Buffalo AirStation 1750 £159.99
3rd Sep 2012 | 14:25
Buffalo's 802.11ac wireless router with 2.4GHz and 5GHZ support
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Take three wireless standards into the office? Actually yes, with the Buffalo AirStation 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Router, aka the Buffalo WZR-H1800R, we do. It seems you wait for an incremental improvement to an IEEE wireless standard and then three come along at once... sort of.
It feels as if the world has been stuck with 300Mbps 2.4GHz 802.11n networking for an age, and despite the original specification for 802.11n detailing 5GHz and 4x4 antenna, it's only now that we're seeing these deployed. But just as we get those two innovations, bang, a whole new specification is dropped on us by the networking gods.
Enter 802.11ac, which is most simply described as 802.11n 5GHz networking on enough steroids to jack a tortoise up to Usain Bolt speeds. Less hyperbolically, it's 5GHz 802.11n running over a 3x3 antenna array, so delivering three 433Mbps spatial streams with 80MHz channels, combining for a maximum of 1.3Gbps throughput.
That contrasts with the existing best that 802.11n can muster of three 150Mbps streams with 40MHz channels combining for a maximum 450Mbps.
Buffalo is one of the first to market with its own offering with this Buffalo AirStation 1750, providing simultaneous 2.4GHz 450Mbps 802.11n, 5GHz 450Mbps 802.11n and 5GHz 1.3Gbps 802.11ac all from the same router.
That contrasts with its AirStation 1300 Media Bridge http://www.techradrar.com/1093651, which offers either/or capabilities. These are currently based on the 802.11ac Draft 2, so there's no guarantee of forward compatibility or interoperability with other manufacturers' kit. Possible issues off the bat are options for five antenna, 160MHz channels and 80MHz channel bonding.
More perplexing is that no mini PCIe-compatible chipsets are expected until late into 2012, so don't expect any devices to take advantage of this at all. For testing we're using two routers, but if you fancy using a product that has an unratified standard and won't work directly with any products, hurrah, read on.
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As you'd expect from long-term networking experts Buffalo, the AirStation 1750 doesn't fall short in terms of specification. As we've already mentioned, the highlight is support for 1,300Mbps wireless 802.11ac. Besides this is the still impressive 5GHz 802.11a/n 450Mbps support, and the yet still impressive 2.4GHz 802.11n 450Mbps capabilities.
All of these are over three antenna arrays, hence the full 450Mbps support, and the router can support all three modes at the same time.
For physical connections, you'll find the common gathering of four gigabit LAN ports, plus the accompanying additional DSL WAN port. Configurations for the DSL WAN are also comprehensive nearly to the point of confusion, but a good automatic configuration takes care of most situations.
A USB port with accompanying hard eject button provides NAS and shared printer support. Annoyingly, only support for FAT 16/32 is offered alongside the obscure XFS, with a maximum of four partitions.
For media streaming, the FAT 32 and its 4GB file limit could easily be highly annoying, while XFS doesn't have direct Windows support. So a drive formatted on the NAS can't be plugged into a Windows PC to be read, apart from via a Linux system or Virtual PC.
We're always happy to see a real on/off button, and Buffalo provides its own AirStation One-touch Secure System (AOSS) button. This last feature supplants the standard WPS button, but only works with other Buffalo products. Apparently you can switch AOSS to WPS mode, but this isn't entirely obvious.
A final neat physical touch is a pull-out plastic insert that details the router's security settings. This helps you take those details to a remote system for ease of setting up, or leave it lying around so someone can jump on the router - either's a possibility.
The basic-looking web interface does nothing to hide the standard raft of features, options and extras that are built into the Buffalo AirStation 1750. This will likely be the main point of installation for people, which is a shame, since it's certainly not pretty or easy to navigate. Especially when put next to many other recent routers.
As you'd expect, VPN, Mac filter, DHCP control, Port forwarding and QoS are all offered. Oddly, only WPA1/2 passkey is supported, so there are no enterprise/RADIUS modes. Nor is there any guest-mode network access included. Buffalo likely considers these above and beyond its target market.
