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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  • jackwong - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    It is more about the data on the TC, and it runs EXTREMELY hot during Summer...

    This is my setup, Airport Extreme base station, Synology 1 bay with 2TB, and a Sesgate goflex 2.5" 1.5TB to backup the Synology. These cost me ~$550 but if the nas has problem, I can still have all the data on the 1.5TB Seagate.
  • name99 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Then don't buy one.
    Connect a USB drive to your Airport base station.
    Or use network time machine to back up to whatever home server/HTPC mac you have sitting around. That's what I do.

    I honestly do not understand why people feel compelled to tell the world: "this product is a bad match for me and my needs and therefore no-one should ever use it".

    Do you apply the same logic to, I don't know, Intel chips? Damn those Xeon's are expensive --- and they even run at slower rates than my i5. Anyone who buys one is obviously an idiot.
  • HilbertSpace - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Did you try putting the mini Broadcom PCIe into the Gen 4 Airport Extreme and seeing if you can do an upgrade that way?
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I considered it for a long time, but decided that I wasn't sure it was worth spending too much time on (particularly because I have no idea where you could buy just the card) and because there's ostensibly some firmware flash that must go along with the Gen 5. I'm not sure whether there's a way to force a firmware update with the Gen 5 firmware on a Gen 4.

  • Signalius - Monday, October 29, 2018 - link

    Now that it’s 2018 and these units can be found at thrift stores for $10, is there any sense in attempting to improve an A1301 (3rd gen) Extreme with the wifi card from a dead A1408 unit?
  • hechacker1 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    The only missing feature IMHO is some type of QoS management and uPNP.

    I have a 4th Gen Airport Extreme, and as you say it's a stable router that just seems compatible with everything (everything connects reliably).

    I'd love to upgrade to the 5th Gen for the extra power (that's surprising Apple cranks it up that high), but when it comes to using p2p and gaming at the same time, the lack of QoS prioritization kills it.

    Then it doesn't have uPnP, which more broadly supported than NAT-PMP. The Airport also has a nasty bug of forgetting your port forwardings and MAC address bindings, as soon as the network card sleeps for too long (a few hours).

    So it's back to a router that supports more open features and can also have its radios power cranked up to match the Airport. There's a few good dual band routers out there are are pretty much all open source (even the wireless chip!).
  • Zok - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Like what? I bought a Netgear WNDR3700 quite some time ago because it was one of the highest performing dual band / dual radio devices at the time (supposedly the SoC was faster than it's competitors).

    That said, it's been an absolute nightmare to get DD-WRT on it and stable (radio performance and range gets trashed) and the factory GUI is severely lacking (doesn't allow for PAT, for example). Have any suggestions on something DD-WRT compatible, but can also drive dual radios for both bands (2x2 or 3x3, 40 MHz on both, preferable)?
  • hechacker1 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I'm using OpenWRT on the 3700v2. Check out the OpenWRT forums for community builds that let you set the radios to their max power output (24dBm on 5GHz 40MHz, 27dBm on 2.4GHz 40MHz). It reaches the hardware limit.

    Surprisingly, the new Airport Extreme has slightly more power output at 5GHz than the 3700v2.

    OpenWRT has been stable on this router for me. It's a great alternative to the Airport if you want LOTS of power output and open source software with tons of features.

    The biggest con with OpenWRT is that its interface sucks; but whatever, you only have to set it up once.
  • name99 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    uPNP I couldn't give a damn about, and neither can Apple.
    They have their solution for devices transparently connecting to each other, in the form of Bonjour, and that's not going to change. Like NAT-PMP it's an IETF standard and, for all the complaints otherwise, Apple is actually a pretty standards compliant company.

    The two obvious (IMHO) missing features (which could both be added with software, at least to some extent) are QoS and transparent caching (most easily by running squid on the device and having it store the cache on any attached storage --- stick in an 8GB USB flash drive if you have nothing better). I continue to think that the rumors regarding base stations being part of iCloud will likely prove true in the long run --- it's to Apple's obvious advantage to be able to offload as much work to base stations as possible via transparent caching.

    I also have no idea what the complaint about "forgetting your port forwardings" refers to. I used a 3rd gen extreme for years, and switch to a 4th gen about six months ago, and I have NEVER had my port forwardings forgotten or borked in any way.

    Personally if someone is going to complain, the real item to complain about is the USB performance which was so crappy it was unbelievable in the 3rd gen, and appears unimproved even today. Come on, Apple --- even if the Marvell chip is garbage, spend the extra buck and buy a decent 3rd party USB controller. I think the best we can hope for is that the 6th gen device uses an upgraded Marvell chip with a USB3 controller that is lousy by the standards of USB3, but gives at least say 60MB/s.
  • edporras - Tuesday, August 9, 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.

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