Western Digital gets into the networking business


— 7:00 AM on June 14, 2012

When Western Digital told me it was entering an entirely new product category, I didn't know what to expect. SSDs wouldn't be different enough, and WD's been there before. Perhaps the new venture would be gaming headsets; we've been seeing a lot of those lately. Or maybe iPad cases. Nope, it's networking gear—specifically, My Net "entertainment accelerators." Ahem.

The decision to get into networking hardware was born from Western Digital's experience developing its MyBook Live and WD TV products. We're doing more with media than ever before, WD contends, on an increasing number of devices. This trend is especially pronounced in the home, where a network might reasonably contain a handful of PCs or notebooks, some network-attached storage, a tablet or two, and at least a couple of smartphones. The router sits in the middle of those largely wireless devices, and that's where WD has concentrated its efforts.

While the My Net series is indeed made up of routers, there is some truth to the "entertainment accelerator" tagline. Western Digital has developed a FasTrak traffic prioritization technology capable of interpreting one's network traffic and adjusting accordingly. An off-the-shelf microprocessor loaded with custom firmware and software is purportedly capable of detecting streaming movies, online games, and voice or video chats at the session level. It prioritizes those sessions accordingly, and users can set preferences of their own.

There are two flavors of FasTrack. The baseline implementation provides QoS functionality, but only for pre-defined services. A total of 21 services can be defined, and WD sets six by default. You can bet fan favorites like NetFlix will be among them. FastTrack Plus, available on only the My Net N900 routers, supports an unlimited number of user-defined services. It also offers real-time traffic analysis, which requires no user customization.

In addition to one form of FasTrack or another, all the routers support printer and storage sharing. Fresh from the box, they can be configured over Wi-Fi using little more than a smartphone. WD says the setup process has been streamlined to make it as easy as possible.

There are four My Net routers in total. The N900 has two bands of 450Mbps 802.11n Wi-Fi, plus seven Gigabit Ethernet ports, dual USB 2.0 ports, and DLNA certification. FasTrack Plus is available on the N900 and the N900 Central. The N900 Central gives up three GigE ports and one USB 2.0 connector but adds a terabyte or two of integrated storage. The two N900 Central configs will retail for $299 and $349, respectively. Expect to pay $179 for the standard N900.

If you're looking for something less exotic, the My Net N750 offers dual bands, one at 450Mbps and the other at 300Mbps. The N750 has four GigE ports and a couple of USB ports, and it will sell for $109. For $30 less, penny pinchers will be able to nab the N600. This budget model has dual 300Mbps bands but is limited to one USB port and four 100Mbps Ethernet ports. Unlike the others, the N600 can't handle multiple HD streams over Wi-Fi.

The N900 is the most intriguing of the bunch. I just wish it had at least one SuperSpeed USB port. USB 2.0 tops out at around 37MB/s under ideal conditions, and we've clocked GigE transfers at more than three times that speed.

   
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