It wasn’t long ago when I thought AU$21 for a single band, single stream wireless N router was an absolute bargain, but this is just unbelievable.
What if I told you that there’s a dual band wireless N router with gigabit ports for the low low price of AU$29 – how can this be? Even dual band wireless N adapters retail for a higher price. Even a gigabit switch has a very similar price.
What if I then told you, it has a 2T2R configuration on 2.4Ghz (300Mbit/s) and 3T3R on 5Ghz (450Mbit/s) which can be used simultaneously, with two USB ports for storage sharing. Sounds pretty good right?
Well, it turns out, it’s definitely reality. MSY has been selling the Western Digital MyNet N750 Wireless Router for just AU$29. Stock is almost definitely going to be short at this price, but I managed to get my hands on one.
Since I’m not ready to uproot my entire network, this will just be a “first look” style review. I haven’t had the time to fully test its stability as a router, but it seems many people have had various issues with the routing on it. Instead, I’ve been using it as an AP in AP mode with no problems at all, so I suppose for that alone, it’s a bargain!
The router comes in a nice simple colour glossy cardboard box, and advertises their FasTrack QoS algorithms, along with the 300+450Mbit/s configuration.
As the “middle child” in the range of three, it is the earliest unit in the range with Gigabit Ethernet. The router is IPv6 ready and is capable of running on both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands simultaneously.
The front flap on the box lists the system requirements – notable is that the product doesn’t advertise support for Windows 8, likely due to its age. After all, we are beginning the 802.11ac era, and soon, maybe even 802.11ad/af.
The router itself features all internal antennas, and is the size of a hardcover book. It’s finished in a mixture of matte and gloss plastic and has a fairly simplistic aesthetic.
The front of the unit features a few blue LEDs which indicate power, wireless, internet connectivity and WPS status. A WPS push button is also provided on the front.
Unlike most other routers, link and activity indicators for each port are provided on the rear. A physical power switch is provided, as are two USB ports for hosting storage.
The underside of the router has holes for ventilation, as does the border between the white and black plastic casing at the top. The reset button is placed on the underside to avoid unintentional resets.
The unit is supplied with a warranty guide and a quick start guide and setup CD combination.
As can be seen by the inside of the leaflet, the CD is not necessary for setting up the router. You can instead go to http://192.168.1.1 and set up from there with the default admin/password combination.
The router is provided with a 12v 2A power adapter from Asian Power Devices Inc, the same supplier for many external hard drive power supplies. Also supplied is a single yellow LAN cable.
The screws are concealed underneath the rubber feet, and feature three Philips screws and one Torx. Peeking inside, we can see the use of removable metal cans covering all the RF-relevant circuitry.
JP1 may be a serial console port, JP2 appears to be a JTAG port, which can be used for debricking the router. The USB ports are connected through a Genesys Logic GL850G USB Hub (U29). Capacitors used across the router are Taicon, and it seems that there are three separate sets of switching converters for various purposes.
The antennas are all of a printed circuit board type, mounted on the edges of the router. To maintain the maximum range, you should keep all sides of the router clear. The 2.4Ghz pair is soldered to the board, and uses the bottom left, and top right slots. The remaining three slots are used for the 5Ghz antennas, which are attached to clip-on connectors.
It would be a simple task to modify the router to have external 5Ghz antennas simply by removing the printed board antennas, drilling a few holes for RP-SMA connectors, and buying some RP-SMA pigtails to click into the sockets. Still a bit strange they didn’t do that for the 2.4Ghz radio.
Removing the cans exposes a completely Atheros based solution. Visible is an AR8327N-AL1A 7-port Low-power Managed/Layer3 Gigabit Switch with Hardware NAT, AR9344-BC2A 802.11n 2×2 2.4/5Ghz Premium SoC and AR9380-AL1A Single-chip 2.4/5Ghz 3-stream 802.11a/b/g/n solution with SST3 Technology.
