Future-proof networking products of 2010

Networking products reviewed during 2010 that are likely to stay relevant for a long time.

Running DiskStation Manager 3.0, Synology NAS servers can handle a 3TB hard drive seamlessly.
Running DiskStation Manager 3.0, Synology NAS servers can handle a 3TB hard drive seamlessly. Dong Ngo/CNET

One of the worries about buying technology is the fact that the items you get might get obsolete too fast. However, if you pick carefully, you'll be able to buy products that stay relevant for a longer time than others. And, of course, by relevant, I mean that they'll still be able to satisfy your demands, which tend to grow over time.

Of all products in the networking and network storage categories reviewed by CNET during 2010, the following are those with features that will stay with you well into 2011 and even much longer.

Note: This doesn't mean other products are not good or will necessarily become obsolete soon. This only means that these products, with or without their shortcomings, have features that put them ahead of their peers.

1.Synology DS410 NAS server

All NAS servers from Synology generally have an incredibly large number of features, some of which are excellent and far ahead in comparison with other NAS servers.

Features like a comprehensive surveillance station that can handle dozen of cameras at a time, or a powerful photo station that also supports an extensive blogging mechanism, will stay relevant for a long time and are unlikely to be matched anytime soon by any other NAS servers on the market.

That plus the USB 3.0-like throughput performance via Gigabit Ethernet makes almost any of Synology's full-feature NAS servers a great investment for any environment, home or office. The DS410 is picked here as a representative because it's also one of the company's few four-bay consumer-grade servers. This means it supports RAID configurations, such as RAID 5, that balance storage space, data safety, and performance. With Synology's Hybrid RAID, a proprietary RAID 5-like setup, you can also increase the server's existing storage space without having to to rebuild the RAID from scratch.

However, the most future-proof feature of this product is the fact that it supports 3TB hard drives from any vendor really well. While most Windows computers still can't handle hard drives larger than 2.19GB very well and most other NAS servers don't even support them, all recent Synology NAS servers running firmware version 3.0 or later (this can be upgraded for free) can work with these top-capacity hard drives easily.

Currently, the only other consumer-grade NAS server on the market that also supports 3TB hard drives is the BlackArmor 440/220 from Seagate. However, the Seagate NAS server is noticeably behind in terms of features. The only shortcoming of the DS410 compared with the BlackArmor is its design, which makes it hard for users to service the hard drives.

2. NetGear Powerline Av 200 Wireless-N Extender Kit 

Of all power-line adapter kits on the market, the XAVNB2001 kit is the only one that incorporates an access point on the the second adapter, which is at the far end of the power-line connection.

This allows the kit, apart from working as a regular power-line kit, to also extend the existing wireless network or create a new one at the far end.

This means you can extend both the wired and the wireless network via just one set of power-line adapters.

Unfortunately, the XAVNB2001 kit is still based on HomePlug AV standard and has a cap speed of just 200Mbps. While this is decently fast and enough for most Web-surfing needs, when it comes to networking, the faster the better. For this reason, you might also check out the latest in power-line adapters from Trendnet.

3. Trendnet TPL-401E2K 500Mbps Powerline AV Adapter Kit

As the name suggests, this is a power-line kit that offers throughput speed of up to 500Mbps, the first of its kind. The kit is able to do this by supporting the latest in power-line technology and by incorporating a Gigabit Ethernet port.

In real-world testing, while the actually speed is much slower than 500Mps, it was indeed significantly faster than all other power-line adapters we've seen. The TPL-401E2K is also backward-compatible with all HomePlug AV (200Mbps) adapters.

Unfortunately, the TPL-401E2K doesn't support Wi-Fi extender features like the XAVNB2001 above, nor does it offer more than one port. However, as far as speed is concerned, the TPL-401E2K will stay relevant in the world of power-line connectivity for a long time.

4. LaCie Wireless Space

The LaCie Wireless Space was designed based on an old idea that has been realized in the form of the Time Capsule from Apple.

It's basically a wireless router with built-in storage and NAS functionality. Other networking vendors have been making similar products that can host storage via USB external hard drives, such as the Linksys E3000 from Cisco, the WNDR3700 RangeMax from Netgear, or the Play Max from Belkin.

However, the Wireless Space offers the fastest network storage performance by far, comparable to that of some lower-end dedicated NAS servers. It also offers many more features than any other of its type, including the Time Capsule, such as the capability to handle printers and stream digital content, and support for the Time Machine.

For this reason, so far, it's the only product worthy of being considered a wireless router and a NAS server all in one.

5. Trendnet TEW-691GR 450Mbps wireless router

This is the first router on the market that supports the three-stream standard and the wireless N specs, as opposed to the dual-stream in most others.

As each stream in the N specs can handle up to 150Mbps, which is the speed of a "light" N router like the TP-Link TL-WR741ND, the TEW-691GR is slated to offer the ceiling throughput speed of 450Mbps.

With all wireless routers, the ceiling speeds are almost never achieved in real life. And in the case of the TEW-691GR, that's currently impossible, at least for now, as in order to take advantage of this higher speed the wireless clients also need to support the three-stream standard. Currently there aren't many, if any, wireless adapters on the market that can handle three-stream, but they're expected to be available in the near future.

Other than this, the TEW-691GR is a rather simple router that doesn't support dual-band and comes with a premium price tag.

About the author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews networking and storage products, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

 

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