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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  • Dug - Monday, August 08, 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.
  • Dug - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    I wish they would allow some type of iTunes server on the Time Capsule. Then I could stream to everything else such as my Apple TV's without having a computer on. Reply
  • tsanga - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link


    When you took apart your older Airport Extreme, did you notice if the antennas might have been improperly connected? Swapping antenna hookups could result in better 2.4 GHz performance:
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    I'm not entirely sold on that smallnetbuilder conclusion from a long time ago, to say the absolute least. I suspect the swappage they experienced could be explained in other ways. Everything appears to match the way it should be assembled in the present state.

  • CharonPDX - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    I have both a first-generation "square" AirPort Express-n (10/100 Ethernet) and a second generation (that added Gigabit,) both of which are single-band-at-a-time only. (i.e. I have to choose between 2.4 or 5 GHz for my whole network, no mixing.)

    When using either one as the 'primary', if I use my maximum bandwidth and/or lots of open connections (I seed Torrents of Debian install images for alternate architectures, I swear!) it will lock up my internet connection every so often. I know it's not my cable modem or the cable company, because if I direct-connect my server, I have no problems. But through either AirPort, every half hour or so of heavy use, my internet will stall until I reboot the base station.

    Have you performed any such testing? I haven't read any complaints about newer generation ones, but want to make sure.
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    You're using the device as a router in that configuration? I haven't heard of any such problems on the newer Gen 4 or 5, and I beat on mine pretty hard too and haven't seen it stall/hang.

  • weiran - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    I have the original N Airport Extreme (100Mb) and I don't suffer the issue you have. I did have problems with using Time Machine with an attached disk over WiFi causing router lockups, I've since disabled it and the AE runs weeks without issues. Reply
  • davolfman - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    It's nice to see somebody using the Sheeva SOC's in a shipping product. Too bad the RAM and Flash is so low or it would make a tempting (better designed) Sheevaplug replacement. Reply
  • bbarrera - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    Great article, however please change "AFS" (whatever that is) to AFP. Reply
  • blueeyesm - Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - link

    I use the "n" Express with a D-Link wireless router and I've had no issues via WDS. It connected and maintained a strong signal through two floors of a house, and through two walls (one of which was a fire-rated wall) of an apartment. Reply

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