Apple AirPort Express Base Station (802.11n) review: Apple AirPort Express Base Station (802.11n)

Because audio streaming is generally not that demanding on your networking bandwidth, the benefit of the AirPort Express's move to 802.11n feels like more of a "keeping up with the Joneses" kind of upgrade, although its wider bandwidth opens up the possibility for streaming high definition video smoothly across your network. Other vendors sell non-Gigabit 802.11n routers for between $50 and $100, which made Apple's older 802.11b/g version of the AirPort Express look dated and overpriced. The 802.11n standard certainly has its benefits. The rated specs for the standard include twice the bandwidth of 802.11g (74 megabits per second versus 23 megabits per second), and also twice the range, with about 70 meters for 802.11n versus 35 meters for the older standards. But, as you'll see from our testing, the AirPort Express's actual network performance sits on the lower end of the 802.11n scale.

Performance

Ixia IxChariot maximum throughput tests (at 15 feet)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
D-Link DGL-4500 Xtreme Gaming Router (5.0Ghz)
116.1 
Apple Time Capsule (5.0Ghz)
103.1 
D-Link DGL-4500 Xtreme Gaming Router
81.9 
Apple AirPort Express (5.0GHz)
66.5 
Apple Time Capsule
65.1 
Asus WL-500W 802.11n
62.9 
Apple AirPort Express
52.8 
LevelONe N-One WBR-6000
47.3 

Ixia IxChariot maximum throughput tests with mixed 802.11b/g and draft N clients (at 15 feet)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Asus WL-500W 802.11n
55.1 
Apple Time Capsule
51.5 
Apple AirPort Express
50.5 

Our testing shows that the AirPort Express is actually among the slowest 802.11n devices. Its speed is still plenty fast for streaming music or HD video, but even under the best conditions, at close range on a 5.0GHz 802.11n-only network, it hit 66Mbps, or just barely faster than the Time Capsule in slower 2.4GHz mode. If you have demanding networking tasks in mind, with many users all streaming various kinds of media at once, for example, you will likely want a more robust 802.11n product.

Ixia IxChariot long-range tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
D-Link DGL-4500 Xtreme Gaming Router (5.0Ghz)
49.7 
Apple Time Capsule (5.0Ghz)
42.27 
Asus WL-500W 802.11n
29.7 
Apple Time Capsule
21.36 
Apple AirPort Express (5.0Ghz)
18.4 
Apple AirPort Express
11.7 

We also found that the AirPort Express takes a significant hit compared with other 802.11n devices when you use it at 70 meters, or the theoretical limit of the standard. At the 5.0GHz frequency, Apple's Time Capsule is actually near the top of its class at range, posting an impressive 42.27Mbps from 200 feet. The AirPort Express loses more than half of that throughput, coming in at only 18.4Mbps. Its long-distance 2.4GHz performance is lower still. At those speeds, your HD streaming experience would suffer, so if you intend to work the AirPort Express into a media-streaming situation, you will want to keep the various components fairly close together.

Service and support
Because the AirPort Express is so easy to set up, chances are the clearly written manual is all you'll need to get up and running. If you screw up the network settings, you can always try again through the AirPort Utility, although it's possible that novices may need to look up some of the trickier networking terms. Apple covers the AirPort Express with a one year parts and labor warranty, as well as a year of 24-7 toll-free phone support, a welcome boost over the typical 90-day phone support we're used to from Apple. You can also find a fair amount of support resources on Apple's Web site, including the active Apple forum.

Find out more about how we test wireless network adapters.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Apple AirPort Express Base Station (802.11n)

Part Number: MB321LL/A Released: Mar 17, 2008
MSRP: $99.00 Low Price: $182.84 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar 17, 2008
  • Data Link Protocol IEEE 802.11a
    IEEE 802.11b
    IEEE 802.11g
    IEEE 802.11n