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Wireless Reviews

Wireless Performance Overview

The N900 is Wi-Fi Certified with the 2.4 GHz radio defaulting to 20 MHz mode and the 5 GHz to Auto 20/40 mode upon power-up. Both radios default to the same SSID (WesternDigital), so you'll need to assign unique ones if you want to be able to direct clients to a particular band.

While you're at it, you should enable WPA2 security and enter network keys on both bands. Because, even though WPS comes enabled on the N900, your client won't prompt you to enter a PIN or push the button on the router to start a WPS session. Once I did that, I successfully ran a pushbutton Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) session that completed quickly and resulted in a WPA2/AES secured connection.. All tests were run with this secured connection using our current wireless test process.

I ran the two new tests to see if the N900 properly refrained from switching into 40 MHz bandwidth mode when it wasn't supposed to. I'm happy to report that both the 40 MHz Coexistence and Fat channel intolerant tests passed. So you don't have to worry about the N900 stepping on neighboring WLANs, even when it is set to Auto 20/40 mode.

As with all "N-900" routers, we'll start with an overview, then provide the details for those who want to dig into the details.

The Benchmark Summary below shows some surprisingly high three-stream averages, which I'll dig into more shortly.

N900 benchmark summary
N900 benchmark summary

Table 5 summarizes the highest wireless throughput measured out of all locations in the 20 MHz mode test runs. In all cases, the highest throughput was measured in Location A. Of particular note are the 2.4 GHz, 3 stream, 20 MHz results that all exceed 100 Mbps.

Test Group Max Dn (Mbps) Max Up (Mbps) Dn/Up (Mbps)
2.4 GHz, 2 stream, 20 MHz 58 51 77
2.4 GHz, 3 stream, 20 MHz 117 116 121
Table 5: Highest Throughput, 20 MHz mode

In fact, running a quick chart of three-stream 2.4 GHz downlink in Max throughput mode shows the N900 beating the ever-popular ASUS RT-N66U by a lot (117 vs. 86 Mbps)! Moving to the uplink version of the same chart shows the N900 again beating the ASUS, but by not as much (116 vs. 101 Mbps).

This pattern is repeated for 40MHz bandwidth mode shown in Table 6. Note the maximum uplink throughput of 217 Mbps! If I didn't have the IxChariot plot to prove it, I wouldn't have believed it!

Test Group Max Dn (Mbps) Max Up (Mbps) Dn/Up (Mbps)
2.4 GHz, 2 stream, 40 MHz 64 70 101
2.4 GHz, 3 stream, 40 MHz 135 217 150
Table 6: Highest Throughput, 40 MHz mode

The 5 GHz, 40 MHz mode uplink throughput of 167 Mbps is also impressive, but that's not the whole story. Jumping ahead to look at the Performance Table for 5 GHz, 2 streams reveals the N900's true 5 GHz colors. There are only measurements in locations A and C because that's all I could measure! The WD N900 is the first router I've ever tested that could not be tested in location D. In fact, my Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 client in an Acer Aspire 1810T could barely hold onto a signal in location C!

Location C signal was more stable with the three stream client (Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 / Lenovo X220i). But neither client could even detect the N900 when I moved them to location D.

I was intrigued as to the cause, so ran a quick inSSIDer scan with a laptop about a foot away from the N900 and then my NETGEAR WNDR3700v2 house router. I found the NETGEAR's 5 GHz signal was about 10 dB lower than its 2.4. But inSSIDer showed the N900's 5 GHz RSSI about 24 dB lower than its 2.4 GHz signal.

I reported this to WD and long story short, I found a manufacturing problem in currently shipping product that WD is in the process of sorting out. The good news is that WD said that the bad 5 GHz performance should be able to be fixed via a firmware update. But the timeframe for the fix at this point is unknown.

When WD does release the fix, I will retest the 5 GHz band and update the results. But in the meantime, the poor 5 GHz results you see in the charts are what to expect if you pick up a N900 right now.

Updated 10/15/2012

So the bottom line is that the N900 produced the highest throughput I've ever seen from any three-stream router on its 2.4 GHz side. See the 5 GHz retest review for that band's results with a new, properly-operating sample that WD provided.

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