Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (summer 2011) review: Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (summer 2011)

We compared a handful of routers to the updated AirPort Extreme as well as to the older model Extreme, in both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. In the 5GHz throughput test, the new Extreme was 24.1Mpbs faster than the legacy Extreme, but couldn't best the competing Asus at distances of either 15 feet or 100 feet.

The difference is also noticeable in the 2.4GHz band tests, with the new Extreme outperforming the original, and also matching the Asus router from both 15 and 100 feet. The AirPort Extreme also matched the Asus RT-N568 in mixed usage mode that allows b, g, and n clients to access the base station.

Compared with the older model, the 2011 Extreme has a less dramatic increase in the 2.4GHz band than at 5GHz, with 2.6Mbps gains at 15 feet and 16.1Mbps gains in mixed mode at 15 feet. While we can't be sure of the reason for the speed jump in the new model in either bandwidth, the increase might be because of a boost in the maximum power output of the transmitter from the last model. AppleInsider uncovered FCC documents that indicate the new transmitter's power output at 392 milliwatts, more than 2.8 times the 139.32 milliwatts rated output of the last AirPort Extreme.

The new Base Station also produces faster data transfer speeds for external storage drives attached to the USB port in the back of the device. Competing drives like the Asus RT-N56U and the LaCie Wireless Space let users plug in additional drives (in both FAT32 and NTFS), but the new Base Station sits at the top of the list with read and write scores at 192.32- and 173.12Mbps, respectively. We don't have the resources to tear apart the unit and uncover its throughput secrets, but the improved speeds may suggest a NAS processor inside the Extreme, similar to the LaCie Wireless Space, but with more RAM.

Service and support
As with the previous model, Apple backs the new AirPort Extreme Base Station with one year of support, which, albeit short compared with Asus' two-year warranty, is standard for wireless routers. You can, however, purchase an extended AppleCare coverage plan. Also, if your Apple computer or Apple TV is covered under AppleCare, the AirPort Base Station is also covered. The router comes with 90 days of complimentary, toll-free phone support. At Apple's site, you can view FAQs, troubleshooting articles, user forums, and download the manual as well as software.

Conclusions
The new Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station offers faster networking performance than the older model, with few changes otherwise. The two share a physical resemblance, and they both feature the same simple installation, true dual-band connectivity, guest networking, and support for network printer and external storage. The new model's $179 price tag makes it more expensive than competing routers that offer more control over your network and offer similar speed. The majority of you can stretch your dollar further with the Asus RT-N56U that offers an intuitive Web interface and long-range performance in addition to a stylish case, but Mac users who value aesthetics over everything else won't be disappointed with the new AirPort Extreme.

5GHz tests (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
100 feet  
15 feet  
Cisco Linksys E4200
100.48 
79.1 
Asus RT-N56U
76.2 
112.6 
Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (December 2009)
Failed
66.6 

2.4GHz tests (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Mixed-mode, 15 feet  
100 feet  
15 feet  
Cisco Linksys E4200
57.6 
46.9 
61.4 
Asus RT-N56U
52.6 
34.4 
57.2 
Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (June 2011)
52 
37.2 
58.4 
LaCie Wireless Space
48.6 
19.8 
53.4 

NAS performance tests (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Write  
Read  
Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (June 2011)
173.12 
192.32 
LaCie Wireless Space
140.6 
164.7 
Asus RT-N56U
95.4 
104.2 
Cisco Linksys E4200
60.8 
64 

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Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (summer 2011)

Part Number: MD031LL/A
MSRP: $179.00 Low Price: $12.89 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Data Link Protocol IEEE 802.11a