Apple AirPort Extreme Packs Speed and Simplicity Into Elegant Package

The Apple AirPort Extreme base station announced at the 2013 WWDC adds 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a new form factor that works with the refreshed MacBook Air, Apple’s only computer using the new Wi-Fi standard. Apple, Windows and Android devices (including the Samsung Galaxy S4) can connect to it.

The new router looks great and simplifies home networking.

We compared the AirPort’s speeds to our old router and the LinkSys EA6500 (which uses 802.11ac) and it bested them both in speed and simplicity.

apple airport extreme

Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station’s Easy Setup

apple airport extreme setup over ios

Installing the $200 AirPort Extreme took five minutes. Apple’s setup and configuration on Mac or iOS (free in the app store) walks users through the process of setting the router up quickly. With some digging we set up a guest network too, but wish it was easier to find these settings.

airport utility ios

The iPad AirPort Utility – for advanced features tap edit.

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Advanced users may not like the hand holding, but they can get under the hood and change settings if needed.

airport extreme advanced  configuration

Advanced configuration features of the AirPort Extreme in the iOS app

Speed of Apple AirPort Extreme, Netgear WNDR3400 and Linksys EA6500

As a baseline, here’s the speed of our old Netgear WNDR3400 using SpeedTest.net. Wired speed tests resulted in 77.85Mbps up and 5.2 down. Wi-Fi ran 4Mbps slower.

NETGEAR WNDR3400 wired

NETGEAR WNDR3400 wifi

The Linksys EA6500 ran between 48Mbps and 54Mbps.

The AirPort Extreme didn’t do very well until a firmware flash. Then it settled down. It hit 93.87Mbps over Ethernet and 83.27Mbps using Wi-Fi.

Apple AirPort Extreme Wired new firmware

Apple AirPort Extreme Wifi new firmware

We tested on an iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S4 in four spots around the house:

  • Same room as base station – upper left in image below
  • Next room – upper right
  • Same level through four angled walls, a challenge for most 802.11ac routers – lower left
  • Furthest spot in house on another level – lower right

The iPhone with the AirPort hit speeds double what it did on our old router.

iphone-speedtest

The GS4 uses 802.11ac and worked best in the third and fourth spots.

samsung-galaxy-s4-speed-tests

With “beamforming” the router’s Wi-Fi antennae aim the signal at the device accessing it. Since the router and the Galaxy S4 both use 802.11ac, we enjoyed faster speeds even far from the router.

Using the AirPort Extreme with USB Hard Drive

apple airport extreme back

A hard drive formatted in FAT32 copied files excruciatingly slowly. When we reformatted the USB drive to Mac OSX Journaled format, speeds jumped to usable levels. We copied a 2.8GB folder in less than five minutes over Wi-Fi. It even performed well using a Windows 8 computer, too. The drive still runs slowly compared to other solutions, but it’s not terrible.

Conclusion

Here’s what we liked:

  • Great design aesthetics
  • Simple design and configuration
  • Internet speeds and network speeds were fast except when using the USB drive
  • Bean forming performed well with Galaxy S4
  • Using Mac formatted drive write speeds do well
  • Guest networking

Unfortunately, it had weaknesses.

  • Only 3 Ethernet ports
  • Expensive
  • Horrible performance with FAT32 drive and no USB 3
  • Light on advanced features

Those with a lot of Apple hardware will love the Apple AirPort Extreme base station. Everyone else should look seriously at the ASUS AC1750, which repeatedly gets high reviews for the same price and offers 7 Ethernet ports.

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