Apple sent us both a Time Capsule and Airport Extreme which I used for testing, but I also purchased a copy of each to tear down and get to the bottom of the changes internally. Before doing that, however, I hit up the FCC to see what I could glean from comparing the test reports between generations. Apparently I wasn’t alone in doing so, as other people likewise picked up on this avenue for finding out what’s different.

Inside the test reports for both are some nice tables that outline maximum output power for the wireless stack inside the devices. I’ve copied and formatted the data for both the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme.

Airport Extreme—Power Output Comparison
WLAN Mode Gen.4 (BCGA1354) Gen.5 (BCGA1408)
2.4GHz—802.11b 286.42 mW 257.04 mW
2.4GHz—802.11g 143.22 mW 307.61 mW
2.4GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 130.92 mW 257.63 mW
5GHz—802.11a 202.77 mW 326.59 mW
5GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 164.82 mW 337.29 mW
5GHz—802.11n (40 MHz) 139.32 mW 392.64 mW

Time Capsule—Power Output Comparison
WLAN Mode Gen.3 (BCGA1355) Gen.4 (BCGA1409)
2.4GHz—802.11b 237.14 mW 257.04 mW
2.4GHz—802.11g 143.22 mW 307.61 mW
2.4GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 130.92 mW 257.63 mW
5GHz—802.11a 202.77 mW 326.59 mW
5GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 164.82 mW 337.29 mW
5GHz—802.11n (40 MHz) 139.32 mW 392.64 mW

It’s curious that for the 802.11b category power actually went down on the Airport Extreme, but hopefully nobody will find themselves using 802.11b in the first place. Interestingly enough, the results are almost the same on the Time Capsule, except 802.11b power has gone up accordingly. There are different output powers for each wireless mode, including 20 MHz and 40 MHz channels, but on average power between Airport Extreme generations has increased 135 mW, and 143 mW between Time Capsule generations.

Of course the next logical question is whether antenna gain has changed between the two—after all, having a more powerful output power only goes so far. It turns out that both Airport Extreme generations share the exact same antenna configuration and gain, and likewise with the Time Capsule. Note that two antennas are actually shared among the 2.4GHz and 5GHz RF chains—AP2 and AP3 to be exact.

Airport Extreme—Antenna Gain
Antenna Gen.4 (BCGA1354) Gen.5 (BCGA1408)
  2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi) 2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi)
AP1 - 1.74 - 1.74
AP2 1.41 2.97 1.41 2.97
AP3 2.33 2.67 2.33 2.67
AP4 1.83 - 1.83 -

Time Capsule—Antenna Gain
Antenna Gen.3 (BCGA1355) Gen.4 (BCGA1409)
  2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi) 2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi)
AP1 - 4.38 - 4.38
AP2 0.1 0.81 0.1 0.81
AP3 0.27 3.09 0.27 3.09
AP4 4.32 - 4.32 -

I hadn’t looked up the Time Capsule antenna gains until now (having not owned one) but it’s surprising how little gain there is on 2.4GHz with antenna 2. I’m a bit surprised that Apple hasn’t moved over to using the antennas from the Airport Extreme in the Time Capsule. The Airport Extreme has a much more even gain configuration between the three antennas, however as we’ll show later performance is relatively comparable between the two products.

Without even breaking the devices open, we now know that the Airport Extreme and Time Capsule both have substantially increased transmit power, and likely share the same radio given the identical transmit power characteristics.

Introduction and Physical Appearances Disassembling Airport Extremes
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  • Brian Klug - Sunday, August 7, 2011 - link

    Yeah, I should note that right now idle seems to be around 8-9 watts without much change.

  • jalin2 - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    I'm in the market to get a new router and was set on getting the E4200. Now I think I'm going to hold off and wait until your router comparison article. Any idea on timeframe when that'll be released?
  • jackwong - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    I would rather go with Apple, the only good Linksys router I have is the WRT54. I also have the e2500 few months ago, I can't believe a 2011 router doesn't has gigabyte ports... and it has connection problem everyday...

    I would rather go with Apple Extreme base station unless the e4200 is way cheaper.
  • melgross - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    I've had a lot of Linksys routers over the years, stupidly, because every one died. That includes some commercial models. I will NEVER use another Linksys product again.

    I've got one Extreme, and two Expresses, and have never had a problem with them. As the review says, they just work.

