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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  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.
  • 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 :)
  • 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?

  • 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.
  • 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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