Buffalo AirStation N600 Dual-Band Wireless Router

Buffalo_AirStation_2Today, we take a look at the Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP which is a dual-band N600 Gigabit wireless router that is designed to be a complete solution for the home or small office.  You can find it priced for just under $80 at most retailers.  Like most “dual-band” routers, the Buffalo WZR-600DHP operates over the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands which makes it ideal for connecting multiple wireless clients and devices at speeds of up to 300 Mbps on a single band and 600 Mbps over both bands.

We’ve looked at N600 routers before with some mixed feelings.  While they are relatively inexpensive, their performances have been very good. We were especially impressed with the recently reviewed Netgear WNDR3700v4 N600 which is feature rich and had speeds faster than some N750 routers. Other routers on the market seem to have less-than-stellar performances with user interfaces confusing and lacking.

Buffalo_AirStation_Box

One very interesting thing about the Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP is that its firmware is based on the open source DD-WRT. This customizable interface features advanced options for network gurus as well as first-timers who are looking to connect their PC’s to their game console. The DD-WRT firmware is designed to give greater stability and increased performance for better overall functionality to the user. 

The router also features two external antennas, gigabit Ethernet, and network sharing via USB.  As of this publication, you can grab a Buffalo WZR 600HP from Amazon for $77.74.  For those who are looking to upgrade or expand, the price point really isn’t too bad.  Let’s take a closure look at the AirStation’s specifications.

Featured Specifications:

Wireless LAN Interface

Wired LAN Interface

USB Interface

Other

 

When you look at the specifications, the Buffalo AirStation N600 seems pretty packed with features.  We are hoping that this sub-$100 Dual-Band N600 router gives us some competitive wireless speeds and a full-featured GUI. 

Let’s go ahead and set up the WZR-600DHP and test the performance.

Buffalo AirStation N600 - Initial Set-Up

Buffalo_AirStation_Contents

Buffalo packs the AirStation WZR-600DHP with an AC power adapter, Ethernet cable, AirStation Utility CD containing the product manual and client software, a stand base for the main unit, and an AirStation Setup Card for Wi-Fi Access.

On the outside of the box, the AirStation looks pretty sleek in black with red and white lettering.  Softening up the WZR-600DHP a little are the two external antennas that looks a bit like a puppy’s floppy ears.  Each one of these antennas can be moved and positioned individually.  The two 3-inch antennas are not removable and there isn’t an obvious way to connect additional (or replace) antennas that are there.

Buffalo_AirStation_1

When the router is powered on you can see a series of LED lights on the right-side: Power, 2.4GHz WiFi, 5GHz WiFi, Router activity, and Diagnosis.  There is also an AOSS (AirStation One-Touch Secure System) button, and a “Movie Engine” switch.

Over on the other back side, you will find a Router (on/off/auto) switch, USB Eject button, USB 2.0 port, 4-Gigabit LAN ports, 1-WAN port and the AC plug.

Buffalo_AirStation_Back

There is a little card that contains admin and access information for easy configuration. When we connected the router to power and our computer, the WZR-600DHP prompted us for set up. Connecting to the internet and setting up our Wi-Fi network really couldn’t be any simpler.

Like most routers these days, the Buffalo AirStation N600 lets the user choose from a number of different wireless encryption options to prevent your neighbor from gaining access to your network.  For the AirStation, we see that both AOSS and WPS with push button are supported. AOSS or AirStation One-Touch Secure System is a technology designed by Buffalo to allow a user to connect to a secure wireless connection with the touch of a button.  AOSS uses both 64-bit WEP and WPA and automatically selects the strongest level of encryption supported by the connecting client.  If AOSS detects a lesser encryption standard, the router will then apply the lower standard and reboot the router.

 Atheros_AR7141

The Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP router is powered by an Qualcomm Atheros AR7161 rev 2 CPU running at 680 MHz with 128 MB of RAM. The Atheros AR7161 is designed specifically to be a robust platform for multimedia WiFi, dual-band access points, and of course high performance routers supporting gigabit and VoIP like our Buffalo AirStation.

