Apple AirPort Express Base Station (Summer 2012) review: Apple AirPort Express Base Station (Summer 2012)

Other than that, the Apple AirPort Express Base Station comes with a basic feature set found in most routers, such as port forwarding, NAT, MAC address filtering, and VPN pass-through. It's compatible with all existing Wi-Fi standards including 802.11n/g/b and a. Basically, it will work with all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market. Like any new router, the router supports IPv6, a requirement since the new version of the Internet protocol is now official .

Most other true dual-band routers in the same price range offer many other features, such as support for USB storage devices, multiple Gigabit LAN ports, comprehensive parental control, and Quality of Service (QoS).

The addition of a LAN port and the AirPlay audio port is the major improvement the new AirPort Express has over the previous model. Dong Ngo/CNET

Ease of use and security
The AirPort Express ships with both network bands open by default, allowing any device to connect to them. To password-protect your local network you'll need to run the AirPort Utility from a connected computer. Version 6 of the software is available only for Mac OS 10.7. Windows users or those using Mac OS 10.6 are stuck with version 5. This is not a bad thing, however, since version 5 actually offers more access to the router than version 6 .

There is also an AirPort Utility mobile app for iOS devices that offers most functions found in the desktop version. Note that even when you have named the two wireless networks with different names, the two will share the same password; you can hide the 5GHz network from being seen by wireless clients, however.

In addition to the two main wireless networks, you can create a third, guest Wi-Fi network that gives access to the Internet but is isolated from local resources, such as files or printers. You can change this network's name and password to your liking.

Unlike most non-Apple routers, and like the rest of existing networking devices from Apple, the AirPort Express doesn't have a Web interface. This means you must use AirPort Utility to manage it. This won't be a problem for Apple users, but for others it could be a hassle since they must first install the software. AirPort Utility, unfortunately, is not available for some platforms, such as Android or Linux. This wouldn't be a problem if the router had a Web interface, since all modern operating systems have at least one Internet browser built in.

Assuming you have installed the AirPort Utility software (it's part of Mac OS), setting up the router is simple and self-explanatory. The manual walks you through the basics of setup, and you can get it up and running in just a few minutes out of the box.

For security, the AirPort Express supports all variations of WEP and WPA encryption methods but doesn't offer Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which would let you add a wireless client to the network by pressing a button.

Performance
The new AirPort Express Base Station performed as expected in my testing. Clients of any platform, be it Mac, iOS, Android, or Windows, can easily connect to its Wi-Fi network. On the 5GHz band, the router scored about 91Mbps in our close-range (15 feet) throughput test. At this speed, it can finish 500MB of data in about 44 seconds. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, the data rate was reduced to 40Mbps. Both of these numbers were about the average on the charts of N600 routers.

On the 2.4GHz band, the router's performance, as expected, was slower, averaging 43Mbps and 19Mbps for the close-range and long-range tests, respectively, landing it slightly below average on the charts.

The router's range was very good for its compact physical size. I was able to connect to it from up to 250 feet away on both bands. Realistically, though, you want to use it within 150 feet or less for stable and lag-free Wi-Fi connections.

Note that the router was tested at CNET's offices where there are other wireless access points and clients that I have no control over. These devices to some extent affect the performance of the reviewed router. This is the same environment in which all I test all routers, though, so the relative performance is consistent.

That said, the new AirPort Express Base Station failed the 24-hour stress test on the 2.4GHz band. During the test it was set to continuously transfer data back and forth between wireless and wired clients. The router's Wi-Fi signal was disconnected once after 7 hours. It did, however, pass this test easily on the 5GHz band, without any hiccups.

CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance
(Measured in Mbps, longer bars mean better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Netgear WNDR4000
23.9 
67.8 
Cisco Linksys E4200
46.9 
61.4 
D-Link DIR-825
38.8 
61.3 
Cisco Linksys E3200
40.4 
57.44 
Asus RT-N56U
34.4 
57.2 
Cisco Linksys E4200v2
21.4 
56.6 
Netgear WNDR3700
29.44 
55.44 
Trendnet TEW-692GR
31.1 
52.1 
Belkin N750 DB
26.6 
50 
Cisco Linksys E3000
32.8 
43.5 
Apple AirPort Express
19.2 
43.2 
Asus RT-N66U
29.4 
37 
Linksys E2500
10.7 
36.5 
Linksys WRT610N
28.8 
35.76 
Netgear WNDR4500
12.5 
28.6 

CNET Labs 5GHz Wireless-N performance
(Measured in Mbps, longer bars mean better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Cisco Linksys E4200v2
35.8 
148.5 
Asus RT-N56U
76.2 
112.6 
Asus RT-N66U
97.8 
109.6 
Netgear WNDR4500
41 
109.4 
Cisco Linksys E4200
79.1 
100.48 
Cisco Linksys E3200
53.8 
95.3 
Belkin N750 DB
74.64 
92.32 
Apple AirPort Express
40 
91.2 
Netgear WNDR4000
63.9 
89 
D-Link DIR-825
36.48 
80.96 
Linksys E2500
70.2 
77.2 
Trendnet TEW-692GR
49 
71.9 
Cisco Linksys E3000
48.8 
65.4 
Linksys WRT610N
54.8 
64.8 
Netgear WNDR3700
40 
60 

Service and support
Since the AirPort Express is so easy to use, I suspect that you won't need much support for it. Nonetheless, the router comes with a well-written manual. You can also always reset it to its default settings and use AirPort Utility to set it up from the beginning, which, as mentioned above, is an easy process.

Conclusion
The new AirPort Express Base Station, while superior to its predecessors, is lacking when compared with its peers. Its supersleek design and ease of use, however, will make it a very good investment for Mac users and home users who need a simple networking device.

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    Apple AirPort Express Base Station (Summer 2012)

    Part Number: MC414LL/A
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. AU specs are unavailable.

    • Data Link Protocol IEEE 802.11n
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