With streaming media to our TVs, tablets and personal devices, plus Internet-connected video game consoles, web surfing and Skype, our poor little home network routers can become overwhelmed and overworked. Create a bottleneck at your router, and that streaming movie’s bit rate and resolution could be downgraded or an online game paused, allowing an opponent to sneak up behind you. Game over.
Western Digital believes it has the answer in a line of My Net dual-band 802.11n (Wireless-N) routers it calls entertainment accelerators. It’s not just about bit rate and speed, WD says, but the ability to prioritize the different streams of data coming into your home. So you can program a priority for movies and online gaming, for instance. Or even have the routers identify these streams automatically.
That’s what Western Digital’s new N600, N750, and N900 routers can do. They contain software and chip circuitry to analyze network traffic and prioritize these activities over web surfing and less demanding tasks, thereby enabling your Netflix stream to come through unhindered. The company’s FasTrack technology instantly detects entertainment traffic on the network. “Our routers will know what’s video, what’s audio and gaming and video chat,” says Western Digital product manager Paul Chen.
• The entry-level $79 N600 has total speeds of 600 Mbps (300 + 300 Mbps on the 2.4 and 5 Ghz bands combined) and four Ethernet ports and one USB port. It would be used for one Internet-connected movie device in a home, plus surfing from a notebook or iPad, the company says.
• The $119 N750 provides 750 Mbps (300 + 450 Mbps) performance for more mid-tiered users who might be streaming a movie and gaming at the same time, but don’t need all of the bells and whistles that come with the most expensive models. It has four Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB ports.
• The $179 N900 boasts 900 Mbps speeds (450 + 450 Mbps) for a heavy user with multiple HD streams. It includes seven LAN and one WLAN Gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as two USB ports. It is UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified.
• The flagship N900 Central includes an integrated 1TB ($299) or 2TB ($349) storage drive networked into the router to help a family centralize all their important content and save their content from any computer in the home. Remote access to My Net N900 Central is available on any computer through www.WD2go.com and with WD mobile apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Android smartphones and tablets.
N900 Central can also provide automatic wireless backup with the included WD SmartWare software for Windows, while Mac users can utilize the features of Apple Time Machine backup software. N900 Central routers are also UPnP and DLNA certified. The routers with integrated hard drives should be available in about a month, says the company.
• In addition, WD offers a $69 My Net Switch with eight Gigabit ports for expanding your wired connections with super-fast Gigabit Ethernet up to 10/100/1000 Mbps. It features auto sensing ports and green power management with auto power down and cable length detection.
Choosing the grade of your router is really about how much simultaneous entertaining you do in the house, says the company. Just don’t forget to tally up the kids’ tablets and phones that may be streaming video much of the time.
WD says its streamlined router setup is designed to make it easy for novice users to be up and running in minutes, while also providing all the customization tools expert users crave. The My Net Dashboard allows users to customize, monitor or change the settings of the network, including setting parental controls, Internet security, guest network access, network name and password, printer and scanner settings, and mapping storage drives.
My Net N900, My Net N750, My Net N600 and My Net Switch are available June 14 at select U.S. retailers and online at wdstore.com.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates