Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station review: Speedy and elegant home Wi-Fi router

And even for what it can do, the AirPort Extreme is a lot less flexible than others. For example, while you can block access to the Internet using a connected client's MAC address, you can't set up Web filtering in case you want to block based on keyword, Web services, or a specific Web site. It's also quite hard to add a device to the block list, or assign a fixed IP address to it, because in most cases you need to determine its MAC address and type it in manually.

The AirPort Extreme supports sharing data and printers via the Internet, but this feature is available only to Mac users.
The AirPort Extreme supports sharing data and printers via the Internet, but this feature is available only to Mac users. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

The biggest issue I have with the router, however, is the limited support for network storage features.

While the AirPort Extreme doesn't have internal storage of its own, you can add an external hard drive to its USB port. Note that the router supports drives preformatted in HFS+ or FAT, but doesn't support NTFS-formatted drives at all. When a drive is plugged in, you can share the storage space and data stored on it with the rest of the network. On a Mac, the share will appear automatically in Finder. On a Windows machine, you might need to locate it via the default IP address (which is 10.0.1.1) before you can map network drives. But the router's storage features end there.

You can't back up a connected Mac to a USB external drive using Time Machine, nor can you stream digital content stored on the drive to other devices in the network. This means if you put music, photos, or videos on the connected USB external drive, they won't be available to network media streamers, such as a Roku, a WD TV, or even an Apple TV. Almost all existing routers with USB storage offer media streaming.

In addition, you can't use the AirPort Extreme as a server for FTP or Web functions. This support of "dumb" storage space and lack of customization really hinder the potential of the AirPort Extreme and can cause frustration for those switching to it from a non-Apple router for the first time. This also means the new router has nothing new in terms of features over the previous generation.

Other than an external drive, you can plug a printer into the USB port to enable wireless printing. This works very well as long as the printer is supported (most new printers are). Since there's only one USB port, you can use either a printer or an external hard drive but not both simultaneously. Both the print-serving and file-sharing features can be accessed remotely via the Internet, using Back to My Mac. This worked well in my trial but is only available to Macs. There's not much love for Windows users here.

Fast performance
While seemingly the same as the Time Capsule, the new AirPort Extreme didn't offer identical performance.

CNET Labs 802.11ac performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Asus RT-AC66U
178.5 
339.2 
Netgear R6300
208 
331.32 
Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station
204.6 
287.2 
D-Link DIR-868L
221 
271 
Trendnet TEW-812DRU
192.4 
263 
Cisco Linksys EA6500
113 
244.5 
AirStation WZR-D1800H
144 
233.6 
D-Link DIR-865L
135.2 
199.2 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
57 
162.6 

When used with 802.11ac clients, the Extreme scored 287Mbps for short range, significantly faster than the 254Mbps of the Time Capsule. However, when I increased the distance to 100 feet, this order was reversed, with the AirPort Extreme scoring 204Mbps, significantly slower than the Time Capsule's 219Mbps. Nonetheless, these were very fast Wi-Fi speeds, among the fastest on the market.

With Wireless-N clients, on the 5GHz band, the AirPort Extreme scored 202Mbps and 132Mbps for short and long range, respectively, putting it in the top three on the charts. On the 2.4GHz band, it again did very well with 79Mbps for short range and 38Mbps for long range.

CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station
38.4 
79.4 
D-Link DIR-868L
55.6 
63.3 
WD My Net N900 HD
16 
58.1 
Asus RT-N66U
45.5 
55 
Trendnet TEW-812DRU
37 
52.8 
Netgear R6300
41.6 
51.2 
Cisco Linksys EA6500
33.6 
48.8 
D-Link DIR-857
29.6 
47.8 
Netgear WNDR4500
31.1 
45.3 
Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H
7.2 
40 
Asus RT-AC66U
15.2 
36.8 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
9.6 
33.5 

CNET Labs 5GHz Wireless-N performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
D-Link DIR-857
172.4 
214.6 
Asus RT-AC66U
166.6 
208.2 
Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station
132.1 
202.3 
Trendnet TEW-812DRU
160 
195.3 
WD My Net N900 HD
74 
195 
Linksys EA4500
176.8 
186.8 
Apple AirPort Time Capsule
117.7 
182.2 
Asus RT-N66U
155.3 
181.8 
Netgear R6300
144.8 
178.8 
D-Link DIR-868L
161.5 
178 
AirStation WZR-D1800H
120 
172 
D-Link DIR-865L
121.6 
147.6 
Cisco Linksys EA6500
105.7 
124.6 

The new AirPort Extreme offered about the same range as both the previous model and the Time Capsule, roughly 270 feet in my trial. The effective range, however, is generally shorter than that, about 150 feet. Farther than that, the data speed slows and is suitable only for light Internet surfing. Like the Time Capsule, the AirPort Extreme passed the 24-hour stress test without disconnecting once.

When coupled with an external hard drive, to my surprise, the AirPort Extreme offered the slowest performance among all AirPort Base Stations since 2011. Via a Gigabit Ethernet connection, it registered 14MBps and 23MBps for writing and reading, respectively. Note that these were still very fast speeds, significantly faster than most USB-enabled routers on the market. This performance is good enough for most of a home network's data-sharing needs.

CNET Labs NAS performance scores via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection (in MBps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  
Apple AirPort Extreme (summer 2013)
22.59 
14.3 
Belkin N900 DB
17.6 
9.1 
D-Link DIR-827
15.8 
8.5 
Asus RT-56U
13 
11.9 
D-Link DIR-868L
12.81 
12.5 
Asus RT-N66U
11 
16.5 
Asus RT-AC66U
9.6 
16.7 
Netgear WNDR4500
8.2 
7.9 
Netgear WNDR4000
7.2 
6.5 
Belkin N750 DB
6.9 
2.7 

Conclusion
Unlike the Mac-centric Time Capsule, the AirPort Extreme Base Station, having no support for Time Machine backup, is more of a general router for anyone who needs a fast and reliable home Wi-Fi network. The router's ease of use and lack of customization options, however, mean it's better-suited for novice users than those seeking to get the most out of their home network. Performance and functions aside, the new router is arguably the best-looking on the market, which to some is worth its high premium.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (802.11ac)

Part Number: ME918LL/A Released: Jun 10, 2013
MSRP: $199.00 Low Price: $199.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jun 10, 2013
  • Data Link Protocol IEEE 802.11g
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