The Airport Extreme is Apple's first draft 802.11n router, based on an upcoming Wi-Fi standard promising faster speeds and greater range.
The Airport Extreme is a relatively small router with the same footprint as Apple's Mac Mini, but a bit more compact standing only 3.5 centimetres tall. Unlike many wireless routers sprouting antenna all over the place, the Airport Extreme has no external appendages, which keeps the outer case smooth and the edges aesthetically pleasing.
At the rear of the Airport Extreme are three Ethernet ports for wired local area network (LAN) devices such as PCs and printers, and an Ethernet port to connect your cable or ADSL modem. Most routers offer four LAN ports, but the Extreme fills the slot with a single USB connection for networking a printer or sharing a storage drive, such as an external hard drive or flash USB memory key, over the network.
Apple claims the Airport Extreme is up to five times faster than its previous wireless routers, with draft 802.11n Wi-Fi also providing up to twice the coverage area.
Security features of the Airport Extreme include WPA/WPA2, WEP (40-bit and 128-bit encryption, support for RADIUS authentication, MAC address filtering, NAT firewall and time-based access control. Networking features include DHCP, NAT, PPoE, VPN Passthrough, DNS Proxy, IPv6 and SNMP.
Apple bundles Airport Utility on CD for configuring the router on Windows or Mac, requiring Mac OS X v10.4.x or later, or Windows XP with SP2 or later. The 10-step process is painless and quick; we were done in around five minutes after opening the box.
The set-up process involves naming your base station and wireless network, specifying your country and radio mode, selecting how you connect to the Internet, and entering passwords for shared USB disks, security and the base station itself.
Setting up a shared USB drive through the router was simple with the Airport Utility holding your hand through the process. On Macs the drive is discovered on the network automatically and mounted as an Airport Disk in Finder. The Airport Utility can also unmount disks if you need to unplug it from the base station -- removing it without performing this step could damage your data.
To test maximum throughput we placed an 802.11n-enabled MacBook Pro within three metres of the Airport Extreme with an unobstructed line of sight and took the fastest of three FTP transfers.
For mid-range testing we moved the Macbook Pro away from the Airport Extreme approximately 10 metres in our office, with a single meeting room wall between the two devices and took the average of three transfers.
For long range tests we moved the Macbook Pro away from the Airport Extreme approximately 50 metres in an office environment and took an average of three transfers where meeting room walls and cubicles blocked direct line of sight.
The wireless network was configured for WPA2 Personal security and a 100MB test file hosted by a PC connected to the Extreme via Ethernet was used for the FTP transfers.
|802.11n only (5GHz)||Average throughput (Mbps)|
|Maximum throughput (<3m)||80.8|
|Mid-range throughput (10m)||72.7|
|Long-range throughput (50m)||61.1|
|802.11n only (2.4GHz)||Average throughput (Mbps)|
|Maximum throughput (<3m)||68.8|
|Mid-range throughput (10m)||67.5|
|Long-range throughput (50m)||33.9|
|Mixed mode (802.11b/g/n)||Average speed (Mbps)|
|Maximum throughput (<3m)||67.7|
|Mid-range throughput (10m)||66.9|
|Long-range throughput (50m)||31.6|
The uncluttered 5GHz spectrum gave the best results by far, with the 100MB test file taking only 10.1 seconds to transfer. However, the performance in using 2.4GHz was disappointing -- we wouldn't recommend using this setting in built-up urban and commercial areas as other wireless network (and those darn microwaves) might cause significant interference. Our mixed-mode tests were expected, slowing the network down to almost half the speed of 5GHz in the long-range tests.