Buffalo Tech: New 802.11ac router with Open Source firmware

Buffalo Tech: New 802.11ac router with Open Source firmware

Summary: Buffalo's flagship WZR-1750DHPD 802.11ac router features DD-WRT open source firmware out of the box. At $189.00 street, is it worth it?

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Buffalo's WZR-1750DHPD

802.11ac wireless routers, with their multi-spatial MIMO antennae, high-power transmitters and blazing fast data throughput rates, are rapidly attracting SOHO and prosumer customers who want the ultimate in Wi-Fi speed for the most demanding home entertainment and content creating applications, such as immersive video games, high-definition video streaming and large file transfers.

Many, if not all of the folks in this target market really want to get the most out of their network hardware, so there's been market demand for combining the raw tech of the latest and greatest wireless chipsets along with Open Source, Linux-based firmware such as DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato.

Why Open Source firmware? DD-WRT is able to utilize a lot of the advanced features that the latest and greatest wireless chipsets have, as well as the additional functionality built into the latest Linux kernels, which might not be exploitable using out-of-the box manufacturer firmware. It's also a great way to breathe new life into older routers as well. 

However, installing DD-WRT is not for the average person. Not all routers are supported, and there's also a chance that a glitch or human error during the flash process will "brick" the device, rendering it e-waste. So now router companies are offering devices with variants of DD-WRT preloaded.

buffalo-DDWRT
Buffalo Tech DD-WRT firmware used on their Open Source router products.

There are a few companies who are currently offering, or will soon be offering, 802.11ac products with integrated or manufacturer-supported Open Source firmware. Most notably is ASUS which has a line of routers that support their ASUSWRT Open Source firmware, and Belkin, which will soon be offering a high-end Open Source-capable router with the Linksys WRT1900AC.  

Buffalo Tech has been on the forefront of 802.11ac, being the first company to ship products using the draft of the protocol specification in May of 2012. It is also one of the few companies that ships routers that use the Open Source DD-WRT firmware out of the box. 

Buffalo is also a sponsor of the DD-WRT project and actively develops its own derivatives of the firmware for its own products.

The latest and greatest Buffalo router, the WZR-1750DHPD, features a Broadcom BCM4331/BCM4360 based chipset, 3x3 MIMO spatial streams, USB 3.0 for integrated NAS capability, four gigabit LAN ports and a gigabit ethernet port.

It is definitely a high-end prosumer product and, as a DD-WRT router, it's quite a good one.

My entire five-bedroom home is now utterly saturated with 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz signal and, for the few devices I have that can use 802.11ac, I'm definitely getting very high throughput. It's also making the very best of my anemic 18Mbps/1.5Mbps U-verse broadband connection, as I've never encountered such decent wire-line speeds with the various router products I've had at my current Florida residence.

However, as to be expected of a high-end device, it also has a high-end price tag: $189.00 street.

Aside from the high-spec parts, the greatest strength of the product is the stable (October 2013) and powerful DD-WRT v24SP2 firmware.  

However, the greatest weakness of the product is also the highly complicated DD-WRT v24SP2 firmware. Let me explain.

I'm far from a neophyte when it comes to DD-WRT. I've probably successfully flashed at least half a dozen routers with it over the years to experiment with. I've also bricked my share as well. When DD-WRT is working properly, it is a glorious thing.

But my particular networking setup is complicated, and I'm pretty sure it isn't unique given the target customer base for this product. Because I use AT&T U-verse, I have a residential gateway (RG) that acts as the master router on my network and also is the demarc for the VDSL line coming into the house that carries not just my broadband but also my digital TV service. U-verse also maintains its own CISCO wireless access point plugged into the RG for my wireless TV boxes.

Fiber to the Home (FTTH) providers like Verizon FIOS and even U-Verse in some markets also use residental gateways as well. So many of us with these kinds of setups like having a separate access point just for our own wireless stuff and leave the RG alone to do its thing.

To do this, it is ideal to run your own wireless equipment in "Bridged" mode or Wireless Access Point mode, which is to say that all it does is broadcast wireless signals on your existing network being managed by the RG; it doesn't do DHCP, resolve DNS, act as a firewall or route anything.

You can also run a secondary router behind the existing RG NAT with another NAT in its default configuration (a.k.a. "double NAT") but that gets very ugly and overly complicated to deal with. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Most consumer/prosumer router products have a relatively easy way to turn on WAP or Bridge mode. On DD-WRT, because of the dizzying array of things you can configure, even someone who actually knows what he's doing with network equipment can get fouled up.

It tool me the better part of the day, probably half a dozen tries with factory resets until I actually found good instructions, none of which were provided on Buffalo's website. To be fair, these are straight from DD-WRT's wiki pages, and Buffalo's DD-WRT is more or less vanilla DD-WRT, sans branding.

Still, it would be helpful even if Buffalo mirrored DD-WRT's pages or had a few sample configuration documents for common setups like this.

I also had some initial wireless authentication and network visibility issues with my iOS 7.1 devices when using my wife's iPhone 5, my iPhone 5s and my iPad Air. These were fixed when I changed some settings for the type of encryption method used and also the channel width on the 2.4Ghz band.

I also had a bunch of connectivity issues with my SONOS components that required additional settings tweaks for the 2.4Ghz frequency band as well as some SPI firewall settings.

Now, you could argue that you might encounter the same issues with router firmware that is not as flexible as DD-WRT. However, if you are looking for a "It just works" solution, DD-WRT-based routers are probably not for you. You'd be better off looking at Buffalo's "stock" 802.11ac router which is almost identical, firmware excepted.

I like this router. But I am a geek and a professional technologist who used to consolidate datacenters for a living who runs enterprise-class servers just for kicks in his spare bedroom. If you're adventurous, give it a spin. If complex SOHO networking stuff frightens you or you didn't understand half of what I said in this article, go for a consumer solution. 

