Buffalo AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router review

With the AirStation Extreme AC1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router, Buffalo steps up its game: The router offers great new management software and good performance. There's a lot to love about this router, but frustrating remote access and mobile management keep it from perfection.
Photo of Buffalo AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router

Buffalo’s newest 802.11ac router, the AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router ($149, street) gave the impressive performance and range in testing I expected after reviewing the vendor’s entry-level 802.11ac router, the AirStation AC1300/N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H. Best of all, a new management interface lends an elegance and simplicity to configuring the many features geared to both consumers and small businesses. The only blemishes are some niggling issues with remote access to connected storage and Buffalo’s mobile site for router management.

Specs, Design, and Operating Modes
Buffalo’s latest dual-band router does not deviate much in design from the earlier WZR-D1800H, with one exception: the AOSS (AirStation One-Touch Secure System) button is red instead of silver.

On the inside, the AC1750 contains a Broadcom chipset and supports a theoretical 450 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and up to 1300 Mbps at 5 GHz.

Three LEDs on the front panel are arranged in a single column along with a Buffalo logo that lights up when the router is powered. The top-most LED represents wireless status, the middle is for WAN connection, and the bottom displays whether the device is operating as a router or not. The router can serve as a straight router, a bridge, or an access point. When set as a router, all three LEDs are lit. When set as a bridge, the third LED remains unlit.

On the rear panel are four Gigabit LAN ports, a Gigabit WAN port, a USB 2.0 port and USB 3.0 port, both for connecting external storage and printers.

The back panel has a few additional buttons I’ve not seen on too many other consumer wireless routers: There’s a toggle switch to set the device as either a Wireless Bridge or an Access Point. Underneath the toggle is a push-button labeled “Mode.” If the toggle switch is set to operate the AC 1750 as an access point, the Mode button will set the device as either a regular, everyday router, or as an access point, (meaning DHCP, NAT, and router functionality are disabled.)

Setting up the device in access point-only mode allows for adding a WLAN to an existing network. This is why Buffalo’s latest router is also a good option for a small business looking for an affordable AP. Many consumer routers I’ve tested will let you set up the router as a bridge to extend an existing wireless network, but fewer offer the option to function in AP-only mode.

Buffalo ships the router pre-configured with an admin password and SSIDs for both bands already set up. This information is printed on the bottom of the router and on a narrow, plastic card that sits in a slot underneath. Essentially, you have the admin and wireless networks’ default passphrases printed in two places, so you will want to change them during setup.

The AC 1750 also ships with mounting screws. The two mount holes are bored through a plastic strip on top of the device. It’s quite honestly one of the flimsiest mounting setups I’ve seen on a router. Even the screws that ship with the device don’t seem long enough to make a secure mount to a wall. Some mounting scenarios probably would require some modification in addition to the screws. Buffalo also ships two stands for operating the router horizontally or vertically. You will definitely want to use the stands for vertical operation as the device becomes quite unsteady with cables attached.

Buffalo AC 1750 Setup
As is the case with the newest wireless routers on the market, setting up the AC 1750 is virtually a no-brainer. A quick setup guide is including in the packaging. The guide instructs you on how to connect cables and use either a Windows or Mac client to connect to the router’s default wireless network. It’s then just a matter of opening a browser to the IP address of the router and configuring settings the way you want.


Interface Refresh

Buffalo has introduced a completely overhauled interface from that of the WZR-D1800H, which had great features and performance but a dated and cluttered management interface. The new design is tile-based. The UI is neat and highly-navigable.

After you log in to the AirStation’s interface using the admin account, the home screen opens. There are eight tiles: Wireless, AOSS/WPS, USB Storage, Guest Account, QoS, Web Filtering and Parental Controls, Device Settings, and Advanced Settings.

The Wireless tile is where you view and edit wireless settings such as encryption, SSID, channel, channel width, and so on. You can click an icon with a gear within just about every screen in the interface to get to advanced settings. Clicking this Advanced Settings icon within Wireless allows users to make very granular configurations related to wireless functionality, such as adding SSIDs (each band supports up to two), placing a WLAN in isolation mode (preventing network clients from communicating with one another) and much more.

The feature set is extensive. You have the basics such as VPN passthrough, MAC address filtering, scheduling Internet access, and there’s even an Eco Mode, which allows you to turn off LED, wired LAN, or WLAN on a schedule.

Since there is a lot to cover and many features have not changed much since Buffalo’s last 11ac router, I focused more on newer capabilities and enhancements for this review.

QoS
One such enhancement is with QoS (Quality-of-Service). The QoS feature in this router does a good job giving novice users a graphical interface to assign priority to different types of data traffic, and more advanced users can get more specific with these settings.

For the average home user who wants to prioritize video, for example, all they have to do is select a radio button next to “video.” Users who want to get more detailed can specify different kinds of traffic as “Ultra Premium,” “Standard—Best Availability,” or “Junk,” among other settings.

Web Filtering and Parental Controls
Buffalo integrates Norton’s ConnectSafe service to offer parental controls. Once you agree to Norton’s terms of service, you have the option to block malicious sites containing malware, phishing and scams; block malicious and adult sites; or set a more severe lockdown that restricts access to any site with mature themes such as gambling.

Click an on-screen toggle switch on the parental control tile to “on” to enable filtering. I set the most restrictive filtering, and right away I could not access a cigarette manufacturer’s site.

Filtering is applicable to an entire network or by MAC address, IP address, or computer name. So if more than one child uses the same restricted PC, that restriction will take effect for all users of that machine. You may also exclude specific computers and websites from filtering.

