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Wireless Reviews

AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router
At a glance
ProductBuffalo Technology WZR-D1800H AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router   [Website]
SummaryFirst-to-market Draft 2.0 802.11ac router based on Broadcom chipset
Pros• Can get ~ 450 Mbps total throughput in 80 MHz draft AC mode
• Built in PPTP server
• NAS feature supports DLNA and Torrent downloads
Cons• Moderate single client throughput gain from draft 11ac
• No guest SSID
• No WDS or client mode bridging
• Basic routing feature set

Typical Price: $180  Compare Prices  Check Amazon

Preface

Updated 7/16/2013 - Link to retest
Updated 6/24/2012 - Added WDS notes in feature

I have to say I'm surprised at how quickly draft 802.11ac products have come to market. Although the IEEE working group has been toiling away on the spec since September 2008, consumer networking product makers have gone from revealing product last December to shipping product in about six months. Keep in mind that this gear is shipping about 18 months ahead of 802.11ac spec final approval (currently estimated at December 2013).

If you don't know what all the fuss is about, the short story is that ac is a 5 GHz-only extension of the 802.11 spec, focused on "Very High Throughput", as its IEEE Project name states. Where 802.11n (official IEEE project title "High Throughput") bumped link rates up to the 450 Mbps that we see in current top-of-line three-stream wireless products, 11ac can achieve link rates up to 2.6 Gbps (6X) with those same three streams.

These higher rates are achieved primarily by bonding together more 20 MHz wide channels and by using higher-density coding (256 QAM vs. 64 QAM in 802.11n). Producing those much-hyped 1300 Mbps link rates, however, requires four 20 MHz wide channels. Which is why 802.11ac is limited to use in the 5 GHz band only where there are up to 24 non-overlapping channels available vs. three in 2.4 GHz. See Why 802.11ac Will Kill The 5 GHz Wi-Fi Band for more on this.

I'm taking a multi-part approach to reviewing Buffalo's draft 11ac gear because:

1) Enquiring minds want to know ASAP what that "1300 Mbps" really produces in usable throughput.

2) Given all the combinations of things to be tested, I'm going to have to space out the testing over the next week or so. Otherwise nothing else will get done around here!

So in this first part, I'm going to cover the innards, features and functions, routing and NAS throughput. I'm also going to test draft 11ac wireless throughput, but with same room (Location A) tests only, primarily focused on exploring the maximum throughput available from the WZR-D1800H paired with Buffalo's matching WLI-H4-D1300 draft 11ac bridge.

Subsequent part(s) will look at range testing with this same pair and also see how our standard 802.11n test clients fare. Since the N modes on both radios support both two and three-stream operation, there is potentially a lot of testing to be done. Frankly, I haven't figured out yet whether I'm going to run all tests in for both two and three-stream operation, because I also want to look mixed-mode operation, too. If you have any thoughts on this, please post to the Forum thread.

Overview

Buffalo surprised everyone with the D1800H's final packaging. Instead of the admittedly odd form-factor shown at CES, the production product is elegant and understated. Vertically positioned with its supplied mounting feet, the dark and darker-gray plastic stands about 8.5" high, 7" deep and a tad over 1" thick. The supplied pair of feet are used to stabilize the router in vertical mode and stand it off a tabletop or shelf (to enhance airflow), should you choose to lay it down. I would go with the vertical orientation, since it better positions the antennas and also provides better natural convection cooling.

In keeping with the currently popular spouse-friendly design esthetic, there are only a few front panel lights (Figure 1), with the ones that blink being thankfully dim. The Buffalo logo, on the other hand, is bright enough to use as a night-light, but thankfully only blinks when the router is in distress. You can shut off the LEDs by using the schedulable ECO feature, but I found this doesn't include the brightest Buffalo logo light.

Front panel indicators

Figure 1: Front panel indicators

The rear panel ports and buttons are shown in Figure 2. All Ethernet ports are 10/100/1000 and there is one USB 2.0 port for storage and printer sharing.

Rear panel callouts

Figure 2: Rear panel callouts

The card found in the Setup card slot (17) is a thoughtful touch. It contains the router admin IP address, username and password on one side and default client access info on the other (SSID, Key and Security type (WPA2/AES, naturally!). You can leave it tucked into the slot, or remove it for safekeeping (or misplacing) should you not want the keys to your wireless kingdom left around for easy access.

Inside

Broadcom appears to be the vendor of choice for the first round of draft 802.11ac products and Buffalo has been open about its draft 11ac technology partner. So it's neither a secret nor surprise that both the D1800H router and D1300 bridge are Broadcom based. Buffalo filed a short-term confidentiality request to temporarily block the usual handy internal FCC pictures. So I had to open 'em up for a look see.

There are three antennas per radio, PCB antennas for 5 GHz (grey cable) and bent-metal for 2.4 GHz (white cables). All are positioned at the top and front of the router when the router is stood vertically. Note that both radios are connectorized mini-PCIe boards. The 2.4 GHz radio probably could have been put directly on board to save cost since the BCM4331 has been around for awhile. But keeping the draft 11ac radio as a module is probably a smart move at this point.

WZR-D1800H inside view

Figure 3: WZR-D1800H inside view

Figure 3 was taken with all heatsinks and RF shields removed so that I could identify all the components, which are summarized in Table 1. This is a pretty straightforward design, similar to the other top-of-line Broadcom based routers also shown in Table 1, except for the BCM4360 draft 11ac radio.

  Buffalo WZR-D1800H / WLI-H4-D1300 ASUS RT-N66U NETGEAR WNDR4500
CPU Broadcom BCM4706 Broadcom BCM4706 Broadcom BCM4706
Switch Broadcom BCM53125 Broadcom BCM53115 (?) Broadcom BCM53115 (?)
RAM 128 MB 256 MB 128 MB
Flash 128 MB 32 MB 128 MB
2.4 GHz Radio - BCM4331
- SiGE SE2594L Dual Band 802.11a/b/g/n
Wireless LAN Front End (x3)
- BCM4331 - BCM4331
- 2.4 GHz power amps (x3) (?)
5 GHz radio - Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE5003L 5 GHz, 23dBm Power Amp
w/ Power Detector (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4331 - Broadcom BCM4331
- 5 GHz power amps (x3) (?)
Table 1: Router component summary and comparison

Figure 4 shows the WLI-H4-D1300 bridge's inside view, with all heatsinks and RF shields undisturbed. The only difference between the two that the WAN port components (connector, transformer, etc.). The WAN port Ethernet PHY is part of the BCM53125 switch.

WLI-H4-D1300 inside view

Figure 4: WLI-H4-D1300 inside view

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