Review: Western Digital My Net N900 Central

The My Net N900 Central is a combination router/network-attached storage (NAS) unit, with a fixed internal 1TB hard drive.

NameNAS unit: Western Digital My Net N900 Central
At a glance:Dual-band wireless n router (2.4 & 5GHz),Four gigabit Ethernet ports,Internal 1TB hard drive,Remote access and mobile apps
Summary:Not a revolutionary or top-performing device, but a functional, simplified combination of router and NAS for home users.
RRP:$550 (1TB), $650 (2TB)

The My Net N900 Central is a combination router/network-attached storage (NAS) unit, with a fixed internal 1TB hard drive. It’s at the top end of Western Digital’s ‘My Net’ range of home routers, the company’s first major foray into the network space.

The hardware is pretty standard: it’s a dual-band wireless n router, with four gigabit Ethernet ports, one dedicated Ethernet port for WAN, and one USB 2.0 port for external storage or a printer. Aerials are internal, which simplifies setup and streamlines the unit.

Software setup is simple – we used the included CD, which stepped us through the process in a couple of minutes. If you don’t have a CD drive, the browser-based setup is nearly as simple.

The browser-based interface is noteworthy, in that WD have come to the networking world with a fresh perspective. All the options you’d expect to be there are, such as guest networks (on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz), port forwarding, firewall, and such. However, the UI is a little simpler and more polished than many routers we’ve tested. There’s even a useful ‘notifications’ system, much as you’d find on a smartphone or tablet, that tells you when updates are available or something needs your attention.

IPv6 is supported – this shouldn’t be a bonus, but given the slow uptake of the standard by consumers and vendors alike, it really is a point in the My Net N900 Central’s favour.

Network speeds were reasonable over 5GHz Wireless N – at a ‘point blank’ range of one metre, we achieved an average of 171Mbit/s, peak 227Mbit/s. From five metres, that dropped to 150Mbit/s average, 219Mbit/s peak.

NAS speeds for the internal hard drive were more subdued – transferring 1GB files over gigabit Ethernet, we averaged 15.6MByte/s read and 15.9MByte/s write. Over 5GHz Wi-Fi at a range of five metres, that dropped to 9.5MByte/s read and 9.8MByte/s write. Collections of 1000 x 1MB files yielded slower still results, at 9.0MByte/s read and 6.3MByte/s write over Ethernet, 5.6MByte/s read and 4.4MByte/s write over Wi-Fi.

Contrast this with one of our leading NAS boxes, the Synology DS211j, which transferred 1GB files over Ethernet at an average of 52MByte/s read, 50.8MByte/s write, and managed the same collection of 1000 x 1MB files at an average of 47.0MByte/s read, 40.7MByte/s write.

We were able to stream 720p video and most compressed 1080p video from the hard drive, but ‘professional’ quality 1080p video with lower or no compression would not play smoothly.

If you need a high-speed network storage solution for video editing, serving HD media to several devices at once, or anything else disk-speed intensive, the My Net N900 Central will not replace a dedicated high-quality NAS unit. Its performance is more in line with existing routers we’ve tested with support for USB 2.0-connected external hard drives, only in this case, the hard drive is internal and included in the price.

Besides the internal storage, the My Net N900 Central is sold on Western Digital’s ‘FasTrack Plus’ technology. This is a no-setup-required quality of service (QoS) mechanism which prioritises traffic such as streaming video, Xbox LIVE connections and Skype calls over other network activity such as backups and non-media downloads. The feature is on by default, and did seem to improve 720p YouTube playback when we deliberately saturated our internet connection with other downloads. Without the featured turned on, our YouTube clips would stutter or stop playing entirely in the same circumstances.

The downside is a lack of control – you can’t, for instance, prioritise Skype but not Xbox LIVE, or add your favourite online multiplayer game if it’s not supported. However, it’s possible to turn off FasTrack Plus, and specify your own QoS rules by address and port.

Remote access to your stored files is well implemented, via Western Digital’s WD 2go service. If remote access is enabled, the website services as a middle-man between your router and the internet – allowing you to log in without having to know your router’s public IP address, or needing a static IP at all.

Browsing and downloading files requires Java, which is somewhat annoying given the miraculous things services like Google Docs and Microsoft SkyDrive have managed to do with just HTML5 and JavaScript. Access also seemed very slow – far too slow to watch streaming 720p video – but that’s likely the result of the narrow upload bandwidth on our lab’s ‘home’ internet connection, rather than a fault with the service itself. New Zealanders have never had great luck with this kind of web service – we’d love to re-test the feature with UFB.

Free mobile apps are also provided for Android and iOS: WD 2go and WD Photos. The former lets you access shared files such as documents, whilst the latter acts as a mobile photo gallery for any photos stored on the My Net N900 Central. There’s no specific app to access videos and music, but any smartphone or tablet media player app that supports DLNA can be used with no setup required. The mobile apps will work over your local network, or over the internet subject to the same speed limitations we encountered with web access.

Altogether Western Digital’s My Net N900 Central is a functional home router. It has a few nice consumer-friendly QoS and remote access features, and provides the convenience of NAS without a separate box or complicated setup. On the downside, it lacks anywhere near the performance of a dedicated NAS unit, and doesn’t offer the same advanced sharing functionality such as multiple shares and user accounts.

A good option for backing up multiple PCs, and sharing files between devices on a network, without requiring a great amount of technical expertise.

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Harley Ogier

Harley Ogier

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