Conclusion and Final Thoughts

We’ve gone into extreme detail about the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme updates. I originally intended to have this posted with a hint of irony on WiFi day (8.02.11) but instead ended up spending that special day doing more testing and running even more instances of Iperf to make sure our numbers were solid. What’s changed between both previous generations is simple—the Time Capsule gets an official 3TB option, and both the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme now have a much more powerful, modern, and better-performing BCM4331 based WiFi stack.

The result of the move from Marvell to Broadcom is twofold. First, performance and range is definitely better thanks to more transmit power and the improved sensitivity afforded by newer generation chipsets. Second, the combination of lots of Broadcom in Apple’s hardware lineup (from the iPhone, iPad, and MacBooks, to iMac and Mac Mini) with Broadcom in the access point likely allows for the use of frame bursting or some other packet aggregation technique that speeds things up in some scenarios. It’s another example of how having that complete hardware control can in fact result in some benefit—in this case, faster WiFi.

Before this update, there were so many rumors about both iOS based Airport products, that the Time Capsule would cache software updates locally, and that the whole thing would somehow tie into Apple's iCloud solution. None of that exists right now, and it's looking like (for now) the rumor mill has some egg on its face. I waited patiently for Lion to launch and half expected things to turn on and render half of the review null; instead that day came and went without much change at all. As of this writing, the core functionality of the Airport line remains the same as it was before—sans any iCloud/iOS magic/local update caching.

There’s a stigma that Apple gear is more expensive, and for the 3TB Time Capsule that may be the case, but the Airport Extreme is actually right near where it should be. Take for comparison the Linksys E4200, which is a 2x3:2 device on 2.4GHz, and 3x3:3 on 5GHz, and also Broadcom based. That device runs for $179.99 and features similar functionality including a USB 2.0 port for sharing devices. At $179.00, the Airport Extreme offers full 3x3:3 on both 2.4 and 5GHz, albeit the E4200 does have considerably more Tx power, which we'll investigate in a forthcoming article.

I guess the reason that I personally use an Airport Extreme (in conjunction with another device for NAT) is that it's really one of a small number of 802.11n dual-band APs I've tried that actually works without locking up, becoming unstable periodically, dropping the session from overheating when being pushed to 100% for hours, or requiring a daily reboot. There are just so many other consumer level 802.11n APs that either fall short or are incredibly frustrating and unreliable. Thus far, I've been using an Airport Extreme Gen 5 and Time Capsule Gen 4 as my primary AP with over 12 devices attached to each one for the greater part of a month without a single instability. It's that kind of stability that really sells it for me, even with 3x3:3 out of the picture.

That kind of sums up WiFi in general—ideally, it should work and be something transparent to the user instead of a constant consideration. I wager the vast majority of Airport Extreme and Time Capsule owners have no idea what 3x3:3 is or how to even check their physical link rate, and for the most part that's a testament to how stable these devices are. Maybe that's the reason why Apple doesn't make a super huge note about changes like markedly improving their WLAN connectivity. One thing is for certain, Apple's wireless division is either playing it incredibly cool, or honestly not getting the credit it deserves.

Airport Utility and Networking Functions
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  • pcworth - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    I was wondering if there are any differences in connection reliability and WIFI speed continuity. I have a Gen4 Extreme that was purchased in February and it seems like I have recently started to get slowdowns on the internal network that are corrected by resetting the unit using the Airport Software.

    I originally owned the b/g spaceship and a b/g express, but when we bought our iPads in April 2010 we noticed that the airport station would stop connecting until the units were restarted. We tried working around this using power timers to restart the units, but in the end we gave up and bought a new Gen4 extreme. This problem has now stopped.

    I have no idea whether the problem is a temporary glitch, a hardware problem, or my imagination. It does seem to affect the AppleTV most, which is at the opposite end of the house, because we find it sometimes takes a long time to start streaming from iTunes. When I go in and reset the unit, it seems to improve.

    I was wondering if there are any measures of speed stability, and connection stability, to determine whether the Gen5 is more reliable than the Gen4 and worth thinking about for an upgrade?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • gman_wa - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    I bought a 5th Extreme when they came out a couple weeks ago and returned it based on the Meraki Wi-Fi Stumber java-based browser app.

    Maybe its my house, but with the 2nd gen and the 5th gen side by side, the 2nd gen signal strength was consistently ~5-10db stronger than the 5th ten. My 2nd gen runs the 2.4Ghz b/g/n network in the house and I wanted to replace this with something stronger and add the guest networking.

    I didn't actually try to compare throughput via wired or wireless.

    Maybe I got a dud? Or would the single radio on the 2nd gen model outperform the dual radio models?

    Thoughts?
    Reply
  • applesandsynths - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - link

    Hey guys,

    I just had a quick question for anyone who may have a new 5th generation Airport Extreme. Can you tell me if the power rating numbers on the AC adapter are:
    Input AC 100-200v 50-60Hz 0.5A Output: 12V 1.8A Model: A1202?

    I know that these are the numbers from an older adapter but was just wondering if the new adapters are any different?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • jackwong - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    I have the 4th and 5th.

    They are both 1A instead of 0.5A and the model is 20BB A.
    Reply
  • Lebannen - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - link

    One thing I'm very interested in with regards to the Airport Extreme is noise. When connected to Airport Extremes (4th gen) over 5GHz, I can hear a reasonably loud noise when data transfer is occurring - elsewhere on the net I've heard it described as screeching and sizzling. I'm aware that it's all solid state so can only speculate that it's switching noise.

    It only occurs with 5GHz transfers, not with 2.4GHz, which *might* make it something to with the antenna configuration? If so, it may not have changed, but I'd be glad to hear either way - thanks :)
    Reply
  • tichi - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    Just wondering if two other features (not mentioned in the article) are supported in the new version of Airport Extreme :

    1) Can you clone mac address for those of us not using DSL?
    2) Can you still throttle the power output of the antenna?

    Thanks
    Reply
  • layman2 - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    It would be great if it had wireless internet i.e it gets internet over 3G or cDma networks and share it through wi-fi with other devices Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, August 15, 2011 - link

    Hey guys!
    Really good article.
    I was wondering if you will be testing other 450mbps routers, too? You mentioned The Linksys E4200. What about the TRENDnet TEW-692GR which costs 20-30€ less than the Apple and about 5€ less than the Linksys, but seems to support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz with 450mbps simultaneously.

    Also, I have only found one WiFi adapter for 450mpbs for desktop PCs and that is a USB one called TRENDnet TEW-684UB. I have not found any PCI/PCIE cards that support 450mbps for the desktop. Is there any way to use mini-PCIE cards like the Intel 6300 in a desktop PC? Would it make sense to use a 450mbps access point as my WiFi card via ethernet?

    I would like to upgrade my WiFi system in order to stream HD content from my future file server to my media PC in my living room. My wife would kill me if I laid any cables for ethernet, so WiFi is the only way in this situation. I somehow feel like the higher WiFi offers are still very experimental. It's difficult to find decent reviews who test the products not just write down the specs.
    Reply
  • Matt Campbell - Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - link

    Very nice, especially the FCC listings and teardown. The one thing I would have liked to see is how the internal drive speed compared to a NAS system like the My Book Live, Go Flex or other home NAS system, which would bypass the slow USB connection. I bought a 2 TB unit yesterday and am still reserving judgment vs. a router/NAS setup. Reply
  • Amia - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - link

    I saw this review and bought TC 2T but file transfer speed from TC to PC via GigE is no where near 80mbps,actually less than 40. Wonder how this test has been done ( Reply

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