When reviewing a new product, you often feel like you’ve already seen the same or very similar product. In fact, manufacturers often use similar code bases for their user interfaces. The major differences are frequently found in the features added to high-end products, or, for that matter, features removed from entry-level models in order to achieve a specific price point.
From a reviewer’s standpoint, having a unified user interface that spans a product line simplifies our task. We can talk about the user interface once and then subsequent reviews can just discuss differences. We can focus on things like chipsets, radio configurations, USB ports for file/print sharing, remote access and, most importantly for many readers, wireless performance and range.
Buffalo takes a unique approach by shipping a customized version of the popular "alternative" router distro DD-WRT as the default firmware on some of its routers. Buffalo calls the DD-WRT version its “Professional Firmware”. They also ship a "user friendly" firmware using Buffalo's old firmware base.
Three of Buffalo's single band routers ship with DD-WRT installed
The two tables above and below summarize Buffalo’s current wireless router offerings and show which ones ship with Buffalo's customized version of of DD-WRT factory installed. They also identify major differences in hardware (USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, DLNA, etc).
For dual band routers, only the HighPower N600 Gigabit ships with DD_WRT installed
For this article, I’ll be focusing on the features of Buffalo’s implementation of DD-WRT and how it differs from the generic open source community versions. You can think of it as a companion review covering the features of recent Buffalo wireless routers like the WZR-300HP and WZR-600DHP.
If you're familiar with DD-WRT, you already know that they distribute open source router firmware for many different brands and models of wireless routers. DD-WRT is well known for having fully-featured firmware that often "surfaces" features that manufacturers, for the sake of simplicity or support risk, choose not to expose to users with their own firmware.
If you're not familiar with DD-WRT, here are a few features that separate it from features I've seen other routers. Of course, non-DD-WRT routers may also have some of these features.
|Setup||Network Setup||In addition to a traditional DHCP server, DD-WRT supports DHCP forwarding|
|Setup||DDNS||DD-WRT has the most comprehensive selection of DDNS providers I've seen|
|Setup||Advanced routing||Operating modes include Gateway; BGP; Rip2Router; Routers|
|Setup||Networking||DD-WRT supports VLAN Tagging and allows you to set up bridging.|
|Wireless||Basic Settings||Multiple virtual networks (guest networks) are supported - each with their own security settings.|
|Wireless||WDS||DD-WRT has impressive support for WDS with up to 10 supported devices|
|Services||VPN||Though it's a fairly old VPN protocol, DD-WRT supports PPTP client and server modes|
|Services||Hotspot||There's built-in support for turning your router into a commercial hotspot with a choice of four hotspot providers|
|Security||Access restrictions||You can block P2P services from an extensive lise of predefined services.|
|Security||Firewall||You can enable syslog and point it to your syslog server for detailed logging of activities on your DD-WRT-based router.|
|Administration||Management||In this category, DD-WRT excels. Here are a few relatively unique features:
|Status||Router||DD-WRT gives you great stats on memory usage, NVRam usage, CPU info and active IP connections|
|Status||WAN||The monthly graphs of incoming/outgoing traffic (with daily usage) will help keep you under your monthly quota|
|Security||Wireless||You can do a wireless site survey to see what other wireless networks your routers "sees".|
Table 1: DD-WRT differentiating features
Of course, if you look at the detailed feature list on the next page and compare it to your existing router, I'm sure that you'll come up with a few more items to add to the above list.
Stock DD-WRT vs. Buffalo
DD-WRT distributes multiple versions of firmware to accommodate the different amounts of memory installed in routers by their manufacturers. For routers with a limited amount of memory, some features, such as hotspots and VPNs are not included in the build.
At the top of the heapthe build with all of the features available—is the "Mega" build. Buffalo's version of the DD-WRT firmware is essentially the Mega version, but with unique features added that are available only on Buffalo routers.
Here's a quick summary of the differences between stock DD-WRT and Buffalo's "Mega" versions:
- All Buffalo DD-WRT-based routers have a Buffalo Logo and color scheme
- Buffalo incorporates AOSS into its version of DD-WRT. AOSS is an additional wireless security client that interacts with other Buffalo wireless products.
- Buffalo incorporates WPS into its build. All Buffalo routers are Wi-Fi certified and WPS support (both PIN and Push Button) is a requirement for Wi-Fi Certification. WPS is not available in the open source community builds.
- The DD-WRT community software uses open source drivers. Buffalo has choice of using open source drivers or closed drivers (supplied by hardware chipset manufacturers) in its builds. Buffalo choosse drivers based on what provides the best performance for its products.
- The Buffalo DD-WRT build disables overclocking of CPUs to ensure reliability.
- Buffalo limits RF power output based on the selected geographical region to stay within legal limits.
- Buffalo’s build includes a first run setup wizard to simplify setup. (It can also be run later)
- Buffalo’s build includes a setup card and a guest card print feature. The SSID can be changed from within the setup card.
- Buffalo firmware update versions can be updated easily from within the Web UI. The updater checks the image file for an encryption key to make sure that it’s updating with Buffalo firmware. It will reject non-Buffalo firmware.
- Buffalo has published a 17+ minute video on YouTube that details how to set up WDS bridging using DD-WRT on buffalo Routers.
- Last, and certainly not least, Buffalo provides phone-based tech support and three year warranty on its routers. If you flash a router with an open source build, your tech support is limited to DD-WRT forums and WiKis.