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Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H review: Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H

The Buffalo AirStation AC1300 offers a taste of the new 802.11ac specification while supporting all Wi-Fi clients, including those of previous standards.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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The Buffalo WZR-D1800H AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless router is the first 802.11ac (aka 5G Wi-Fi) router on the market and for this reason it was quite a challenge to review it. (5G Wi-Fi is a new standard of Wi-Fi, which I explained more clearly here.)

Buffalo WZR-D1800H AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router
7.3

Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H

The Good

The <b>Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H</b> supports 802.11ac and all previous Wi-Fi standards. It's very fast on the 5GHz band and is comparatively affordable.

The Bad

The router's 802.11ac speed, while very fast, isn't close to what the new standard is supposed to offer. Its 2.4GHz band Wireless-N performance could use some improvement, and the support for USB external hard drives is limited and buggy.

The Bottom Line

The Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H offers great value by adding support for 802.11ac on top of a high-end N900 router without increasing the price. However, the router doesn't have enough appeal for those who just need simple, low-budget wireless home networking.

It's important to note that since there aren't many 802.11ac clients on the market, it was virtually impossible for me to know if the 802.11ac performance described in this review was that of the router or of the WLI-H4-D1300 wireless media bridge that Buffalo Technology also made available for purchase a few days ago, and which I used as a client in the router testing.

For those who don't care about 5G Wi-Fi, the new router also supports the true dual-band 450Mbps (three-stream) configuration of the popular 802.11n standard (aka Wireless-N) on both bands. And in my testing the router's Wireless-N performance was very fast on the 5GHz band. On the 2.4GHz band, however, it could use some improvement.

The WZR-D1800H's price is just around $180, about the same as for the Asus RT-N66U and the Linksys E4200v2. Given that, if you view the AirStation AC1300 WZR-D1800H as a high-end Wireless-N router with the bonus of support for the latest 5G Wi-Fi standard, it offers great value. As a 802.11ac router, however, for now it isn't as impressive as one might have expected.

Design and ease of use

The AirStation AC1300 WZR-D1800H has a square profile, like a thick, dark floor tile. It comes with a detachable base that holds it on edge in the intended vertical position. The base isn't large enough to hold the router steady, especially when there are cables plugged into the router's back.

On the back of the router are four Gigabit LAN ports and one WAN port, a USB 2.0 port, and an on/off button. On the front, there's a vertical array of three LED lights indicating the status of the router, the connection to the Internet, and the wireless network. Above the LED lights, the router has an AirStation One-Touch Secure System (AOSS) button for quickly connecting another AOSS-enabled device to the wireless network. AOSS is Buffalo-only technology that works similarly to the more popular Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). When used with non-Buffalo devices, the AOSS button also supports WPS devices.

By default, the router comes with two wireless networks, one on the 2.4GHz band and the other on the 5GHz band. The 2.4GHz network supports all Wireless-N clients and the 5GHz network supports all Wireless-N plus 5G Wi-Fi clients. The default names and passwords for these networks are printed on a small tag on the router's bottom, which is all you need to get your network up and running. On the tag also are instructions on how to access the router's Web interface. Basically, from a connected computer, just point a browser to its default IP address at 192.168.11.1 and log in with the provided information.

From the Web interface you can further customize the wireless networks as well as other features of the router. If you have trouble accessing the Web interface, the router comes with a CD containing Air Navigator software that will quickly launch the interface for you.