This is backed by two DRAM modules – ESMT M14D5121632A 8M x 16 bit x 4 bank DDR2 SDRAM, for a total capacity of 128 megabytes of RAM (if my calculations are correct). That is normally what you find from a relatively high end router.
The antennas are clipped into the case as well as stuck to it by using double-sided sticky tape. This is a 5Ghz antenna, with the printed pattern visible. It looks like it’s some form of F-antenna, made my B.gear Whayu Industrial Co. Ltd.
The 2.4Ghz antenna comes from the same supplier, and seems to be a printed dipole design. The antenna itself seems to be horizontally polarized, which would cause reduced signal strength when used with other devices with vertically polarized antennas.
All the antennas have to be removed in order to flip the PCB over. The PCB is marked with 8WRGND13.2A1G, week 7 2012. The flash appears to be provided by U31, an MXIC High Performance Serial Flash MX25L12835EMI-10G 128Mbit flash (16 megabytes).
Setting Up and Testing
The router setup wizard starts up as soon as you punch in 192.168.1.1.
The router tries to set itself up as a router, as expected, but I wasn’t really interested in this mode.
The firmware itself is fairly old too. You can manually configure everything by clicking on Advanced settings, which exposes the ability to change the operation mode to AP mode.
Once you do this, it is then able to access the internet properly and offer you a firmware update downloaded and automatically applied by the router.
After configuring it with all my required configurations (e.g. Static IP, WPS Off, wireless channels, SSID, passkey), I left it for testing by a certain few select devices I owned. As far as it went, it ran stably over several days with no hiccups whatsoever, but AP mode does negate most of the “complications” of routing. It’s still a killer price even if you want to use it as a single band AP to supplement an existing 2.4Ghz setup.
Performance was tested with a 2T2R dual-band 802.11ac Broadcom based card, as I had nothing of higher performance. On the 5Ghz band, I achieved a payload rate of 180Mbit/s which is about right – the maximum physical layer rate is 300Mbit/s due to 2T2R link, and the throughput is typically half that due to overhead. On the 2.4Ghz band, I achieved a payload rate of 82Mbit/s which is also about right – while the physical layer rate is 300Mbit/s due to 2T2R link, 40Mhz mode is unusable due to crowding, so only 150Mbit/s physical layer rate is available and throughput is normally half of this.
A site survey was done using my Samsung Galaxy S3 compared to the existing single band TP-Link single-stream N access points, and it seems the range of the WD router is slightly less with lower RSSI readings at most points. It does, however, provide decent enough coverage of an apartment or duplex. It is likely that polarization mismatch and the small size of the printed antennas are contributors to the reduced range experienced.
USB Storage was tested with a 4Gb FAT32 USB key attached to one of the ports. It was noted that attaching any exFAT formatted media will not mount. Access via Windows sharing was achieved, however, running heavy loads such as CrystalDiskMark on the network drive resulted it being inaccessible until the router is rebooted. As a result, the USB storage isn’t really stable enough for heavy workloads.
It seems like it’s good hardware for aftermarket firmware, however, there isn’t any available at the moment.
If one is looking for a bargain router, buy this one at your own risk. Many people seemed to have trouble with it, but I can confirm it works very well as an access point. The USB storage suffered from stability problems under heavy workloads, and you use it at your own risk.
The wireless range of this router isn’t as good as ones with external antennas, but the difference is only small (~3-6dB RSSI, likely due to polarization mismatch). The throughput, however, is as expected from a router of this speed rating.
The supplied firmware requires a bit of patience to navigate and doesn’t feature all the customization as expected from some other routers. It is sufficient for most users, however, it seems to lack polish in terms of stability if the user opinions are to be believed. Unfortunately, there is no third party firmware available for the router, however, hopefully with the information provided by the teardown, there might be some available in the future.
Regardless, you really do get a surprising amount of hardware for your dollar!