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Wireless Reviews

Features

I didn't have any problem installing Apple's AirPort Uility (version 5.5.3) on my Win XP SP3 system (yeah, gotta upgrade someday). The little bugger also installed an AirPort Base Station Agent in the System Tray, which keeps an eye out for a USB drive shared via the AirPort's drive sharing feature and automatically creates a Windows mapped drive for it.

Figure 4 shows the Summary screen, which doesn't look much different than the screenshot I took in the previous review (Figure 5).

Gen 5 AirPort Utility Summary screen
Figure 4: Gen 5 AirPort Utility Summary screen

The main difference is a wider window due to the AirPort image in the left side pane, which you can't make go away.

Gen 4 AirPort Utility Summary screen
Figure 5: Gen 4 AirPort Utility Summary screen

I didn't notice any new features, but I confess I didn't look that hard. Here's a quick rundown:

Routing

  • Static and Dynamic IP, PPPoE WAN connections (no MTU adjust)
  • IPv6 modes: Link-local only, Host, Tunnel, Router modes
  • NAT, One-to-one NAT, Bridge modes
  • USB printer and drive sharing (HFS, FAT32 formats only)
  • DHCP server with IP reservation
  • Syslog support
  • MobileMe "Back To My Mac" remote access
  • Log, wireless client and DHCP client viewing via AirPort Utility

Firewall

  • Single port and port range forwarding w/ separate public / private ports
  • DMZ host

Wireless

  • WDS bridging and repeating
  • WEP and Personal / Enterprise WPA / WPA2 wireless security
  • Wireless Modes: Automatic, A/N and B/G, A and B/G
  • Scheduled wireless MAC address control
  • Wireless guest access: 2.4 GHz only, no WEP
  • Tranmit power control (100, 50, 25, 10%) - one setting for both radios

Missing

  • Web-based administration
  • RIP v1, v2, v2 multicast and static routing
  • UPnP
  • Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)
  • Traffic statistics
  • Firewall feature scheduling
  • Triggered port forwarding
  • WAN ping blocking
  • Inbound / outbound service control w/ scheduling
  • URL / domain web filtering
  • Wireless client-to-client isolation
  • Tranmit power control (100, 90, 75, 50, 25, 10%)
  • Transmit data rate

The Missing list is a bit long and some items bear some further explanation or repeating. Since the main reason many of you are considering the AirPort Extreme is for better wireless performance, you should know what you're trading off. The quick take is that the AirPort Extreme isn't the router you're looking for if you need flexible firewall features or like both your bands to be equally controllable.

First, Apple is the lone holdout in blocking acces to 40 MHz bandwidth mode in the 2.4 GHz band. While paternalistic, you're not really losing that much, however."Wide" channels take up almost the whole 2.4 GHz band and provide significant bandwidth improvement only under strong signal conditions. But in cases where there are no nearby networks or channel use can be coordinated, their use can be beneficial.

Note that this means that if you have a three-stream N capable client, you're only going to see a maximum link rate of 217 Mbps vs. the 450 Mbps you'll be able to see in 5 GHz.

Next, note that the Guest Network runs on the 2.4 GHz band only. And while it has its own wireless security settings, WEP isn't among them. Note also that you can hide the radio SSIDs ("Create a closed network") and adjust transmit power, the same settings apply to both radios.

When you first fire up the router, your client won't even see separate 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs. That's because Apple sets the same SSID on both radios, just to make things interesting.

You also still have to press the Control key before clicking the Wireless Security dropdown selector to expose the WEP option, which is still marked as a "Transitional Security Network"

I had the same result as for the Gen 4 model when I tried to measure the performance of the USB drive sharing feature. I was able to get the FAT-formatted disk to be recognized and mapped to the Win 7 NAS testbed system. But when I ran the robocopy routine, which copies a folder of files from a ripped DVD, the connection still went missing when robocopy got to a 1 GB VOB file. For non-Macers this feature is of limited use anyway, because it supports only FAT32 and HFS formatted drives only.

On the routing side, if you're looking for any sort of web filtering or inbound / outbound service control, forget it. All you get is static port forwarding for single ports or ranges as well as DMZ. At least for the port forwarding, advanced users can set separate public and private port numbers.

IPv6 is supported. But the settings are unlike any I've seen on other IPv6-enabled products. And good luck to you finding useful IPv6 support information in either the rather brief AirPort Extreme 802.11n (5th Generation) - Setup Guide or Apple's support site.

I've included some screenshots of the more interesting utility pages in the gallery.

Routing Performance

All testing was done with the latest 7.5.2 firmware loaded and the 5.5.3 AirPort Utility. If you want to compare the 5th and 4th gen AirPorts, you'll need to click the Archived Products Switch To Show link to see the 4th gen numbers. To make it easy, though, I've pulled both sets of numbers into Table 1 below.

Table 1 shows that the new Extreme's routing speed is about the same for downlink and improved by 100 Mbps for uplink. There's also a big improvement in simultaneous session handling with the 5th gen AirPortX able to open 29,413 sessions before pooping out, vs. the Gen 4's 128.

Test Description 5th Gen 4th Gen
WAN - LAN Throughput (Mbps) 430.4 419.5
LAN - WAN Throughput (Mbps) 434.6 330.7
Total Simultaneous Throughput (Mbps) 496.5 414.7
Max. Simultaneous Connections 29,413 128
Firmware Version 7.5.2 7.5
Table 1: Routing throughput

Figure 6 shows the IxChariot aggregate plots for WAN to LAN, LAN to WAN and simultaneous routing throughput tests, which look generally steady.

Apple AirPort Extreme 5th Gen routing throughput
Figure 6: Apple AirPort Extreme 5th Gen routing throughput

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