Remote Access
One of the services many consumer router vendors are starting to offer is remote management and access into a home network from an external network. Buffalo provides a way to remotely manage the AC 1750 and the home network by making the management interface mobile-friendly. One problem; you can’t use the mobile interface from an external network, you have to have the smartphone connected to the router.

Applying settings is not effective using the mobile interface, I discovered. Through the desktop browser, I enabled Guest Access on the router. Whenever you turn on or off any feature, the router has to apply the settings changes. Turning on Guest Access through the desktop took about 20 seconds. 

When I used the mobile interface (with my Android device) to disable Guest Access, the interface remained “stuck” in the state of “applying settings” for almost 3 minutes. The settings had taken effect when I checked, but the mobile interface was not able to recover from the screen for applying settings. I had to kill the process on the phone.

Also, because you are accessing the same single interface, you can’t, of course, be logged into management interface on a smartphone and desktop browser at the same time.

All in all, the mobile interface is not useful. A dedicated app that would use the cloud to allow a secure connection back to the router to manage the home network and router would be far better. D-Link is attempting to hone this with its MyDlink app and service, but no one vendor has really nailed that remote access perfectly yet.

Buffalo also offers a service for remotely accessing any external drives attached to the AC1750: BuffaloNAS.com. The instructions in the interface on how to set up the service are deceptively simplistic. You still have to enable port forwarding on the router (although there is an option to auto-configure port forwarding that works very well). You are asked to create a BuffaloNas.com account and then the account is registered with Buffalo’s service.

There is no instruction within the interface on which URL you are supposed to use to remotely access data stored on the attached USB drive. I figured it was safe to assume I had to point a browser to buffalonas.com. I was prompted for login and again, with no clear instruction in the interface, assumed I should use the credentials for the BuffaloNas.com service I created.

I could not login with those credentials. A Buffalo spokesperson told me I had to set up a user account within the interface for sharing and accessing files on connected drives. That makes sense, but it was not obvious anywhere within the interface. Once I knew what login I had to use, I could access data from a USB drive connected to the router from an external network.

Despite these little nuisances, the feature set and the new interface are impressive. If this is a router you really want to get the most out of, you will want to take time to read the user manual to get acquainted with all of its capabilities.

Performance
The AC 1750 is a 3×3 router, meaning it transmits and receives using a triple spatial stream. This is a high-end wireless networking hardware feature and can deliver excellent throughput. The only problem is that currently only 2×2 wireless adapters are available now that support 802.11ac. I did find in testing that using a 2×2 adapter with the AC 1750 in 11ac mode yields slower performance than when I tested the WZR-D1800H and used another WZR-D1800H as a bridge, leveraging the 3×3 antenna configuration’s power on both endpoints. In a nutshell, the AC1750 delivered very good performance, at least as well as it can when testing with a 2×2 wireless adapter. I suspect smoking performance as soon as a 3×3 wireless adapter chipset for 802.11ac hits the market.

I tested performance using Buffalo’s AirStation AC866 IEEE 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi Adapter connected to a Dell Latitude E5430′s USB port for 11ac testing and also tested throughput using the Latitude’s on-board 3×3 802.11n wireless adapter for legacy 802.11x testing. Ixia’s IxChariot testing utility, measured the router’s throughput between the Latitude and an HP Elitebook 8440w that had a Gigabit Ethernet connection to the router.

In 802.11n mode I got faster throughput with my laptop’s 3×3 adapter than with the Buffalo adapter. For example at 15 feet, with my laptop, throughput hit 121 Mbps, and with the Buffalo adapter, 81 Mbps. The AC1750 delivered some of the best throughput at the 2.4 GHz band I’ve tested with the exception of Apple’s Airport Extreme in Mixed mode, and both the Linksys EA6400 and Netgear R6300 beat the Buffalo device in throughput in 2.4 GHz N mode.

In 5 GHz mode, the Buffalo router performed well, on-par with other premium routers such as D-Link’s AC 1750 (at 15 feet, each reaching 121 Mbps and 120 Mbps, respectively) Buffalo’s router performed better than the D-Link router in 802.11ac (124 Mbps vs. 104 Mbps) and better than the latest Apple Airport Extreme (even testing with the new MacBook Air) in 11ac.

That’s still not the fastest performance I’ve seen with 802.11ac. The Linksys EA6400 edged it slightly and Trendnet’s AC1750 Dual Band Wireless Router (TEW-812DRU) still holds the record for throughput, reaching 283 Mbps.
Still, you won’t be disappointed with the performance of the Buffalo router and its range.

Click the links for performance comparisons:

Buffalo AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router 5 GHz Performance

Buffalo AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router 2.4 GHz (Mixed mode) Performance

Buffalo AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router 2.4 GHz (N mode) Performance

 Great Blend of Features and Performance
I was impressed during my earlier review of the Buffalo’s AirStation AC1300/N900 Gigabit Dual Band WZR-D1800H, but was turned off by the sloppy, hard-to-navigate interface. Buffalo stepped up its game with great new management software and a router that performs well and includes lots of functionality. It’s not perfect: the mobile interface is fairly useless and the BuffaloNAS.com service could be more efficient to set up. Also this router demands a 3×3 adapter to really deliver great performance. It’s still a four out of five star Editors’ Choice, not only as a consumer wireless router, but as a very small business or office router, too.

Specifications
Device Type Router
Networking Options 802.11ac, 802.11ac

Verdict
With the AirStation Extreme AC1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router, Buffalo steps up its game: The router offers great new management software and good performance. There's a lot to love about this router, but frustrating remote access and mobile management keep it from perfection.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc