updated 01:15 pm EST, Mon February 19, 2007
AirPort Extreme reception
Apple's AirPort Extreme 802.11n wireless base station, which was unveiled during the company's keynote speech at Macworld in San Francisco, garnered a positive reception since its early January debut. The new wireless router supports the unfinished 802.11n wireless standard, offering longer range and faster wireless connections for vastly improved performance. Reviewers from Computerworld, The Seattle Times, and Gizmodo all seem to agree that the new access point performs as promised with regard to range, and that transfer speed even at long range is a formidable jump from the older wireless g standard. [extended]
Gizmodo notes that the device does not offer a speed improvement of 5-times as Apple claims, but nevertheless praises the faster transfer rates. The AirPort Extreme 802.11n base station's "bridge" mode found a warm welcome with Gizmodo, noting that the process usually takes "tens of minutes" of configuration and rebooting on other routers.
Reviewers pointed to the base station's ability to access USB-based storage devices, as well as the router's backward compatibility with 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g standards. Reviewers also agree that Apple is charging a higher price for ease of use and simple setup, citing other 802.11n router manufacturers who released their hardware first as less expensive devices.
"I can say that Apple's solution is indeed simple to set up and use," said Computerworld reviewer Ken Mingis. "I want a wireless network that's easy to set up and performs as promised, one that I can generally forget about once it's up and running [...] Enter Apple."
Two factors that detracted from Apple's latest wireless access point included a lack of compatibility with "old" and "cheap" printers as well as no Gigabit Ethernet connectivity.
"Our old Lexmark printer didn't work with the AirPort Extreme because the USB drivers for it didn't work over the network, and we couldn't find any network-capable drivers for it," Gizmodo wrote. "This is something you should research in advance if you're looking forward to networking your printer through this thing."
The tech-oriented blog says it spoke with an Apple engineer who worked on the project, who explained the lack of Gigabit Ethernet connectivity as a non-necessary feature for most home users. Additionally, Apple's new router sees performance degradation from using both G and N machines simultaneously, although these performance reductions were "negligible" when just browsing the internet, according to Gizmodo.
"Our Apple guy said [the performance degradation] only affects N machines only for the duration that the G machines are sending data. Not a huge deal unless you're using both to stream files simultaneously, in which case we'd recommend you plug in to Ethernet anyway."
Another inconvenience is the inability for users to change the AirPort Extreme's MAC address, which may require some users to phone their internet service providers to regain internet access. Despite these shortcomings, however, Gizmodo considers the AirPort Extreme 802.11n base station within the range of similar draft-N routers on the market, despite its seemingly high price.