The Buffalo WZR-D1800H router (left) and the Buffalo WLI-H4-D1300 media bridge -- currently the only two 802.11ac devices on the market -- look almost the same from the front...
The Buffalo WZR-D1800H router (left) and the Buffalo WLI-H4-D1300 media bridge -- currently the only two 802.11ac devices on the market -- look almost the same from the front... Dong Ngo/CNET

Features

The AirStation AC1300 WZR-D1800H is the first AC1300 / N900 router. This means it combines an N900 Wireless-N router -- a true dual-band router that simultaneously supports 450Mbps Wireless-N speeds on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands -- and support for the new 802.11ac standard on the 5GHz band. The router supports the top tier of 802.11ac, which has a cap speed of 1,300Mbps (or 1.3Gbps). Future 802.11ac routers will be of similar configuration in terms of supported Wi-Fi standards and differentiated only by the tier of 802.11ac they offer, be it 1.3Gbps (three-stream), 900Mbps (dual-stream), or 450Mbps (single-stream).

The WZR-D1800H (as will any future 802.11ac-based router) supports all existing wireless clients, such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, and so on, that use any previous Wi-Fi standards, including 802.11n/g/a or b. In order to enjoy the new speed of 802.11ac, however, you'll need a client that also supports 802.11ac. At the time of this review, there were no hardware devices with built-in support for 802.11ac. In fact, the only 5G Wi-Fi client I could find for the testing was Buffalo's WLI-H4-D1300 wireless media bridge.

The media bridge also supports the three-stream standard of 802.11ac and can get up to four Ethernet-ready devices connected to the Wi-Fi network using a 803.11ac connection. In my testing it was used with just one device.

The AirStation WZR-D1800H's built-in network storage feature was limited and buggy in my trials. In fact, I wasn't able to really try it out at all. To start with, the router doesn't support hard drives formatted using NTFS, which is the most popular file system. It supports FAT32 but only if the drive is 32GB or less. With higher-capacity hard drives, which means virtually all existing external-USB hard drives currently on the market, you'll have to let the router format the drive into its XFS file system. This means you'll lose everything you have on the drive, and after that the drive can only be used with the router and won't work with your computers.

That is if you can format it successfully, which I wasn't able to do. When I picked the option in the router's Web interface to format the connected external hard drives (I tried a few portable drives with the router), the interface returned a "Page not found" error and the formatting was never completed. While I wasn't able to really try out this feature, the fact that it doesn't support NTFS means it's basically almost useless, since most users would want to just plug a drive into the router and be able to share what they have on it with the rest of the network.

Other than that, the AirStation WZR-D1800H offers a standard set of networking features commonly found in other routers, such as QoS, port forwarding, and VPN pass-through. It does lack guest networking, however, a feature offered by many other routers that makes it possible to create separate wireless networks for guests.

... And the back.
... And the back. Dong Ngo/CNET

Performance

The AirStation AC1300 WZR-D1800H was by far the most challenging router to test I've yet encountered. Again, the router supports both Wireless-N and the new 5G Wi-Fi standards, as does the wireless media bridge. The problem is, neither device comes with a setting to ensure that they use the new 802.11ac connection. When they are connected, you just have to trust that they will automatically communicate using 802.11ac, and not the slower 802.11n.

The good news is the media bridge comes with software called Ethernet Converter Manager that displays the status of the wireless connection. Using this, I was able to rest assured that I was testing the router using 802.11ac.

The real reason I wasn't sure at first and needed to resort to the software was that during the initial tests the connection, though quite fast, wasn't noticeably faster than that of other Wireless-N devices I've reviewed. After a little bit of tweaking, by changing the channel to higher than the default 143MHz, I was able to get consistent connection speeds of around 29MBps (or 233Mbps) at the close range of 15 feet. This was the fastest wireless speed I've seen and well ahead of even the fastest Wireless-N router (which capped at around 21MBps in my testing). However, it was in no way close to the promised 1.3GBps (abpit 160MBps).

When I increased the distance to 100 feet, the router's 802.11ac connection now registered about 18MBps (about 140Mbps), again, very fast yet even further below the 802.11ac cap. That said, the WZR-D1800H was indeed so far the fastest router I've seen when used with a 801.11ac client. Since it's the first 802.11ac router on the market so far, we'll have to wait for the near future to compare it with its peers.

