Apple has been playing it cool on the WiFi side of things lately. It started with the previous Airport Extreme (Gen 4) which quietly introduced three spatial stream support, followed up by the Early 2011 MacBook Pro update which brought a three spatial stream compliant WLAN stack, and now has continued with an even more understated update for the Time Capsule (4th generation) and Airport Extreme (5th generation).

Both updates launched just prior to this latest round of Apple launches, which included the Mac Mini, Macbook Air, and Thunderbolt Display, but unlike those three, the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme updates saw almost no mention. Starting with the exterior packaging, you’d be hard pressed to tell that a particular Time Capsule or Airport Extreme is the newer refresh. I no longer have the old Airport Extreme packaging, but the new device box is virtually indistinguishable. Outside of bumping the supported storage capacity for the Time Capsule up to 3TB, there’s no real obvious giveaway for the Time Capsule either.

The only way to tell which version is which by looking at the box is by the model numbers—MD031LL/A for the 5th generation Airport Extreme, and MD032LL/A for the 2TB 4th generation Time Capsule.

The contents of the Airport Extreme box remain the same as well, starting with the device itself on top, and underneath it, a power cable, 12 volt power supply (model A1202) and some literature about setup in a white plastic bag.

The Time Capsule box is much the same affair, with the device inside, a power cable, no power supply (since it’s internal), and some literature.

I stacked all three devices up so you can compare physically. Really the only big giveaway between the two Airport Extremes is an extra line of text on the previous generation, and of course the model number or FCC ID. Both the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme still retain the same port configuration—four GigE ports, one USB 2.0 port, power, reset, and a Kensington security slot. Those four gigabit ethernet ports can either be used as a switch, or you can use the device as a router and then the leftmost port becomes WAN and the right three become LAN.

At this point it isn’t really looking like there’s much different, but exterior appearances can be deceptive.

FCC Docs - Increased Power
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  • edporras - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    QoS would definitely be handy but not having the ability to forward port 53 just killed me. I really wish there was a way to disable the ABS' DNS server. Or if anyone has figured it out, please share. Reply
  • geekd0m - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    I'll second the request for QOS and uPNP on these. I would love to get the Airport Extreme or Time Capsule for their solid performance, but really need the QOS.... Reply
  • MGSsancho - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/Gallery/Album/1282#13 passwords Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    That's my placeholder password ;)

    -Brian
    Reply
  • pius - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    Hi Brian

    Thank you for a very thorough review! Based on your review I think I'm going to buy the new AirPort Extreme. I think I need two of them to reach the entire appartment. Should I instead then get one and then add an Express? Or will I then lose the advantages of the new Extreme? Also, is the Extreme any better that the Express when I don't need the USB and ethernet ports? I've heard about a device limit on the Express. Does that also apply if I only use it for extending the Extreme?
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    I have an Express I originally intended to use to "extend" the network (really just WDS), but ran into all sorts of issues. I don't think they've updated that product in a while, and yeah the Extreme has much more power and range than the Express in general.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • gameman733 - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    During the review, you mentioned that you ran into some trouble with Lenovo blocking the installation of mini-pcie wireless cards. I just wanted to let you know that this is definitely not the first time I've heard of it happening, and its not a recent thing.

    My old laptop, a Compaq Presario V2402US, purchased in 2005, didn't come with a wireless card. I went looking for a 3rd party wireless card (buying from HP didn't make sense when it came with a mini-pci slot available, and I could find a mini-pci card cheaper), and came across a page that mentioned several HP/Compaq laptops that did exactly what your Lenovo laptop did.

    As I recall, it was only watching the device and vendor ID's of the card, and the bios could be modded to take any card, but this really shouldn't be necessary. The only close to legitimate reason I could think of was FCC clearance, but that doesn't make any sense either. Anyway, just wanted to share my experience.
    Reply
  • Alchemy69 - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    Oh look, Apple have invented Wi-Fi. Expect lawsuits Reply
  • repoman27 - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    I bet it would work just fine. As long as you update the older model to version 7.5.2 of the AirPort Base Station and Time Capsule firmware first (available download from Apple), you should be good to go. The reference module has everything it needs, and the main board is the same hardware revision. No muss, no fuss.

    eBay has scads of listings for various Broadcom reference modules which can be used to upgrade older Macs, so I imagine it's only a matter of time before these hit the streets as well.

    And it was an amazing review - everything I've been hoping for since I was looking at Hardmac's take apart photos back in June and noticed that Apple had switched from a Marvell to a Broadcom radio module.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 06, 2011 - link

    Thanks! Interesting, if the reference module BCM94331 comes up, I'll definitely give it a shot. I too bet it would work, I just wonder whether the device only gets flashed an image with the appropriate controller drivers depending on what "generation" it is, as opposed to actually looking at what card is installed.

    -Brian
    Reply

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