Do you use a DD-WRT based router or are in the market for one with Open Source firmware preloaded? Talk back and let me know. 

Topics: Networking, Linux, Open Source

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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15 comments
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  • How Much and with Open Source ?

    Just a minute don't the vast majority of routers run on open source anyway.
    5735guy
    • Buffalo Tech: New 802.11ac router with Open Source firmware

      Summary: Buffalo's flagship WZR-1750DHPD 802.11ac router features DD-WRT open source firmware out of the box. At $189.00 street, is it worth it?
      daikon
    • so

      who cares ??
      Aussie_Troll
    • No, that is a misconception

      While many routers use Linux-based firmware, only the kernel and system level Open Source components and modifications they make to them have to be released as Open Source, assuming they are GPL. The user-land stuff that a device manufacturer codes such as the UI and other drivers, et cetera that did not originate from an Open Source project are usually proprietary. DD-WRT (and OpenWRT, and Tomato) is completely open source, the entire router OS, not just the Linux kernel it uses.
      jperlow
  • How was the wireless throuput ?

    Any figures on the range and throughput ?

    Edit:

    Just checked this out on Amazon and it gets some very bad reviews over bricking.

    http://www.amazon.com/BUFFALO-AirStation-Gigabit-Source-Wireless/product-reviews/B00I2N6O0W/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?showViewpoints=1

    Think I'll swerve
    Alan Smithie
    • Open Source DD-WRT Routers Announcement from Buffalo

      Per Buffalo:

      We've recently been made aware of an issue that affects new AirStation DD-WRT routers. After some changes to configuration settings in the setup process, the unit is put into continuous boot loops. We are currently working to identify this source of this problem so we can quickly rectify the issue.

      If you have recently purchased any one of the new AirStation DD-WRT routers below and are affected by this issue, please contact our U.S.-based technical support team for assistance. Their lines are open 24/7/365.

      Affected Models:

      AirStation™ AC 1750 DD-WRT Router – WZR-1750DHPD
      AirStation™ N600 DD-WRT Router – WZR-600DHP2D

      We apologize for this inconvenience. Our goal is assist you in resolving this matter as soon as possible.
      clmess
    • Endless boot loops ...

      I was looking at this particular model as well, and did read the bricking posts at Amazon as well.
      Does anyone know if the models that are now available have this problem as well?
      They seem to have 4 in stock as of today ...

      (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00I2N6O0W/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00I2N6O0W&linkCode=as2&tag=tweaki-200
      Hansaplastique
  • Buffalo too little too late.

    I had the previous generation buffalo router, with no external antennas. It was fine for a single room, but the range was poorer than my ancient linksys. I've not found any reviews, but I suspect the lack of external antennas limits range. It also removes the ability to add better antennas.

    Buffalo is pretty cagey on the specifications. What is the CPU clock rate? How much ram? I googled around without success.

    I run DDWRT on a netgear R7000. It's a very similar router. 802.11ac, 4+1 GigE ports, USB3. But it also has external antennas, 256MB ram, 128MB flash, and a dual core arm chip running at 1GHz.

    Many others have similar routers with the same chipset, but from the reviews I've read the netgear seems to have done a bit better on the radio/antenna side and gets better range. It also doesn't interfere with the usb3.0 port, like on the asus.

    The DDWRT install was a breeze, install an image via the web interface, reboot, then the latest image via the web interface, and reboot.

    Personally I wanted the best range available for $190, so I got the netgear R7000.
    BikeSp
  • Can you put up the details somewhere

    Of the specific issues and resolutions you had for the devices you had issues with?
    raleighthings
  • Released

    Jason is this router actually on the street, or is yours a pre production prototype or have you managed to flash and not brick a wzr 1700 DHP. Buffalo's web site states "coming soon." I just ordered the 1700 DHP hoping to be able to flash to DD-WRT when available. Please enlighten me.
    oskar401
    • It is on the street

      But it appears most of the e-retailers are out of stock on it.
      jperlow
  • If you want a serious open source router ...

    ... use pfSense (http://www.pfsense.org). We chose this over Cisco, a number of years ago, and have never regretted that choice. pfSense's stability and capabilities tend to "blow away" the normal home and small-business style appliances.

    Better yet, you only need a wimpy PC to run it. We use a 5-year old/retired (typically ~$50 on Craig's List) PC to run it, but you can get small appliance boxes that run it, if you want something small.

    If you're interested, I've posted some additional comments about pfSense at http://www.derman.com/node/161#pfSenseComments.
    aMakUzr
  • Trouble with Buffalo Routers

    I've tried to use a VPN provider directly with a Buffalo router, and I've found that using the DD-WRT that Buffalo routers come flashed with, it is nearly impossible to do this. Ordering routers from FlashRouters- ones that come pre-flashed with DD-WRT as well as VPN providers- I have had much more success. They also include a warranty, which is an added bonus, as I have had a problem in the past bricking a router trying to flash my router with a VPN and voiding the warranty.
    KojiYoshikawa
    • Re: Trouble with Buffalo Routers (post by KojiYoshikawa)

      Interestingly enough, I'm in the process of doing a writeup on VPN using pfSense router -- see http://www.derman.com/blogs/Setting-Up-iOS-OnDemand-VPN

      We've also had an always-on IPSec office-to-office/net-to-net VPN running (via pfSense) for a number of years and it's been entirely trouble-free.
      aMakUzr
  • RG Setup

    Couldn't you disable their RG, and connect direct thru your router> Personally, I've found service provider wireless equipment to be generally far below average, and usually difficult to impossible to configure. The less involvement with provider equipment the better.........
    winddrift03