Over the course of a year, we test a lot of tech products, from laptops through tablets to mobiles, along with a range of other hardware from routers to external hard disks, and of course an abundance of software from office suites to security utilities.
And every year, products make improvements on the previous year’s offerings, both in terms of quality and value. Indeed, many product categories have a number of excellent offerings among their ranks – but sometimes you want things really narrowed down. Sometimes, you want to know the winner among the winners – and that’s what this series of articles is all about.
We’ve already looked at a number of categories thus far, including the best laptops of 2013, the top tablets, and the best smartphone and mobile devices (for more links, see the Related Articles section underneath the comments at the bottom of this article).
In each category, we’ve highlighted the top product for 2013 across all the main sub-categories within. Today, we’re looking at the best networking products.
Each product mentioned is the top of its class for 2013, and as such comes with an unreserved recommendation.
So, which is our favourite router or SMB NAS of the year? Read on to find out… and stay tuned for more top products of 2013 in the coming days as we run up to Christmas.
Best router: Linksys EA6700 (£163)
This Linksys model might not be the cheapest router around, but it has a great deal to offer in terms of features and speed. The Linksys EA6700 boasts a useful Smart Wi-Fi cloud platform which allows users to access their routers from any location using a web browser (or Android and iOS smartphone apps). Smart Wi-Fi is the first router cloud platform and still the most comprehensive with a slick and intuitive user interface and support for third-party applications.
The EA6700 also has a USB 3.0 port, and it boasts an NFC-enabled Simple Tap card that allows the user to add NFC devices (smartphones/tablets) to the network simply by touching them to the card. Perhaps most importantly, when it came to our router group test, this was the fastest 802.11ac router – and all that makes it our top buy for 2013.
Best NAS (SOHO/prosumer): Seagate Central (£102)
The Seagate Central is simply the best single-drive NAS device we've ever seen. It ships in 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB models (the 2TB model is £102 currently) and supports Windows XP (and later) and Mac OS X 10.4.9 onwards. You can use it to share and stream files throughout your home network. Seagate also provides customers with a complimentary remote access service; all you need to do is set up an online account for anywhere, anytime access to the data stored on your Seagate Central.
Best NAS (SMB): Synology DiskStation DS1812+ (£770)
Synology's DiskStation DS1812+ is a cracking product, featuring a capacity of up to 32TB (expandable to 72TB), and great performance, particularly with write speeds. This box can take just about anything an SMB could think to throw at a NAS. The often dreary task of storage management is brightened by Synology's Hybrid RAID technology and the ease of configuring its fault tolerance.
Best network utility: WD My Cloud for Android (free)
The WD My Cloud app is a companion app to Western Digital's My Cloud NAS device. The app delivers a surprisingly robust level of data management as well as anywhere, anytime, remote access. It's a must-have additional piece of software for users of the My Cloud NAS, especially as we ease into the post-PC era and need our mobile devices to interact seamlessly with our home networking devices. A well-designed interface makes managing My Cloud from any smartphone a snap, letting you perform tasks such as uploading and downloading files, adding folders, sharing files with others, and more.
Best network management tool: Network Toolbox for iOS (£2.49)
This smart app turns an iOS device into a networking toolkit. Network Toolbox is a one-stop central console chockfull of networking utilities and tools such as SHODAN, FTP, Telnet, Ping, and more. It's so potentially powerful, in fact, that upon install, the app flashes up the following warning: “Not intended to assist with analysing remote sites with the intention of breaking into or exploiting services on those sites.” The warning makes sense, as Network Toolbox provides just about every utility a would-be hacker needs to access a poorly secured network.