Hot-rodders, you have a new friend in wireless networking. Until the final 802.11n specification is approved later this year (or early next year), router companies such as Buffalo and Linksys have decided to hot-rod their existing models. The Buffalo WZR-AG300NH is one such beast, a dual-band router that delivers blistering throughput, albeit at a price that might make you yearn for the glory days of 802.11g.
With an external three-blade antenna that sits next to the router (or snaps on top), the design is a bit clunky. If you snap the antenna on top, it's easier to position the router horizontally with the included snap-in foot. At 8.3 x 6.9 x 2 inches, the WZR-AG300NH is huge compared with more-compact N models, such as the Apple AirPort Extreme. It also looks like it's searching for extraterrestrials.
The most impressive feature on this model is speed. While 802.11g routers sputter along at 45 Mbps, the WZR-AG300NH clocked in at a mouth-watering 120 Mbps, making it one of the fastest 802.11n routers we've ever tested.
Buffalo includes a brand new CD installer that has a fresh design and worked flawlessly when we configured the basic options. This program makes it simple to tweak many settings, such as channel switching and IPv6, a newer IP-address-certification protocol. Of course, Buffalo includes AOSS, a push-button system for enabling security quickly between the router and a client, and a switch on the router lets you set the WZR-AG300NH in AP mode (for Internet access only) or as a router.
It's important to distinguish between the dual-band nature of this router and the Apple AirPort Extreme router, reviewed on page 54. What Apple means by "dual" is that you can connect to 802.11n in the 5-GHz or 2.4-GHz band, but you manually set the mode because Apple wants to avoid interference with built-in Bluetooth.
On the WZR-AG300NH, "dual" means the router supports both 802.11a and 802.11n at the same time. On your laptop, you'll see two simultaneous networks, and you can connect to either.
The latter approach, which is much more common, means that a laptop user can connect over the 5-GHz band for movie streaming and VoIP, activities that require more stability. For raw data throughput via a connection to a file server in your home, for instance, the 2.4-GHz band works fine as long as other routers, two-way radios, or even microwave ovens, are not running when you connect. This more automated dual-band approach explains the $300 price tag.
It also explains the exceptional results. In 802.11a mode, the WZR-AG300NH didn't even stutter when we introduced a wireless PDA, an older Apple iBook, and an 802.11g laptop. In 802.11n dual-channel mode, where the router uses two 20-MHz channels, the WZR-AG300NH provided whole-house coverage up to about 400 feet using a laptop equipped with Buffalo's matching notebook adapter card ($129). Beyond 600 feet, the signal was too weak, even with the huge antennas.
We're continually impressed with the extra features Buffalo includes with its routers, including TKIP/AES security, intrusion detection (which blocks access to suspected hackers), and both Windows Vista and Intel Viiv Technology verification. What separates the WZR-AG300NH from Buffalo's previous 802.11n gear is its four Gigabit wired ports. We transferred a 100MB movie file in just eight seconds. The company is taking on Linksys and D-Link directly, and this model matches well with Buffalo's own Gigabit network drives.
The main hesitation about buying the WZR-AG300NH is not any serious flaw; it's the price. The jury is still out as to whether the final 802.11n spec will temper the high speeds of today's draft gear to make it more compatible. But if you want fast performance and the versatility of dual-band right now, we highly recommend the WZR-AG300NH.
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