This product was released prior to the final ratification of the 802.11g standard, but firmware upgrades for most 802.11g draft-based products are now available that bring older products up to the final spec. Often these upgrades include other enhancements, such as improved security features for stronger encryption. Check the manufacturer's support site for firmware upgrades and look for firmware posted after June 15, the date that 802.11g was ratified.
When you reach the main configuration screen, simply click either the DSL or the Cable button to get your network up and running.
To get started, just plug the router into your broadband connection or existing network. Next, you'll need to configure the AirStation either manually via your Web browser or automatically using the included Client Manager software. The included quick-setup guide walks you through the process step-by-step and provides clear instructions along with helpful screen shots. It even shows you how to disable Windows XP's own wireless-configuration utility, which you'll need to do if you want to use the Client Manager. The software also works with Windows 95, 98, 2000, and Me.
After you load the Client Manager, you must follow a few more steps before you can finally connect to the AirStation and reach its Web-based configuration tool. From the main configuration page, simply click either the DSL or the Cable button, then choose your ISP connection type: Static, Dynamic, or PPoE. With your network now fully operational, you can start surfing the Net wirelessly or use the Web-based configuration tool to make more advanced settings. (Check out the Features and security section for more information.)
On the whole, the installation process went smoothly in our tests, and novices will no doubt appreciate the thoroughness of the quick-setup guide. Advanced users, on the other hand, may find the process a bit tedious. Whatever your experience level, we strongly recommend that you immediately change the router's SSID and turn on WEP encryption via the Web-based configuration tool to even minimally secure your network. Lacking an external antenna, the small, rounded AirStation 54Mbps wireless broadband router easily blends in with any home or office decor. In fact, because it sits vertically and measures just 7 inches high by 6 inches deep by 3 inches wide, you can hide it in a bookshelf among the paperback books. The front of the unit features LEDs for power, wireless, WAN, and diagnostics. Another four LEDs along the side of the unit show activity on the wired ports. Unfortunately, their location makes it hard to view all of the lights at once. The back of the router has four wired Ethernet ports, a WAN port, and a recessed Reset button for returning the device to its factory settings. We wish the AirStation had a visual collision monitor, such as the one found on the Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G broadband router, which is invaluable in fine-tuning a network.
The Wireless page lets you change the ESSID, the WEP key, and more advanced settings, such as the DTIM interval.
Like many modern routers, the AirStation also features an external antenna connection. If you need to extend your wireless range, Buffalo sells two different optional antennae for $59 each. The directional antenna beams coverage to a specific area, while the omnidirectional antenna spreads out coverage equally in all directions. According to Buffalo, the antennae can double the device's range, although CNET Labs has not tested these claims.
You can configure the AirStation using its Web-based configuration tool. The main page features three handy, instant-connect tabs across the top that let you run an Internet-connection test, update security settings, and set up special applications, such as Internet games, NetMeeting, or MSN Messenger. To adjust the more advanced settings, however, you must drill down into an assortment of browser windows. For example, the Wireless page lets you change the SSID, the transmission channel, and the WEP level, as well as detailed items, such as the DTIM interval. Happily, you can also configure the router for either a mixed-mode (802.11g and 802.11b) network or an 802.11g-only network for maximum performance. Plus, each setting features a pop-up definition to help first-time networkers. Like the Apple AirPort Extreme, the AirStation also supports wireless bridging, which lets you extend a network without Ethernet wiring or connect two wireless LANs.
The Intrusion Detector alerts you of attempted network break-ins.
We found a couple of problems with the configuration tool, however. Unlike the Belkin 54g wireless cable/DSL gateway router, which puts a wealth of information about the router--including its firmware version, IP settings, WAN address, and security settings--right at your fingertips, the AirStation makes you dig through several screens before you find the information you need. In fact, the whole configuration tool screams out for integration. Finally, the AirStation lacks the sophisticated content-filtering and parental-control software included with the Belkin, making the device more appropriate for a small or home office.
In addition to 128-bit WEP encryption, the AirStation offers a phalanx of security features to keep out the bad guys. You can allow or deny network access based on the MAC address, and the router's NAT-based firewall guards against attacks such as denial of service, TCP stealth, and IP spoofing. The AirStation goes a step further, in fact, with its Intrusion Detector feature, which notifies you of an attempted break-in using a pop-up window and an e-mail message. If, however, you need unfettered access to the Internet, you can designate one computer as a demilitarized zone (DMZ) and bypass the router's security features altogether. Buffalo also plans to support the more secure Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) with a firmware upgrade later this month. The AirStation 54Mbps wireless broadband router delivered excellent overall performance. It emerged from CNET Labs' gauntlet of tests with a top speed of 19.6Mbps, just ahead of the Belkin 54g wireless cable/DSL gateway router, but behind the Netgear WG602 54Mbps wireless access point. Its throughput jumped into the lead at distances up to 25 feet but, once again, fell behind the Netgear at 75 feet. It did, however, retain its lead over the Belkin. In a mixed-mode (802.11b and 802.11g) network, the AirStation delivered 7.9Mbps of throughput, putting it in a tie with the Netgear. The router worked fine with seven different 802.11b radios of varying age, as well as with an 802.11g PC Card from Linksys.
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software with Chariot 4.4 Endpoints as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at various distances from the access point and automatically select the best transmit speed. All tests are run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol and are run in our CNET offices over channel 11. Our tests indicate the range you can expect in a typical office environment, but the range in your own home or office may differ. You may be able to achieve better performance in situations where you can establish a clear line of sight. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site. Buffalo's two-year warranty on the AirStation 54Mbps wireless broadband router falls right between the one-year and three-year policies offered by Linksys and Netgear, respectively. None of them, however, can touch Belkin's lifetime guarantee. Still, Buffalo is the only vendor that offers a free replacement unit should its product materially change once the 802.11g standard is certified.
The Buffalo support Web site offers all of the basic services.
In addition to toll-free, 24/7 phone support, Buffalo's Web site provides a fair amount of help, including drivers, firmware updates, manuals, and detailed FAQs. For the business minded, the site has a selection of wireless-networking case studies.