It’s here! The next generation of Wi-Fi. Wireless 802.11ac is the next wireless standard to succeed the latest 802.11n standard. This next generation wireless is substantially faster than all of the previous Wi-Fi standards, delivering speeds 3X faster than 802.11n. We’re talking “gigabit” wireless speeds, similar to a wired connection. Buffalo Technology is one of the first brands to release an 802.11AC router. We got our hands on one of the first Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Wireless Routers, and to make the most of it, we’re also reviewing Buffalo’s 802.11ac Media Bridge. With the two devices, we can deliver a wired-like connection between two points anywhere in our home and achieve flawless HD streaming and extreme network activity, without hiccups.
If you recall the progression, we consumers started our journey into wireless networking with 802.11a and b. “b” topped out at wireless speeds of 11mbps. Next was “g”, which was a huge improvement, topping out at 54mbps. “n” was yet another big jump, sporting theoretical speeds of 150mbps on four simultaneous WiFi “streams”. 802.11ac, whose standard is still in draft, has theoretical speeds capable of 866mbps on 8 streams. This is a very large improvement over any WiFi signal we’ve ever used. It’s 3X faster than 802.11n and it has improved reliability and range. It’s also known as 5G, for being the fifth generation of WiFi.
What’s in the Box:
The AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router offers a lot of benefits over most any router on the market today. It’s not just speed that’s enhanced, but it offers faster throughput, a higher capacity of network activity, and a stronger signal with broader/extended coverage. It supports the new 802.11ac draft standard, and perfectly integrates with an existing wireless infrastructure. Also, forget about wireless dead-zones in the house.
When it comes to wireless router speeds, this Buffalo Air Station is pretty much king. The dual-band solution can utilize both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz spectrum bands, with simultaneous transfer speeds up to 1.3Gbps in the 5 GHz spectrum and 450 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band. There’s two wireless radios inside, 802.11n and 802.11ac; both can be utilized at the same time. A single device can wirelessly transfer at a speed up to 130Mbps on the 5Ghz spectrum.
The back of the router has 5 gigabit Ethernet ports, one of which is for the Internet (WAN). Gigabit Ethernet connections (10/100/1000mbps) are yet another improvement over many other routers, which may still use 10/100mbps connections. There’s a USB on the back of the router that makes network file sharing and media sharing a breeze. It can also be used to connect a printer to the home network. The Air Station is DLNA certified, so it can stream content from the hard drive to any compatible TV or media player.
To make the most of the AirStation wireless-ac router, you need devices that are ac compatible. Since ac is so new, there’s not much out there. That’s where the AirStation wireless media bridge comes to play. The media bridge is also 802.11ac, and setup is an almost non-existent process. This device adds an access point anywhere in your house; you can hook up wired devices for an experience like wiring straight in to your router.
Your Xbox, PS3, Boxee, Roku, Apple TV, Computer, media player, or ethernet device can take advantage of the WLI-H4-D1300′s super fast and efficient connection to the wireless router. Streaming HD videos and sharing files between computers has never been so fast.
Internally, the bridge isn’t so different from the router; it has dual-band wireless with built-in wireless-n and ac radios. It’s completely backward compatible with other wireless standards. The bridge also has gigabit ethernet ports and rocks the same exact design as the router.
Buffalo did well with the AirStation ac router and bridge design; they built a device that actually looks nice in your living room, computer room, kitchen, wherever. There’s no ugly antennas, and it’s not made of any tacky bright colors that only belong in a server room. Its slim and rounded square design is smooth matte black with silver trim. It’s shaped similarly to Apple’s Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme. Buffalo’s AirStation router and bridge look virtually the same. On the front are status LEDs and an illuminated “Buffalo” logo. They both can lie flat or stand up with the two included legs. The stand could be a little sturdier, but it does the job.