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Is there any other area of the computing world that over promises more than networking? We're struggling to think of one. True the jump from 802.11g to 802.11n did garner a healthy increase of doubling in speed, but the waters were so muddied by the incompatible MIMO releases and endless 802.11n drafts that by the time the official units appeared it didn't feel like a huge jump.
Once more we're being promised a threefold increase with the Buffalo AirStation 1750, and frankly the reality isn't awe-inspiring.
Partly testing is hampered because there are currently no suitable laptop wireless adaptors, with the first production chipsets expected towards the end of 2012. To get around this, we're going through a Buffalo AirStation D1300 Media Bridge, which unfortunately means there's no way of diagnosing connection speeds.
But since this is specifically designed to work in tandem with the Buffalo AirStation 1750, we're holding our hands up on this area and leaving it to Buffalo to do the work.
At best, we gained average transfer speeds of 30MB/s both upstream and downstream, which is damn fast, but still only around 50 per cent better than average-performance 2.4GHz and 5GHz routers.
It trails the top performing Western Digital N900 Central that managed mid-30MB/s speeds at 5GHz. Annoyingly we did see spikes into the 50MB/s and 40MB/s levels, but only momentarily, and these levels couldn't be reproduced or sustained.
Moving a solid wall away did see a slight drop in speed to 27MB/s on the up and downstream, which represents a better performance at the middle range.
In a way, the more impressive aspect of the Buffalo AirStation 1750 is its standard 450Mbps performance at 2.4GHz. At a distance of 25m we recorded some of the fastest transfers we've seen, averaging 12MB/s upstream and 8MB/s downstream, speeds that put 100BaseT wired connections to the test.
Two walls away we also recorded 20MB/s average transfers, which is a strong performance. As is often the case, the same-room speed fell off to 16MB/s, which is still among the better performances we've seen.
At 5GHz, its performance wasn't as impressive - again at a distance it averaged very good 7MB/s download and upload speeds. The 5GHz wavelength can suffer more, with an average download of 16.5MB/s through solid walls that attests to this in the one-room away test, as it struggled to get through the walls.
Things did picked up a little, to 17.4MB/s, for the same-room test, but this still lags behind the better router performances that we've seen such as from the Western Digital N900 Central.
The Buffalo AirStation 1750 is a high-end router that provides the turn of speed any cutting-edge home or demanding installation requires. With triple-antenna 450Mbps support at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, four Gigabit LAN ports plus that WAN port, it looks like it should please early adopters' every wish.
Attempting to make connection a little easier is the Buffalo AOSS button, which is only of use for connecting other Buffalo client devices, such as the AirStation D1300 Media Bridge.
Without doubt, this is a fast router. The new 802.11ac mode certainly pushes the speed barrier at middle ranges, but existing 5GHz technologies can match it. Its 2.4GHz performance at 450Mbps is excellent, especially at distance and the middle range, while its standard 5GHz speeds are good.
The sheer range of wireless options here are impressive. There are comprehensive options for WAN configurations, and the selection of four Gigabit LAN ports are exactly what we'd want to see.
The Buffalo web interface leaves a lot to be desired. While it'll be embraced by tech junkies for its comprehensive range of features and options with extensive logging options, even for experienced users its menu system is horrible to navigate. This makes it difficult to spot what you're trying to find or select.
More troublingly, it has fallen behind the consumer-friendly offerings from Fritz!Box, Asus and Western Digital, which all provide friendly-looking and interactive interfaces.
Despite its good performance, the 802.11ac seems wasted at this stage. Investing in a technology you can't take full advantage of at this point and yet is matched by existing technology doesn't make any sense, and is rather disappointing. The USB NAS failing to offer NTFS is an odd omission, since FAT 32 is so obviously limited these days in partition size and file size, which is going to hamper use.
It's also an odd point to finish on, but the supplied stands are also a terrible design, and are always falling off.
You'd be foolish to invest in any 802.11ac kit at this stage, but the technology shows promise and is the only way forward to increase speed beyond the existing 5GHz 802.11n standard. Beyond that, this is a very fast 2.4GHz router and a decent 5GHz router.