Buffalo WZR-600DHP – DD-WRT Custom Firmware

Buffalo AirStation N600One of the major selling points of the Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP is the fact that it comes pre-installed with DD-WRT as its firmware. DD-WRT is a Linux-based open source firmware for wireless routers that enables basic consumer equipment to act like enterprise products.

Buffalo ships a second firmware to use with the AirStation called, “User-friendly Firmware”.  The two firmwares have slightly different features, as the chart below shows.

Buffalo DD-WRT Firmware

We chose to use the “Professional Firmware” [version DD-WRT v24SP2-MULTI (07/09/12) std
(SVN revision 19438)
] based on DD-WRT and configured the AirStation with the Setup Assistant.  The Assistant quickly stepped us though the configuration of the router.  Within a few minutes we were on the network with our first wireless device connected.

After this initial setup, we went back to customize everything to our liking.

Buffalo AirStation Setup

Along with the normal WAN and Network Setup were options where you could choose to give the router up to three static DNS settings as well as use DNSMASQ which is a very cool DNS forwarder and DHCP server.

 Buffalo DD-WRT Firmware

All in all, we counted 43 menus in this version of DD-WRT! There are obviously a ton of firmware options and customizable features that come with DD-WRT – too many, in fact for us to go into detail here in this article.  The advantage of course is that the DD-WRT community is very strong and very active with help and troubleshooting for anything that you might need.

Buffalo AirStation Setup

As you can see, the menu contents are very similar to your current router firmware and GUI. The difference is that the DD-WRT firmware goes a lot further in letting the user customize each setting.

Buffalo AirStation Setup

This is a perfect example of how fully featured the DD-WRT firmware is.

Buffalo AirStation Setup

Of course you can choose to use the “User-Friendly” firmware that is still loaded with many options, but just not as customizable as the DD-WRT firmware.  If you don't the Buffalo-specific firmware, you can try your hand at one of the other custom firmware versions found on the DD-WRT website.

 DD-WRT Website

 

Buffalo AirStation N600 – Wireless Speed Tests

Buffalo_AirStation_3We wanted to test our router in a real world application so we connected the Netgear WNDR3700v4 to a PC running Windows 7 64-bit and configured it using “Automatic” settings for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. We took our Alienware M17XR4 to use as a target laptop client.  The Alienware M17XR4 features an Intel i7-3610QM CPU with 6GB RAM running Windows 7 64-Bit, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M.  More importantly for our tests, it is outfitted with a Qualcomm Antheros Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter. The Killer 1103 is a three-antenna network adapter that connects at up to 450Mbps over 802.11n and features reduced power consumption and Wi-Fi Direct. Much has been written about the Killer NIC technology in recent years but there is no doubt that this 3-antenna solution will give us the best possible wireless throughput for our test.

Killer-1103

We took our Alienware laptop and moved it 25-feet away from the Netgear router. We didn't tell the client anything more than the SSID name for each router tested and let it automatically choose the channel to connect to.  All the routers were set to “Unsecure Mode” (for fastest data throughput), and with WMM / QoS turned ON. After connecting, we ran the PC application LAN Speed Test (LST) to measure file transfer and network speeds. LST builds a file in memory and then transfers the packet without the effects of windows file caching.  It then reports the time and calculates the network speed.

lst_340

We repeated the test 2 more times rotating the router 90 degrees after each test to make sure that the router’s speed was affected adversely by its orientation.

N600_WiFi_Speeds-1MB

Benchmark Results: Speed test results of the 1MB packets show that the Netgear WNDR3700v4 is still our clear leader when it comes to the transfer of small data.  Honestly, we were hoping for better results from the Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP running the faster Atheros AR7161 chip. The Netgear N600 router more than doubles the speed of the Buffalo AirStation N600 in Average Write Speeds, while Netgear’s Average Read Speeds are 67% faster than that of the Buffalo WZR-600DHP.

