Pros

Excellent speed; fair price for the technology

Cons

Setup can be confusing due to limited external controls and lack of backwards-compatibility

Star Rating

My Net Bridge

Introduction

The Western Digital My Net Wireless AC Bridge, with the unwieldy model number WDBMRD0000NBL, is one of the first of a new generation of wireless products based on the 802.11ac wireless protocol, which promises speeds much greater than even 802.11n. The WD AC Bridge's specifications indicate top transfer speeds of 1300Mbps, but as with all wireless speed ratings, this is really just an indication of the product category, not the actual speed. Just as no 802.11n 300Mbps router could ever provide 300Mbps, don't expect the WD AC Bridge to support actual 13000Mbps speeds. It's just a theoretical number. The good news is that based on our testing, you can expect the WD AC Bridge to exceed the speed of any 802.11n products.

It's important to note what the WD AC Bridge is and is not - it's a bridge, not a router, even if it looks a bit like the routers produced both by Western Digital and other companies. A bridge is intended as a wireless receiving device, and does not connect directly to a Wide Area Network (WAN) like that provided by a DSL or cable modem. While it technically does route data to up to four devices connected via ethernet cables, it can only operate where a wireless router is already set up.  Think of it as an overgrown wireless adapter, but one that plugs into the ethernet port on a Internet-enabled device, rather than the USB port. It will not send a signal to wireless devices, such as a smartphone or laptop, nor does it need to, since by design it only operates in an environment where a wireless router is already receiving a signal.
 
Features

So given all the limitations on the WD AC Bridge noted above, what exactly does it offer and what type of user is it intended for? To put it simply, this is the greatest gift any home theater user could ever wish for. Given a sophisticated audio-visual (AV) setup including a Internet-enabled TV, Blu-Ray player, gaming console(s), home theater PC, and/or streaming media device, this product will make use of all of these products so much simpler. The problem with many Internet-enabled devices is that they do not have built-in wireless, and even those that do have weak wireless transmitters that often rely on wireless protocols that are obsolete before they even enter the market. The Playstaion 3 is an example of just such a product - having been released in 2006, to this day it has only been offered with an incredibly outdated 802.11g wireless receiver.

Enter the WD AC Bridge. It offers up to four devices equipped with ethernet jacks a ticket to the fastest possible wireless speeds available today, faster in fact than just about any wired Internet service. And because the WD AC Bridge only needs to be set up once regardless of how many devices are connected, you don't face the constant struggle of setting up and troubleshooting the wireless problems associated with multiple devices.

The easiest way to set up the WD AC Bridge is using the WPS button on the front of the device. This only works, however, if you have a router that also includes a WPS button. Another very significant restriction is that the router must operate on the 5GHz band, either 802.11a, 802.11n 5GHz, or 802.11ac. Most 802.11n routers only transmit on the 2.4GHz band and will not work with the WD AC Bridge. Furthermore, even dual-band 802.11n routers will likely default to 2.4GHz, meaning the WPS button will not work and a manual setup will be required. Luckily, WD allows for manual setup as long as you have at least one computer connected to the device. Simply type in http://192.168.1.240 into a web browser to access the WD AC Bridge's control panel. 

Performance

In a word, performance of the WD AC Bridge is stunning. Speed is its main feature, and it provides that without fuss.

We tested the WD AC Bridge using a dual-band 802.11n router, the Asus RT-N56U, which is one of the fastest 802.11n routers available. We set it manually to utilize a 40Mhz channel bandwidth on the 5GHz band. Unsurprisingly, we easily maxed out our 25mbps cable Internet connection, which even standard 802.11n can do. It was in our network file transfer tests that the WD AC Bridge really shined. It sustained a 120mbps (15MB/s) transfer rate between computers on our network, improving significantly upon the 10.5MB/s speeds we achieved using a 5GHz 802.11n adapter. This is despite the fact that both were communicating with an 802.11n router - obviously, the electronics in the WD AC Bridge are superior, offering an upgrade even on 802.11n. Most importantly, this speed is very consistent, unlike with less powerful USB wireless adapters. Clearly, there's more speed on tap here, and once we have an 802.11ac router in house, we'll update these results.

Conclusion

We've tested the WD AC Bridge extensively connected to a Windows HTPC, a PS3, and an Xbox360. All three recognized the bridge connection immediately once connected and achieved much faster speeds than they did with their built-in wireless, especially the PS3. None of the devices has suffered a single disconnect in months of use. Given the speed, relative ease of use, and price, we strongly recommend the WD My Net AC Bridge to anyone needing high-speed wireless Internet access for multiple ethernet-enabled devices. Just make sure you have at least a dual-band 802.11n router, or better yet, splurge for an 802.11ac model!

The Western Digital My Net AC Bridge is currently available for $129.99 shipped from Newegg.

[Update: In mid-2014, this product went out of production, and as of our most recent update is only available as a closeout from smaller vendors, including several listed as third parties on Amazon.]

Special thanks to Western Digital and Newegg for providing this review sample.