    I've got an old house, built in 1925. Most interior walls are brick. All the walls and ceilings have .75" wood over the brick, with gal steel mesh over that, with .75" mortar, and a .25" layer of plaster over that. The damn thing is as close to a Faraday cage as anyone will ever live in. I've removed some of that when re-doing the kitchen and downstairs bathroom as well as the two bathrooms upstairs by having everything stripped to the beams and replaced with double .5" Sheetrock, but still...
  • Guspaz - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    Perhaps some mention should be made of the fact that Apple advertises the drive in the Time Capsule as a "server-grade hard drive".

    You do mention that it's very much a consumer disk (in fact, the most "consumer" you can get since it's not even a black or RAID edition), but Apple is really billing the thing as server-grade, which is false advertising.
  • jwoelich - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    "Fortunately, a source inside Western Digital was willing to explain matters; "If you enter in the drive number on NewEgg you're going to see it come up as a desktop drive. That platform is actually built on a lot of other products for a lot of different OEMs. And the specs could change depending on whatever program we're building for. Needless to say Apple has very stringent requirements that are very specific to them and very unique to them, and that drive has actually been developed and is unique for that Apple product. That unique Apple logo, and what we call 'to the right of the dash,' if you will, indicate that this drive is for a very particular partner to us and this drive is dedicated to that particular audience. You could not buy this same drive at NewEgg or Amazon."

    When we asked whether the variation of the WD20EARS drive is rated for a 1-million-hour MTBF, our source confirmed that it was: "We don't spec our desktop drives with MTBF because our customers don't purchase in that manner, but this particular drive for this particular OEM with these unique requirements does meet those specifications."

    Western Digital says otherwise.
  • repoman27 - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    lowlymarine did mention it in a comment two days ago, to which I pointed out that for price per GB and performance per watt the Caviar Green is tough to beat, and therefore perfect for servers. Just considering how many Google uses, I would be surprised if there is another line of drives more deployed in servers at the moment than Caviar Green.

    Not all "servers" are designed for crazy amounts of IOPS, massive queue depths, or incredibly high availability. For backup or redundancy, which is what the Time Capsule is marketed for, you want big, cheap and low-power.

    No offense, jwoelich, but although the quote may be legitimate, I have a seriously hard time buying that line of utter crap. We're pretty much down to a three horse race in the storage arena, and just like Intel or AMD might bin things differently or cater to large OEMs in various ways, they basically just pump out a small range of identical products by the millions. There are no "magical drives" that are perfect for servers but not sold by Newegg. The way I read it, Apple had a very stringent range of specifications, to which a bog standard Caviar Green drive happens to adhere perfectly (i.e. low price per GB and low power requirements.)
  • jwoelich - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - link

    I don't see where anyone stated anything being 'magical', just that if you were to go onto Newegg, you couldn't just order one of these specific drives. Now, does that mean that there is more to it than Western Digital simply taking any WD Green drive, testing it to conform with the criteria set forth by Apple, then throw on a new sticker? Or did WD design/modify a product specifically to meet that criteria? More likely, WD crafted a Frankendrive using the criteria Apple set forth, and used the bare minimum of higher quality components that would more likely ensure that criteria was met, which was probably nothing more than power consumption, size, speed and a greater MTBF.
  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    "Some more searching revealed the solution—pin 20 (wireless disable) needs to be taped over to signal the card that the wireless disable switch (which doesn’t exist, since this is the WAN port) is in the on position. A quick surgical application of tape, and the card worked perfectly—take that, Lenovo security. As an aside, what a completely pointless and trivial barrier this is—the Mini PCIe standard (and moreover WiFi notebook cards themselves with U.FL connectors) are designed to be completely and absolutely interchangeable. The notion that this provides any added security (when the adjacent slot is completely unguarded) or—even more absurd, convenience—is nothing short of a surrealist notion."

    Lenovo isn't the only one. HP also does the exact same thing; they whitelist cards in the BIOS, so that only their branded version of Intel's (or Broadcom's) wireless cards work.

    I don't think security has anything to do with it. I think two factors are involved --1) that they don't want to support any other wireless cards than their own, and 2) that they want you to buy from them, establishing vendor lock-in.
  • Dug - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    There are also modified BIOS' out there that disable the whitelist which is a lot easier than trying to tape a small pin.

    If the laptop has a 2nd pci slot, which is usually reserved for wlan card, you can use this for the wireless card becuase the BIOS doesn't look at that slot.

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