Airport Utility and Network

The only remaining thing to go over is the Airport Utility and general network functionality. I’m not going to go into very much detail at all about the network side of things (routing performance, etc.) since honestly nothing has changed here—the board and SoC are the exact same.

To start, all configuration is done through Airport Utility on OS X and Windows. There’s no web-based portal like just about every other attached network device. On all of Apple’s WiFi products, Airport Utility is the exclusive point of configuration. It pops up a list of devices, including unconfigured ones without the need to connect over ethernet. Admittedly that’s a nice touch that makes configuration super easy.

There’s either the choice to have a wizard set everything up, or you can do it manually. The first page is summary, which lists some basic information, status, and high level information. Status mirrors the front panel LED which either glows green or amber depending on whether things are working fine.

For example, when the Time Capsule starts overheating the LED blinks amber and pops up an alert. The utility can also monitor for when problems happen.

The rest of configuration is honestly pretty straightforward. Each of the radios (2.4 and 5GHz) can be set to its own SSID, there are a wide selection of radio modes and the ability to set channels manually. As an aside, if you’re going to set the 5GHz channel manually, select one over 149 to get maximum power and avoid dynamic frequency selection chanels in the US.

There’s honestly everything you’d want from a consumer level router or wireless AP, and a couple of extras like RADIUS server support and guest network creation.

If you run the devices as a router, you can also port forward, configure the DHCP server (including static addresses assigned to specific MACs), and all the usual fixings. That said, some of the options are a bit barebones compared to more enthusiast open source packages, but it gets the job done.

In addition to sharing disks, the Airports can also share printers attached using USB. I’ve experimented around and even a USB hub plugged in with devices attached to it works, so you’re not limited to just a single port.

One of the features Airport Utility has that a lot of other consumer devices don’t is a nice way of viewing the status of attached wireless clients, including a little graph that continually tracks. The utility will show each client MAC address, signal, noise level, rate, and what network mode they’re using. It’s an incredibly useful diagnostic tool that’s honestly a step beyond what Tomato or even DD-WRT report for clients.

The Windows version of Airport Utility looks a bit like a program from the Windows XP days, which is about par but not unforgivable. Everything inside works the same way, except this version forgoes the client signal graph and instead just presents a table with data. You can still do everything else, however.

Update: Our own Saumitra Bhagwat pointed out to me that on iOS 5 Beta, you can actually use an Airport Utility (lite) built into the WiFi settings page to configure a new Airport Extreme or Time Capsule. You have to be in the initial setup state (reset completely to defaults) to see it, but when in range, a "setup an airport base station" window appears, allowing this lite level of configuration. Depending on your existing setup, it'll offer some suggestions as well (for example, as I'm attached to a current Extreme, it offers to extend by default).

Another small but useful thing is that both devices support SNMP, so you can do stuff like track traffic on all the internal interfaces on the device using software like MRTG or Cacti (both of which I’m a huge fan of). There’s even a MIB for how many wireless clients are joined. If you’re not into using SNMP yourself, there’s a simple utility out there called Airport Flow that gives you a per-interface graph and the total number of clients attached.


You need to specify the device IP address and what interface to monitor, so you might have to snmpwalk the airport (snmpwalk -c public [ip addy]) and look for the line with each interface name:

IF-MIB::ifDescr.1 = STRING: mgi0
IF-MIB::ifDescr.2 = STRING: mgi1
IF-MIB::ifDescr.3 = STRING: bwl0
IF-MIB::ifDescr.4 = STRING: bwl1
IF-MIB::ifDescr.5 = STRING: lo0
IF-MIB::ifDescr.6 = STRING: wlan0
IF-MIB::ifDescr.7 = STRING: wlan1
IF-MIB::ifDescr.8 = STRING: bridge0

But there’s nothing complicated about that.

Honestly, for routing and firewall, the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme get the job done but without much flair or ability to tweak low level things like I’d like to see. I generally use either a pfSense embedded x86 box, WRT54G-TM running Tomato, or a WRT-600 running DD-WRT for NAT routing, firewall, and DHCP myself, just because those options offer a ton of fine grained control over the network side, and then an Airport Extreme for WLAN. That said, the Time Capsule or Airport Extreme can do all of that in one box.

Disk Performance - Airport Extreme vs. Time Capsule Conclusions and Final Thoughts
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  • bigrobsf - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    Minor typo in AFS discussion paragraph in the "WiFi Throughput and Range - Improved page:

    "Airport Extreme makes a hue difference"

    I'm guessing you wanted to write "huge" :-)
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Good catch, thanks, should be fixed!

  • iwod - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I just wish they put out a Raid 1 2.5" HDD Time Capsule so i know my data is going to fairly safe. HDD failure are happening more often these days and with their huge capacity i just cant afford to lose some of my content.
  • repoman27 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Just use one of these:

    Combine with a brace of Western Digital WD10JPVT or Samsung Spinpoint M8 HN-M101MBB and you'll have 1 TB of RAID 1 goodness.
  • Penti - Sunday, August 7, 2011 - link

    Raid 1 doesn't really protect from bit rot, just pure 1 drive failure. However they should take reliability and data corruption seriously, but it's not enterprise hardware so you can't really expect it.
  • jackwong - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    I will never go with TC unless they have a better backup solution of the TC itself.

    I have a Synology 1 bay NAS with a external USB to backup all the contents on it.
  • cheinonen - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Though I imagine most people won't be confused, labeling it as "Smaller values are better" when all the values are negative could cause people to read the data incorrectly. Perhaps "Closer to 0 is better" or something else?
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Totally agreed, edited those tables to make it more easy to follow.

  • jigglywiggly - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    time capsule wins an award for stealing your money.
    500$ for a wireless 3tb hd? Don't be sodding st00pid.
  • repoman27 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    $300 for a $150 simultaneous dual-band, three-stream router with gigabit switch, on board SATA controller and an $80 HD, all in one compact little unit along with the PSU? Not a bad deal, really.

    Paying $200 (2/3) more for a $70 HD upgrade that only provides 50% more storage space? Questionable, but Apple knows that most people won't bother to upgrade themselves because they'd be out of pocket an additional $150 for the drive and then have to open a brand new device to make the swap.

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