For us, there were two setups: setting up the router, and setting up the bridge. We were baffled at how easy the bridge was to pair and set up. Rather than fiddling with a complicated process and manually setting IP addresses, Buffalo made it easier than cake. Both the router and the bridge have an “AOSS” button (short for AirStation OneTouch Secure System). After the router is set up, press this button on both devices and an encrypted connection is made. That’s all there is to the bridge set up, you’re ready to plug in devices and use them as if you were plugged straight into the network.
As with all routers, the set up is a process; Buffalo’s wizard makes it pretty easy though. The physical set up is simple: plug the modem into the WAN port and plug the router into the wall. You can set up the Buffalo AirStation Router wirelessly by using a WiFi password included in the package. There’s a CD included that contains the setup wizard. Alternatively, the first time you open a browser, you’ll be prompted to set up your router. The wizard takes you through all the basic setup features. It’s easy enough for anyone to get a wireless connection up and running.
The Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H has a plethora of features. Unfortunately, navigating Buffalo’s configuration page isn’t the most intuitive. It does, however, do a good job of pinning a description of all the features along the side of each page. Some of the more advanced features include port forwarding, NAS configuration, BitTorrent download manager, VPN, DDNS, UPnP, client monitoring, QoS, and DMZ.
Off the bat, it was apparent that our wireless range was improved, as were speeds. We also never dropped a connection, which we noticed at least a couple times a day with our D-Link DAP-1522 Wireless-N router. Dead-zones were never an issue in this apartment; I did notice the range improved slightly on my iPhone just from walking down the street, outside the apartment. With the AirStation WZR-D1800H we could start charging our upstairs and downstairs neighbors to share our internet (but we’ll pass on that idea).
We really couldn’t believe how easy it was to set up the WLI-H4-D1300 wireless bridge. It was a matter of minutes before we had our Boxee hooked up on the other side of the apartment, benefiting from super fast speeds. Immediately, we noticed a great improvement on Boxee’s Netflix app; the buffering time was noticeably reduced and the image quality doesn’t get downgraded. Streaming HD content locally over the network was yet another vast improvement. With the Buffalo AC bridge, buffering time is greatly improved as is the overall streaming quality; no stuttering on 1080P content.
On our old D-Link router, a 1GB file took 2 minutes and 25 seconds to wirelessly transfer from an 802.11n laptop to a wired computer. The same test took exactly one minute using Buffalo’s AirStation router, and that’s still with an 802.11n laptop. We plugged the laptop directly into the Buffalo 802.11ac bridge and it only took 40 seconds to transfer the same file. We plugged our laptop directly into the AirStation router, where the wired computer was connected, and the same 1GB transfer only took 11 seconds. It was a bit surprising that plugging straight into the router, versus the bridge, was so much faster….but we figure there are certain bottlenecks at play. We are still extremely pleased with the speed improvement the Buffalo was able to offer on a 802.11n connection. The 5GHz frequency definitely plays a nice role.
If you’re in the market for a new router, you can count on the Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H to be extremely future-proof. In addition to speed, it offers a lot of great enhancements over any other router on the market today. Wireless range, throughput, and signal are among the big improvements. The included USB port is also a great feature for NAS drive sharing or to set up a network printer. The WLI-H4-D1300 Media Bridge is handy addition if you want to make the most of the 802.11ac speeds. Buffalo’s AirStation™ AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H and AirStation AC1300 / N450 4-Port Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Ethernet Bridge WLI-H4-D1300 each cost $179.99 from Amazon.
Good: Future-Proof, Speed, Improved Range and Signal, Great Design, No External Antennae, AOSS Button for Easy Pairing, Gigabit Ethernet, Easy Setup Wizard
Bad: No USB 3.0, Configuration Page is Difficult to Navigate/Use, Pricey
Update 9/20/12: Buffalo Technology has made some recent updates to their line of High Performance wireless routers. This refresh includes firmware enhancements to Buffalo’sHighPower technology along with a new setup process that allows router configuration from smartphone and tablet devices, further improving performance, range and usability. You can find out more info here: Buffalo Updates High Performance Wireless Router Lineup.