One thing was pretty clear, however: the new 802.11ac standard, while faster, is very similar to Wireless-N, in terms of how different the actual real-world speed is from the ceiling theoretical speed. This gap remains very large. And again, since the WLI-H4-D1300 media bridge was the only 802.11ac client on the market at the time of testing, it's unclear if the 802.11ac performance I experienced was that of the router or of the media bridge itself.

I also tested the WZR-D1800H as a regular N900 router and it did very well on the 5GHz band. When used with 450Mbps clients, it scored about 22MBps at 15 feet and 15MBps at 100 feet. When used with regular 300Mbps clients, the router scored around 16MBps and 11MBps for close range and long range, respectively.

It was quite a different story with the 2.4GHz band, however. Regardless of what type of client I used (450Mbps or 300Mbps), the router offered just about 5MBps for the 15-foot range test and .9MBps for the 100-foot range test. These fall among the slowest data rates I've seen from Wireless-N routers.

It's important to note, however, that I tested the router at CNET's offices where there are many other Wi-Fi networks that might interfere with the AirStation AC1300 WZR-D1800H's signal. The 2.4GHz band is known to suffer significantly more from interference than the 5GHz band.

5GHz Wireless-N performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  

Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H (with 802.11ac client)
144 
233.6 

Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H (450Mbps N client)
120 
172 

Cisco Linksys E4200v2
35.8 
148.5 

Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H
91.2 
126.3 

Asus RT-N56U
76.2 
112.6 

Asus RT-N66U
97.8 
109.6 

Netgear WNDR4500
41 
109.4 

Cisco Linksys E4200
79.1 
100.48 

Cisco Linksys E3200
53.8 
95.3 

Belkin N750 DB
74.64 
92.32 

Netgear WNDR4000
63.9 
89 

D-Link DIR-825
36.48 
80.96 

Linksys E2500
70.2 
77.2 

Trendnet TEW-692GR
49 
71.9 

Amped Wireless R20000G
64.9 
71.3 

Cisco Linksys E3000
48.8 
65.4 

Linksys WRT610N
54.8 
64.8 

Netgear WNDR3700
40 
60 

2.4GHz Wireless-N performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  

Netgear WNDR4000
23.9 
67.8 

Cisco Linksys E4200
46.9 
61.4 

D-Link DIR-825
38.8 
61.3 

Cisco Linksys E3200
40.4 
57.44 

Asus RT-N56U
34.4 
57.2 

Cisco Linksys E4200v2
21.4 
56.6 

Netgear WNDR3700
29.44 
55.44 

Trendnet TEW-692GR
31.1 
52.1 

Amped Wireless R20000G
17.8 
50.2 

Belkin N750 DB
26.6 
50 

Amped Wireless R10000G
20.2 
47.4 

Cisco Linksys E3000
32.8 
43.5 

Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H
7.2 
40 

Asus RT-N66U
29.4 
37 

Linksys E2500
10.7 
36.5 

Linksys WRT610N
28.8 
35.76 

Netgear WNDR4500
12.5 
28.6 

Service and support

The WZR-D1800H comes with a three-year warranty, which is very good for a router. On Buffalo's Web site there's a section dedicated to the router, where you can find all you need to know about the device and learn more about the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.

Conclusion

The Buffalo AirStation AC1300 WZR-D1800H router is an exciting product that offers a taste of the new 5G Wi-Fi standard. Unfortunately, when coupled with the only 802.11ac client on the market at the time of this review, it didn't show the type of performance that 5G Wi-Fi promises. That, plus its lackluster performance on the 2.4GHz band, its limited support for external hard drives, and especially the current dearth of available 5G Wi-Fi adapters, means that for now, this router is not clearly better than a solid N900 Wireless-N router that costs the same. Early adopters with mostly 5GHz wireless clients, however, shouldn't be disappointed if they decide to invest in the Buffalo.

Buffalo WZR-D1800H AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router
7.3

Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 8Performance 7Support 7