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Western Digital My Net N900 Central review: Western Digital My Net N900 Central

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When Western Digital announced that it was making a router, we weren't sure quite how it would do. Sure, it had some experience with its NAS products on the networking side, but there's a little bit more involved in creating the hub for your online life.

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7.5

Western Digital My Net N900 Central

The Good

Some thought has gone into making a good, responsive web interface. Prettier than your standard router box.

The Bad

2.4GHz performance isn't great, especially at range. Storage isn't worth the extra cost due to low warranty. Cisco, Billion and Netgear all offer twice the warranty of Western Digital.

The Bottom Line

Western Digital is off to a good start with its routers; it has a well-designed, usable interface, attractive aesthetics and a decent feature set. The 2.4GHz performance needs improvement, though, and the one-year warranty and non-user-serviceable hard drive hurts.

We were sent the storage version of its router series, the My Net N900 Central — a box supporting dual-band simultaneous 802.11n with either a 1TB or 2TB hard drive inside. The hard drive means that the N900 Central gets something that many routers miss out on: a fan inside, actively cooling the unit. It's also weird to hear your router making mechanical hard drive clicking and head-parking noises, and certainly you'll have to be more gentle with this than you would with the typical router.

Read more: Wi-Fi 6: Better, faster internet is coming this year -- here's everything you need to know  

We should note that the hard drive isn't user serviceable, either. If it dies, you'll have to send the whole unit back for a drive replacement.

Western Digital certainly has got the aesthetics bit right, at least — rounded corners, a slightly inhaled top and a mixture of matte and gloss black that's muted, but respectable. Five status lights are along the front, covering power, wireless status, internet access, WPS use and whenever the hard drive inside reads or writes. A lone WPS button sits on the right.

Specs at a glance

Firmware tested1.04.08
ADSL2+ modemNo
Annex MN/A
3G modemNo
IPv6Yes
Wireless protocols802.11b/g/n
Dual bandSimultaneous
Highest wireless securityWPA2
WDSYes
Ethernet ports4x gigabit, 1x gigabit WAN
USB print sharing/storageStorage
AccessoriesEthernet cable, installation CD

Connections

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Four gigabit Ethernet ports, gigabit WAN, USB 2.0 port.
(Credit: Western Digital)

UI and features

Western Digital has leveraged its NAS UI design skills here, and provided an interface that's attractive and accessible, divided into easy-to-use sections.

At first, you're presented with a wizard, which can be easily skipped if you desire. A notifications drop-down menu at the top right lets you know what hasn't been configured yet or whether there are problems, and links to the appropriate parts of the interface for you to fix it.

After initial set-up, a dashboard is presented with an overview of all the settings on your router. You'll most definitely want to change your default router password, as your wireless passwords are shown here in plain text.

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Even the advanced interface is straightforward, attractive and easy to use.
(Screenshot by Craig Simms/CNET)

The internal hard drive is either accessible via SMB, FTP or AFP, and also supports DLNA devices and iTunes storage — with the same options available to set for USB storage as well. You can use Western Digital's WD2Go app on Android or iPhone to access the storage on the device, as well as through the web.

Guest internet access is available on 2.4 and 5GHz, a firewall is built in to allow IP and port rules and parental control is offered by NetStar. This means that you need to register the router with the service first, and also be online in order to manage policies through NetStar's service, allowing URL blocking and time-of-day scheduling, but no keyword filtering.

Performance

After analysing the spectrum with InSSIDer, an empty channel of either 1, 6 or 11 is chosen for 2.4GHz wireless testing. Usually, the router is restricted to the 20MHz band if the option is available.

We use iperf to determine throughput, running eight streams with a TCP window size of 1MB and an interval of one second. The test is run for five minutes in three different locations on two separate occasions. The locations are in the same room as the router, one floor down around spiral stairs and with concrete walls and floors, and two floors down under the same conditions.

The wireless throughput is tested using three chipsets (the Atheros AR5008X, Ralink RT2870 and Intel Ultimate-N 6300), and then all results are averaged.

2.4GHz throughput (in Mbps)

  • Cisco Linksys EA4500
  • WD MY Net N900 Central
  • Netgear WNDR4500
  • Netgear R6300
  • 139.00136.33111.15101.27Location one (same room, no obstructions)
  • 131.0010290.8067.63Location two (one floor down, some obstructions)
  • 53.8353.1637.1728.97Location three (two floors down, some obstructions)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

At medium distance the Western Digital is at its strongest — but both nearby and long range tests showed its 2.4GHz skills lacking.

5GHz throughput (in Mbps)

  • Cisco Linksys EA4500
  • WD My Net N900 Central
  • Netgear WNDR4500
  • Netgear R6300
  • 205.33189.67181.67171Location one (same room, no obstructions)
  • 151.33135.50135.33132.33Location two (one floor down, some obstructions)
  • 8.538.533.700Location three (two floors down, some obstructions)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

5GHz works out a bit better for the Western Digital, although it mostly leaves Netgear and Cisco to argue for dominance.

Warranty

Western Digital covers the My Net N900 Central with a one-year warranty, when competitors such as Billion, Cisco and Netgear offer two years. Given that the hard drive is not user accessible and is under the same warranty, you'll have to RMA the entire unit if something goes wrong. It simply makes sense to buy an external hard drive with a longer warranty, and to get a normal router instead.

Conclusion

Western Digital is off to a good start with its routers; it has a well-designed, usable interface, attractive aesthetics and a decent feature set. The 2.4GHz performance needs improvement, though, and the one-year warranty and non-user-serviceable hard drive hurts.