Update 21.06.2012 Buffalo has substantially changed the pricing of both the router and media bridge since this review was published. The previous £199.99 RRPs for each device have been changed to £139.99 for the router and £129.99 for the bridge. Furthermore retailers are undercutting this new price with Dabs and eBuyer currently both selling the router for £124.98 and the bridge for £114.98 and £109.99 respectively. With such a difference we have adjusted the value rating given to the product to reflect this and with it now having no premium compared to a high end 802.11n router it has earned a higher overall score and a recommended award.
Welcome to the bleeding edge, the place where next generation technology awaits, along with quite a few paper cuts. Leading us to this exciting yet sometimes infuriating region this time is Buffalo, which has become the first company to ship a router and network bridge compliant with 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
Next Generation WiFi
The brief on 802.11ac is simple: it is the long-awaited successor to 802.11n and it promises data rates beyond 1Gbps (125 megabytes per second) over the still little used 5GHz band. It also claims to offer increased range to eliminate dead spots around the home. The fly in the ointment is the 802.11ac standard has yet to be finalised and (much like 'Draft N' devices) impatient companies are already starting to ship 'Draft AC' equipment with the promise of future firmware updates to bring it into line with the finalised standard whenever and whatever that may be. In addition there are currently no 802.11ac laptops, tablets, phones or even USB and PCI cards on the market.
Which brings us back to Buffalo and its catchily-named AirStation 1750 Wireless 802.11n 11ac Gigabit Dual Band Router WZR-D1800H-EU (above, left). In order to immediately enjoy its next gen connectivity it has also launched the equally snappy 'AirStation 1300 Wireless 802.11n 11ac Gigabit Dual Band Media Bridge WLI-H4-D1300-EU' (above, right). This acts as a receiver for the router's ac Wi-Fi and has four Ethernet ports on the back to connect devices. It is a workaround, but for the likes of NAS boxes, media players, desktop PCs and other devices that a) don't have integrated Wi-Fi, or b) tend not to move around, it is a smart and completely driverless one.
So let's take a closer look at the router part. Naturally the '1750' figure, suggesting 1750Mbit speed is a cheat (it combines theoretical 1300Mbit 802.11ac and theoretical 450Mbit 802.11n speeds), though interestingly it could have been higher since 802.11n is supported over both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands giving a 900Mbit figure. For the record 802.11ac only works over the 5GHz band.
The D1800H router has five Gigabit Ethernet ports (4x LAN, one to connect to the modem), a USB 2.0 port for attaching a printer or storage device to the network (along with a dedicated 'Eject' button) and support for WPA2-PSK AES security. Oddly IPv6 compatibility is missing from launch though.
As for the D1300 media bridge, it is a much simpler affair. It supports 802.11ac over 5GHz and 802.11n over 5GHz and 2.4GHz, has four wired Gigabit Ethernet ports, a button to disable 2.4GHz (though not 802.11n entirely) and power. Both the router and media bridge are backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g.