over 2m, averaged a rate of 13.55MBps, which is a very good result. However, it was even better in our mid-range test, which is over 10m. In this test, it recorded an average of 14.5MBps. using the 5GHz band, our short-range test averaged a rate of 24.16MBps and our mid-range test averaged 17.68MBps. These results are faster than what the Netgear R6300 produced using the same laptop in the same tests, although the Netgear router performed better in the short-range test when using a Netgear N900 USB adapter on the same laptop.
It's worth noting that the speeds you get, and how well the router will perform over those same distances will vary due to your environment. Overall though, compared to other routers that we have tested in our own environment, the My Net N900 Central put up a very good show and is one of the fastest that we've tested. Bear in mind, you will only be able to get the best out of it if you use client devices that can support its 450Mbps speed. We should point though that an initial unit that we tested did give us many reliability and throughput problems over Wi-Fi and while using the internal hard drive, which we could not replicate on this, our second test unit.
Remote access features
If you want to access data that's stored on the My Net N900's hard drive remotely, then you can easily set up remote access from the 'Set up Remote Access' part of the Web interface. The remote access works through WD's WD 2go service and you don't need to know anything about networking to get it up and running. However, you will need to be one of those people who don't get flustered by security certificate messages in Web browsers.
Once you've signed up for a WD 2go account, you can log in to the WD 2go Web site to access the files on your router. You'll also be asked for the password to your router before you can access the hard drive in your router, and you'll also need to deal with a few pop-ups and messages pertaining to Web site certificates that can not be verified. This has been an ongoing issue with WD 2go and we really wish WD could sort it out as it can be very confusing for inexperienced computer users to deal with.
You'll also need to have Java installed in order to use this feature, which will bring up a Windows Explorer window of your remote hard drive so that you can use it like any other folder on your computer. You can easily drag-and-drop files to and from it. It's very easy to get any data you want off your hard drive at home, but be aware that the speed of your downloads will depend on the upload speed of your Internet connection at home. Large files will download very slowly on a typical ADSL2+ connection that has an upload speed of about 1 megabit per second.
Mobile access is also provided with the WD 2go app, which is available from the Apple and Google app stores and it's a file browser that can be used to stream music files (or videos if the file format is supported by your phone) and also to download files to your phone.
Like most new routers, the My Net N900 Central has built-in security, including a parental control feature, MAC filtering and custom firewall rules; you can customise QoS rules, and the router supports IPv6, UPnP and DLNA. But the great thing about this router is that you don't need to tinker with it in order to get the most out of it. Apart from entering your ISP details, creating some wireless networking names and passwords and enabling the internal storage and remote features, we left its configuration as-is and it performed well in our usage model. We think it's a good router for a household that also needs some network storage, and online gamers might also want to check it out for its automated QoS feature.
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