Unlike most routers, which offer a single-mode operation, the Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti operates only in a mixed b/g/n mode; the Belkin N1 is the only other Draft N router we've tested that does this. Generally, single-mode operation offers better performance, because in mixed mode, the older-generation products (such as 802.11b clients, which can sustain a slower throughput than 11g or pre-11n clients) become a network bottleneck. As with the Belkin N1, this discrepancy makes direct comparisons to the other Draft N routers impossible, except in CNET Labs' short-range mixed mode throughput test.
The Buffalo router's design also veers from the norm. The silver-and-black router is vertically oriented, with the three external antennas clustered at the top rear of the router. The antennas can be swiveled and pivoted to maximize the router's signal. The curved front edge of the router houses four LEDs to indicate activity and power, while the rear edge houses the standard four LAN ports for hardwired connections, one WAN port for connecting the router to a modem, and a power port. Though the front-mounted LEDs are the norm, they fall well short of the user-friendliness of the Belkin N1's network-status display. The only other feature of note is the top-mounted AOSS (AirStation One-touch Secure System) button.
AOSS is Buffalo's proprietary network-setup protocol. If you're trying to establish a wireless connection between your Buffalo router and an installed Buffalo client that supports AOSS, simply press the button on the router and within two minutes, press the AOSS button on the client; if the client is a PC Card or other such adapter, the "button" will be in the product's client manager software. The devices will take about 30 seconds to establish a wireless connection. If you have a non-Buffalo client or simply wish not to use AOSS, you can also manually establish a wireless connection.
Installing the Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti router is simple and straightforward: the printed quick-start guide walks you through the steps of connecting the modem, a router, and a PC via Ethernet cables and powering up each component. The Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti router supports only Windows XP/2000/Me/98 SE operating systems; Mac and Unix users are out of luck. After you've connected the router to your PC and modem, you can then point your browser to the provided default IP address to access Buffalo's configuration utility, where you can run the automatic Internet connection wizard to connect to the Internet.
Through the configuration utility, you can access the AOSS. By pressing the button on the router and the corresponding button--or virtual button, in the case of network adapters--you should be able to initiate a wireless network connection automatically. Buffalo offers the standard wireless security options: WEP and WPA-PSK (AES encryption). Other features include a DHCP server, NAT and SPI firewalls, an intrusion detector, a MAC address filter, and dynamic packet filtering.
As we've mentioned, we can't make a direct comparison between the Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti router and routers that offer single-mode operation on most of our tests. We can see, however, that the Nfiniti router offers competitive performance. At 10 feet, in mixed mode, the Nfiniti beat the competition with an impressive throughput of 60.23Mbps. At 200 feet (again, in mixed mode) the Buffalo fell just behind D-Link's N 650 router with a throughput of 38.18Mbps. It beat the other only-mixed-mode router, the Belkin N1, as well as the single-mode routers from Netgear and Linksys. At short range, you'll get more speed from a router that offers single-mode operation, but many households and offices have older network clients, so the mixed-mode throughput is an important performance indicator. Still, these numbers fall short of the promise of 802.11n, the first draft of which specifies a max throughput of 270Mbps.
Buffalo backs the AirStation Nfiniti router with a limited two-year warranty--better than the single year offered by Netgear and D-Link but still behind the three years that Linksys provides and the incomparable liftetime warranty from Belkin. Toll-free phone support is available 24/7 and e-mail support is available through an online form. The included CD has a lengthy product manual, but if you need additional assistance, Buffalo's Web site provides FAQs, a knowledge base, and downloadable firmware updates and drivers.