Review: AirPort Extreme Base Station

This new wireless router promises a speed increase of up to five times and twice the range compared to the previous model. In addition, because it is based on the 802.11n standard in which support for the previous b and g standards is incorporated, it is also a base station compatible with the previous AirPort (802.11b) and AirPort Extreme and Express (802.11g) . However, for best results you should dispense with maintaining compatibility with 802.11b and 802.11g clients.

The name of the base station is identical to that of its predecessors, but the unit itself has radically changed its design. The alien ship shape has given way to a more square shape similar to the Mac mini, making it easier to stack multiple base stations (although in that case you need to carefully select the channel each will use to avoid possible interference). It also incorporates three 10/100 Mbps ports in its function as a switch, a really useful feature for small mixed networks made up of wireless and wired clients; feature that has been available for years on Wi-Fi routers at a significantly lower price than previous Apple base stations.

Speed ​​limits

With an 802.11n compatible Mac connected wirelessly to the AirPort Extreme base station, we have been able to verify speeds of over 90 Mbps in sending data to another Mac connected to the base station via Ethernet. When two 802.11n Macs communicated wirelessly through the base station, speeds reached nearly 50 Mbps in each direction, though only 90 Mbps when traffic was restricted in only one direction, clearly revealing that the lack of support for Gigabit Ethernet in the new base station limits the speed potential of the 802.11n standard. In comparison, the two Macs that were connected to the base station via Ethernet achieved 94 Mbps both ways.

The new base station also offered faster speeds over longer distances (further than we’ve seen with an Apple 802.11g base station and similar 802.11g gateways). For example, we take a MacBook at a distance of 30 meters and a height of 1 meter with respect to the building that contained the base station (with its partition walls, plants and concrete walls), maintaining a connection at all times with speeds of between 1 and 15 Mbps (with an average of 5 Mbps). The highest speeds were obtained at a distance of 10 meters from one of the separation walls. (Wi-Fi gateways are generally oriented with flat antenna profiles that work well when you are at the same height as the device, such as on the same floor or building, and with less performance when you are above or below below, especially when there is also horizontal distance in the same plane.)

Maximum speeds required the use of the 5 GHz band and broad spectrum channels that allow the AirPort Extreme to use twice the frequency range compared to the b and g standards. The Extreme can use both the 5 and 2.4 GHz bands, while most routers can only use the 2.4 GHz band. However, Apple does not allow the use of wide channels. spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band to avoid interference with Bluetooth.

With a network using 2.4 GHz channels (or frequency range) shared with other nearby networks, we obtained a speed of 50 Mbps. In free channels, which is a rarity in cities, we obtained speeds of between 70 and 80 Mbps.

However, by adding a client using one of the older AirPorts (either the bog standard) to the streams, we could see a performance crash. In a test with two laptops, one with an 802.11b adapter and the other with an 802.11n adapter, both transmitting at full speed, the average speed dropped to a figure close to 30 Mbps. However, in a more likely scenario where a bog computer is sending data intermittently, the sending speed between hardware equipped with the “n” standard continues to stay high.

On the other hand, if you have the AirPort Extreme configured to share a single IP address and connect the base station to a larger network, then the data transmission speed drops to 30 Mbps for 802.11n and up to 60 Mbps for Ethernet. When the IP address sharing feature is disabled, which is the usual configuration in large networks, everything returns to normal. Additionally, with broadband cable connections, DSL or fiber services that operate at a speed lower than 30 Mbps, this problem will not become more evident. Apple has confirmed this fact and has been able to replicate the problem, indicating that it is looking for a solution.

Improved utility

Apple has taken advantage of the launch of a completely redesigned model to also enhance its AirPort Administration Utility with various setup wizards and a customer monitoring program. The new AirPort utility combines all these features in a more elegant way.

First-time wireless network users will encounter a series of simpler setup steps compared to the previous wizards, allowing them to quickly configure the wireless network. Advanced users will have access to more powerful and better organized settings.

The new AirPort Utility also makes troubleshooting easier by adding a new configuration problems mode and the tools to fix them to the Summary tab for manual settings.

Those who want to use DHCP and have a web server running from a single IP address on the base station (or who need access to Timbuktu Pro, File Sharing, and other remote services) are also in luck. The new Extreme allows you to assign private IP addresses based on a DHCP Client ID or Media Access Control (MAC) address. These fixed addresses can be coupled with enhanced controls for port forwarding, allowing incoming Internet traffic to be redirected to a specific machine on the local network.

The new AirPort Extreme Base Station supports the latest WPA and WPA2 encryption methods for both personal and business networks, as well as legacy WEP encryption systems. Our recommendation is to use WPA or WPA2 instead of WEP Transitional, whenever possible.

Share printers and hard drives

Home users and small businesses will find the ability to add and control access to one or more hard drives connected via the USB ports (or a separately purchased USB hub) to be a more economical option than many of the alternatives available, such as for example, buy a dedicated NAS (network-attached storage) unit or use a dedicated computer as a file server. On the other hand, although