Price: $80 (ESP)
Pros: Inexpensive; compatible with specialized antennas; easy security configuration.
Cons: Erratic performance; bulky client card.
These days, most of the WLAN devices claiming the highest performance and range use some kind of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) implementation, which utilizes multiple transmitters and antennas to maximize throughput and minimize the effects of interference.
Buffalo Technology’s AirStation Turbo G High Power Wireless Smart Router takes a different approach, utilizing a conventional design augmented by a built-in amplifier that Buffalo says increases transmitter power from 32mW to 79mW. Buffalo’s companion CardBus client card (model WLI-CB-G54HP) makes use of a similar amplifier. The card’s bulkiness will attest to this fact, as the business end is about twice as thick as a typical WLAN adapter card.
One of the characteristics Buffalo has been known for in previous products is the use of internal antennas in lieu of external ones. Although earlier Buffalo routers also had external connectors for optional antennas, the WHR-HP-654 breaks with tradition by using a standard external mast as its primary antenna.
Many WLAN routers can be configured to run as access points. The WHR-HP-654 has this capability, but makes reconfiguring the device quite easy by including a toggle switch on the bottom of the unit. Flipping that switch disables the WAN port (along with WAN-related features, like NAT).
When you log into the WHR-HP-G54, it’s immediately clear that Buffalo’s administration interface has been greatly improved— it’s much more attractive and better organized. The product documentation is much improved as well; it’s much clearer than in the past, and written in a conversational and easy-to-understand style.
The WHR-HP-G54 includes Buffalo’s AOSS (AirStation One-Touch Security System) which greatly simplifies the process of configuring wireless encryption. AOSS eliminates the need to manually set an encryption method and create keys on both the router and Buffalo clients. By pressing a button on both the router and the client (either physically on the device or in software), the two devices negotiate a common encryption method and an appropriate key is created without further user input. Subsequent clients can be added to the network in the same fashion, and since during the initial AOSS setup keys are created in advance for all encryption methods (WEP64, WEP128, WPA-TKIP and WPA-AES), the type of encryption used can be changed to accommodate the limitations of new clients. Non-Buffalo clients can’t be configured via AOSS, but they can be configured normally using encryption information you can look up on the router.
In addition to extensive logging capabilities (and the ability to output to a syslog server), the WHR-HP-G54 includes an intrusion detection feature that can send e-mail alerts following intrusion attempts and even pop-up a warning message on a specific PC — provided that PC is running Buffalo’s Client Manager software, which requires the use of a Buffalo card as well.
The results of performance tests conducted on the WHR-HP-G54 were something of a mixed bag. Tests using Ixia’s QCheck utility indicated that the Buffalo yielded throughput of up to 29 Mbps from about a 50-foot distance with multiple walls between the router and client. This is well in excess of the 20-24 Mbps you might expect to get with a garden-variety 802.11g device. On the other hand, the results of individual tests conducted just a few seconds apart varied considerably (within an unusually large 12 Mbps range). This would seem to indicate that the quality of the connection between the two devices was in a constant state of flux, a condition which would result in lower average throughput.
By comparison, tests conducted in the same environment on a Netgear RangeMax WPN824, which uses MIMO technology from Ruckus Wireless (formerly known as Video54) produced absolute throughput scores that were no higher than the WHR-HP-G54, but the Netgear’s test results were considerably more repeatable — which would result in higher average throughput.
So why might you consider the AirStation G54 High Power over a MIMO-type router? One potential advantage is that it uses a conventional antenna that can be replaced with a variety of high-gain and/or directional masts. This can be useful when you’re trying to cover an especially large area or have other coverage challenges that even the improved performance of MIMO may not cover. Indeed, Buffalo offers about a half-dozen optional antennas compatible with the G54 — though there is a catch, as many of them use the MC-type connector found on earlier Buffalo products, and thus will require an adapter to connect to the RP-SMA connector on the WHR-HP-G54.
Another reason to consider a high-power router might be the lower cost, given that MIMO devices can cost upwards of $150 or more, though this seems to be less of an issue now that many MIMO products can be had for around $100.
All in all, the WHR-HP-G54 certainly seems to provide better performance than standard 802.11g devices at a similar price, and may even offer advantages over MIMO hardware for certain situations.