 

 

N600_WiFi_Speeds-100MB

Benchmark Results: We ran our speed tests a second time with 100MB data packet sizes to simulate the kind of data that one would see when streaming multimedia like high-definition video. Again the Buffalo AirStation N600 displays about half of the speed of the Netgear N600 in terms of Average Read Speeds. Even though the Average Write Speeds for the WZR-600DHP improve with this test, they still lag behind the TP-Link TL-WDR3500 and Netgear WNDR3700v4.

 

Buffalo AirStation N600 – Power Consumption

Buffalo_AirStation_FrontPower consumption by your home’s electronic devices continues to be a very important issue so we have made an attempt to present some simple power consumption tests on the various routers that we had. To measure idle usage, we reset each wireless router to the default settings and plugged them with no devices connected to them. We then measured the power draw from each router at the wall with our P3 International P4400 Kill-A-Watt electric usage monitor.

 

Idle_Power_Consumption

Benchmark Results: We see here that the Buffalo WZR-600DHP N600 Dual-Band router is one of the most energy efficient network devices we have ever tested. At 3.3 Watts, you can see how other devices – like the 802.11AC routers – operate at 3 times the power at idle.

 

Since most people will have their routers turned on for 24-hour a day operation, we think that examining power usage is an important benchmark. Total cost of ownership (TCO) is an important financial estimate that helps consumer’s direct and indirect costs of a product. In our TCO calculation we will be figuring up how much it costs to have a wireless router running per year in an idle state with the unit being installed 24-hours a day. We will be using 12.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) based on the bureau of labor statistics report from April 2012 showing that amount as the national average.

Energy_Cost

Benchmark Results: The low-wattage consumption of the Buffalo WZR-600DHP equates to very inexpensive cost of use.  We see from the chart above that the long-term use of the Buffalo AirStation N600 router is pretty cost-effective when we consider continual use in the home or office.

 

Buffalo AirStation N600 – Final Thoughts

Buffalo_AirStation_2After working with the Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP dual-band router, the thing we can say with the most confidence is that we only scratched the surface of what the router – and more specifically, the DD-WRT firmware can do.

We don’t normally spend too much time with trying to configure and tweak the firmware that comes with the routers that we review, but since the DD-WRT firmware is a major selling point for this router, we wanted to make sure we spent some quality time in the GUI. 

ddwrtfirmware_logo

Prior to the AirStation WZR-600DHP, Buffalo had already started shipping routers with DD-WRT as the factory default as far back as the summer of 2010.  Buffalo ships the AirStation WZR-600DHP with two different kinds of firmware on their Resource CD, the “User-Friendly” firmware and the “Professional” firmware.  The DD-WRT v24SP2-MULTI (07/09/12) version that we chose did not disappoint if you are a fan of open source firmware.  The DD-WRT GUI is still Buffalo “branded” and contains some AirStation specific features.  Buffalo has added the ability to easily flash firmware binaries via their webflash utility.

Buffalo_AirStation_Back

We love the fact that users can modify and customize the firmware on this version of the AirStation, but really, what is stopping people from doing this on their own. Taking a quick glance at the list of supported devices on the DD-WRT site, contains a very large library of compatible devices and we were hard-pressed to find a device in our library that wasn’t supported.

Buffalo AirStation Setup

The Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP comes with a 3-year warranty which is among the best on the market and certainly one of the best and for a sub-$100 dual-band router. For those that who love to tweak the setting on their router to squeeze out the absolute best performance, then the Buffalo AirStation with its customized DD-WRT firmware will be the router you are waiting for.  For us, it was a little too much to tweak, but Buffalo gets high marks in bringing this open-source architecture to mainstream. 

 

Legit Bottom Line: 

The Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP Dual-Band Wireless Router ships with a customized DD-WRT firmware as its largest selling point. Even though the router is feature rich, the lack of wireless performance makes it hard to recommend.