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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  • tipoo - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Oi, I should read slower, heh

    "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."
  • lowlymarine - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Calling Caviar Green's "server grade" strikes me as galling even for Apple, who are pretty willing to play fast-and-loose with truth in advertising as it is.
  • repoman27 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    This odd bit of nomenclature has been around and much debated since Apple first introduced the Time Capsule. WD Caviar Green drives generally offer the lowest price per GB combined with some of the best performance per watt for a 3.5" spinning disk on the market... Just ask Google how many they currently have deployed. So yes, they are ideal for servers.

    What isn't "server grade" in the Time Capsule is the utter lack of redundancy within the device itself. The intended usage model for the TC is as a backup device though, so there is redundancy in the overall system, i.e. you never actually store critical data on it, just a backup of critical data, therefore if it fails it's not much of a problem.
  • solipsism - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Can the Linksys E4200's USB port be used for a printer the way the Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme/Express can?
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I know it can share attached USB Mass Storage devices, but I'm actually not certain about printers. Jarred probably will talk about it in his review soon.

  • ThomasA - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Does the AE software offer a means to record data usage? With the 'new' DSL caps set by At&t I'd like to be able to compare my info on usage vs. theirs.
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    You could watch the SNMP counters and use one of many software packages (including some big ones like MRTG/Cacti) but that's sort of daunting admittedly. There's nothing in airport utility that will show data use. That's just another thing I leave to Tomato on a WRT54G-TM personally.

  • deadshort - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Here's a general suggestion for hardware reviews: could you plug the gizmo under examination into a power meter instead of just the wall and eyeball up some numbers? These days green geeks fret over these matters, especially for 365x24 devices like routers. The badge or spec. numbers are often worthless. Just a thought, thanks.

    Oh, nice review, BTW. I agree that the recent Apple 802.11 gear is getting boringly reliable and decent, in a good sense. You can't tweak the firewall in quite the gruesome detail I'd like, but the box never needs attention or unplanned restarts. The tunnel works fine, the BSD/Roku/Apple/Sony/Epson clients are happy, there is no drama to upset the non-geeks. Not bad, even for the price.
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I actually completely forgot to mention my Kill-A-Watt numbers. I don't recall the Time Capsule numbers off the top of my head, I saw a peak power use of 11 watts on the Airport Extreme Gen 4 (while data was being transacted on 2.4 and 5 GHz) and 12 watts on the Gen 5.

  • ThomasA - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Yes, I read of MRT/Cacti. Also looked into replacing AE with a Netgear WNDR4000 that offers the data usage meter. I'd prefer the Apple, but must look ahead. Too bad.

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