Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge £130

3rd Sep 2012 | 14:42

Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge

802.11ac capabilities and 2.4GHz and 5GHZ support in this media bridge

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Like:

802.11ac support; 2.4GHz and 5GHz support; 3x3 antenna; Gigabit LAN ports; Easy installation;

Dislike:

802.11ac Draft 2; Outperformed by other routers; Sub-par 5GHz performance; Router-level pricing;

Introduction

Providing the solution to connecting everything is the Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge, which is good, since getting every device connected in a digital home or connected office isn't easy. Every new device seemingly comes with integrated Wi-Fi, with even TVs or Blu-Ray players offering at least an Ethernet port, but how to take advantage of these latest standards?

Enter the age of the wireless bridge. Products such as the Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge (also known as the Buffalo WLI-H4-D1300) and Asus RT-N66U provide a way of extending a wireless internet network to otherwise incompatible or Wi-Fi-lacking devices.

All of that isn't anything too spectacular in itself, but the big thing to note for this Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge are its 802.11ac capabilities.

Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge review

This enables it to connect with the Buffalo AirStation 1750, which was the first available 802.11ac router on the market. In theory this should give a hypersonic transfer speed or whatever the network-equivalent superlative is.

Considering at the time of writing there are no actual 802.11ac laptop adaptors available, or indeed any other devices, this makes it rather essential to be able to make anything of 802.11ac other than a nice shiny sticker on the side of the box.

For those not in the know, it's effectively 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.

Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge review

That contrasts with the existing best that 802.11n can muster of three 150Mbps streams, with 40MHz channels combining for a maximum 450Mbps.

Since this Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge isn't designed to be a full router but more an intermediary connection, it'll only connect at 2.4GHz or 5GHz, depending on your installation. So it should still be of interest to everyone wanting to extend or bridge devices on their network.

Specification

On the face of it, the Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge isn't much to shout about. It takes the dull business styling from the rest of the range. For a bridge it's rather on the large side, being not much smaller than the full Buffalo AirStation 1750.

Partly, you could put this down to the four for Gigbit LAN ports, which certainly get our thumbs up, and are a good step up from the Asus RT-N66U, which only has the one. They should also be necessary, because even a good 2.4GHz connection should max out a 100BaseT connection with its 12.5MB/s upper limit.

Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge review

To help ease connections, Buffalo routers feature an AOSS button, which stands for AirStation One-touch Secure System. If you're running an all Buffalo ecosystem then this does indeed make connecting to your chosen router a one-touch profess, even if that's actually one touch on each station. If you're not, then it will double as a WPS button.

It's not necessary as such, but if you want to alter the configuration, such as disabling the AOSS mode or adjusting the WPS key, there is a web interface. On the bridge it's rather minimal, not offering much beyond the mentioned adjustments with logging and basic IP settings. But then it shouldn't need much.

Additionally, there is a 5GHz front LED and rear button. This is down to the router only supporting separate 2.4GHz or 5GHz modes, with a long-press of the button switching between the two.

Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge review

We don't see this as a disadvantage for the bridge, since it's really a case of connecting to the best available frequency available. In this case it will be the 5GHz network.

As we've mentioned, this is a three-antenna unit, so if you're running a 2.4GHz network it's capable of 450Mbps, as long as your router is capable of the same. The 450Mbps is also replicated at 5GHz when running in 802.11n mode.

Obviously when an 802.11ac-capable router is available, this should open up a world of speed and 1.3Gbps transfers. We'll look at real-world performance next.

Performance

It's a perplexing situation testing an unratified standard in draft format, especially when no laptop or desktop cards for the standard even exist yet.

This forces testing to be run between two routers - in this case we have the Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge and the Buffalo AirStation 1750. While it's fine functionally, it 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.

Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge review

It also means we're not able to run the same location test that we run on most of our other routers. While we can test same-room functionality, we're not using the same mid-distance test, which is one room away with a solid wall in between, and we're also unable to run long-distance tests. It's simply another sign of the lack of flexibility that the current technology imposes.

Under 802.11ac 5GHz conditions, 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, where you'd expect low 20MB/s speeds.

More of a problem for the Buffalo Media Bridge D1300 is that it trails the top performing Western Digital My Net N900 Central, which managed mid-30MB/s speeds at 5GHz with a 450Mbps connection.

Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge review

Tantalisingly, we saw spikes into the 50MB/s and 40MB/s levels, but only momentarily and these levels couldn't be reproduced or sustained. But this is likely a glimpse at what the technology could be capable of.

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 and shows that the technology will offer better performance in more trying situations.

At 2.4GHz speed was very good, averaging 21MB/s downstream with peaks hitting 24MB/s upstream. Against 2.4GHz 300Mbps kit this is a strong performance, matching the best we've seen. But it still doesn't match the 300Mbps 5GHz kit we've tested, such as the Asus EA-N66 or the exceptional Western Digital N900 range.

Verdict

The real killer for the Buffalo AirStation 1300 Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge (WLI-H4-D1300) is that at a launch retail price of £130, it's only priced £20 less than the full Buffalo AirStation 1750 router.

There's no reason to buy this as a standalone unit with an non-802.11ac network. We did find the 2.4GHz 450Mbps to be very good, but it's still out performed by existing 300Mbps 5GHz kit, and kit that costs a good deal less.

Plus 802.11ac in itself isn't ratified, so you can't buy this for use with non-Buffalo kit and risk it not working, or not being able to update to full compliance.

We liked

At its heart, Buffalo has done its networking thing rather well. The installation can be reduced to just two button presses using its AOSS system, while wavelength selection is similarly reduced to a single button press. Diagnostics aren't as straightforward, but its minimal web interface is largely unrequired, and once connected it's not possible anyway.

The four full Gigabit LAN ports are exactly what we want to see. We're also very happy to see the triple-antenna support, but then that's the bear minimum required for 802.11ac support. This also has the kick-on effect of providing 450Mbps support for 802.11n systems at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

We disliked

The lack of real speed over existing technologies is a big disappointment for 802.11ac. We understand this is Draft 2, but that also does little to dispel worries over interoperability, future compatibility and upgrades to the full standard. Once actual compatible adaptors appear, perhaps we can enjoy more flexible working environments.

Final verdict

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 bridge with draft 802.11ac support.

Within an all-Buffalo ecosystem it does make sense, but if you're hoping to take advantage of triple-connection speeds then forget it - those simply didn't materialise. At worst it's a little slower than existing 5GHz 450Mbps-capable routers, and at best you could expect a doubling in speed over older 300Mbps 2.4GHz routers, with that dropping to a 50 per cent increase over more recent ones.

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