Wi-Fi

Review: Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station

Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Station simplifies wireless networking, while also enabling network printing or basic network storage accessibility. IT consultant, Erik Eckel, filed this review.

Small businesses needing fast and reliable 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless networking and workgroup gigabit wired Ethernet connectivity will find Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Station a simple, easily administered network solution.

Specifications

  • OS Support: Mac OS X version 10.4 for configuration; Mac OS X 10.2.7 for USB printing; Mac OS X 10.4.8 for AirPort Disk access; Windows XP SP3 or Vista SP1 for configuration, USB printing and AirPort Disk access
  • Wireless: 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n (Draft)
  • Ports: 3 RJ-45 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN Ethernet, 1 RJ-45 10/100/1000 Mbps WAN Ethernet, and 1 USB 2.0
  • Security: WPA, WPA2, 40/128-bit WEP, MAC address filtering, NAT firewall, RADIUS, 802.1X, PEAP, LEAP, TTLS, TLS, FAST, Time-based access control
  • Dimensions: 6.5" x 1.3" x 6.5", 1.7 lbs
  • Price: $179
  • More Info: Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station

Who's it for?

The Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station targets small businesses. Smaller organizations will find the device's simple administration, high reliability and versatile performance (an external hard disk can be attached via the unit's single USB port to create a simple storage area network with gigabit speed) attractive.

What problem does it solve?

Small businesses often struggle with implementing and maintaining wireless network connections, wireless printing, simple storage area networks and even guest wireless networks. The Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station provides plenty such functionality within a single, easily administered device, from gigabit Ethernet for small workgroups to guest wireless access and even the ability to quickly share network-accessible storage connection of a single external hard disk to the base station and empower wireless printing to compatible printers equipped with only a USB port.

Standout features

  • Simple Administration: Apple's hardware design, intuitive menus and simple configuration wizards make it easy for less sophisticated small businesses to implement wireless networks and connect small networks to existing Internet service. Guest wireless network access, which can require patience and fortitude when configuring more complex routers, is straightforward on the Apple AirPort Extreme.
  • High performance: Each of the AirPort Extreme's three LAN ports supports gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbps) speed. In addition, the device's wireless technology supports 802.11n Draft standards, meaning compatible wireless users can obtain up to five times the throughput and twice the range of traditional 802.11g wireless LANs. Because the device manages 2.4GHz and 5GHz traffic simultaneously, mixed b/g/n networks won't experience unnecessary performance bottlenecks.
  • Multiple security options: Apple's wireless access point supports numerous security options, including WPA, WPA2, 40/128-bit WEP, MAC address filtering, NAT firewall, RADIUS, 802.1X, PEAP, LEAP, TTLS, TLS, FAST and time-based access control.
  • Network printing support: Using the device's integrated USB port, businesses can connect compatible printers to the AirPort Extreme Base Station. Mac users using Mac OS X v10.4.8 or later and PC users running Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later or Windows Vista with Bonjour can then connect to the printer, thereby enabling networked printing support both for wired and wireless LAN users.
  • Basic network storage: Using the device's integrated USB port, businesses can connect an external hard disk to the AirPort Extreme Base Station. Again, as with network printing support, Mac users using Mac OS X v10.4.8 or later and PC users running Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later or Windows Vista with Bonjour, can then utilize that hard disk's space for network storage accessible both to wired and wireless LAN users.
  • Reliability: As an IT consultant, I've encountered less failures using Apple hardware than other devices. While much of that experience may be anecdotal, the fit and finish of Apple hardware always seems to confirm the company's commitment to building quality, well-designed components, and the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Stations I've deployed are no exception.

What's wrong?

  • Scalability: Apple states that some 50 users can connect wirelessly to the AirPort Extreme Base Station. Further, only three LAN ports are present on the device. Subsequently, most small businesses will need to mate the AirPort Extreme Base Station to an additional network switch. Those organizations needing to support more than 50 concurrent wireless users may find they require an alternative solution.
  • Many features require Bonjour: The AirPort Extreme Base Station's shared printing and shared hard drive features require that Windows users load Apple's Bonjour software. While not a major impediment, it's an additional step, even with the software provided on a CD that ships with the unit.

Competitive Products

Bottom line for business

Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Station simplifies wireless networking, while also enabling network printing or basic network storage accessibility. The device also empowers smaller, less sophisticated offices by making it possible to provide secure wireless access to guests. Combined with easy administration and high reliability, the unit's fast wired and wireless performance make it a great fit for smaller businesses needing to add larger office functionality on a budget.

User rating

Have you encountered an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station? If so, what do you think? Rate the unit and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review of Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Station in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review above.

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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

6 comments
Johnexo
Johnexo

Apple has been a master at producing tech gadgets. In the world of routers, this one surely tops my list. AirPort Extreme Base Station

bob
bob

I have one and loved it until Apple offered up a firmware update. Ever since the update the range has dimished noticeably. My daughter's iMac at the other end of the house loses its connection and my Toshiba laptop also when it used to be rock solid. I have yet to find a reason why it changed but it definitely happen right after the update.

emerick
emerick

This review only covers the previous version of this router. Left out was any discussion of the fact that it is a dual-band router covering 802.11g and 802.11n on separate transmitters. This allows full speed of 802.11n without slowing down to support 802.11g or 802.11b users. Also when the Airport is connected to an internet gateway, it provides a Guest mode which provides access to the internet but no access to the local network for visitors in the office.

Alain in Qu?bec
Alain in Qu?bec

On my home network (5 users of which my 3 kids are students in high school, college and university), this is the only piece of hardware that has not required rebooting or reconfiguration for the last 24 months. Easy set-up, works flawlessly all the time. Sharing two hard drives (USB hub connected to Airport) and a printer. Wired and wireless access. Mixed Mac and Pc environnement. It just plain and simply works.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you provide guest access to your wireless network? Does your organization? What problems have you had to overcome during deployment? How do you rate the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station?

baduvall
baduvall

Pro's: Apple uses high quality radios. They never burn out. Cheap consumer brand wireless failed repeatedly for us when installing for streaming data, voice, streaming music and HD video. Just works. Easily manage multiple units at a site from one location. Cons: Single USB (very minor gripe, very) You must use the Apple Tool to conifgure. It's built into MacOS X and a simple download. But SSH/Telnet and a web gui is nice to have. Cons are really minor, after years of Airports Extremes and Express they just don't fail.