Review: Apple’s new Airport Extreme 802.11n Router

I recently purchased Apples new router, the Airport Extreme. It had a couple of features I really liked, so I thought I’d try it out.

Airport Extreme Router

The Features:

  • 802.11n (it’s FAST!)
  • Lets you share a hard disk and printer using USB
  • Easy to configure
  • It’s Apple Cool.

It arrived last week, and I hooked it up when I got home from work. Installation was easy (I used a mac to set it up. Dunno how easy this would be on a PC) since you use the airport admin tool to configure it. This is different and perhaps disconcerting to users accustomed to configuring routers by browser. Also, configuration was done over the air, which is a new, and a bit scary way of doing things. After figuring out that I’d reversed the WAN and LAN connections (I’m an idiot sometimes), the router was up and running.

Airport Extreme Ports

I connected a Samsung CLP-300 colour laser printer and a 500Gig USB hard disk to the unit, then tried things out.

I could print easily from the mac, but the Windows PCs on the network couldn’t see the printer at all. I haven’t had a chance to dive into this – I was supposing that “Bonjour” technology would handle this, but apparantly not. After some quick research on the net, I found some mentions that the printer sharing may not work if printer drivers aren’t written to handle network sharing – maybe this is the issue?

The hard disk sharing worked well, again only on the mac’s connected to the network. The PC’s couldn’t see the shared drive at all. This is OK in my case since the drive is meant for the macs only. The drive is my main photo repository, so sees VERY heavy use through Aperture. This is the real test since Aperture places very heavy requirements on the disk sub-system. I found there was a noticable slowdown compared to having the drive directly connected to the Mac over USB 2.0. It appears to be something I can live with, but we’ll see.

Network access has been OK so far – but I’ve noticed that some web sites are VERY slow since I’ve installed the router. I’m hoping that it’s simply an ISP problem – Rogers is not exactly the most reliable ISP. For instance, some Youtube video’s I wanted to see have simply not played since I’ve installed the router. The big test will be to go back to the old router and compare.

I’ll keep you informed on long term testing as well. I’ve had really bad luck with routers in the past. My Linksys SRX200 had to be rebooted weekly as did my DLink DI713p. This is a piece of equipment you should be able to set and forget – and I hated having to reboot these when the network would fail.

I’ve got high hopes for the Apple Airport Extreme, hope they pan out.

UPDATE March 23: Early concerns about slow web site access were unfounded. The thing is fast – but I don’t really notice a huge improvement just surfing the web…

I have had to disconnect my shared 500G drive from the unit. Using it with Aperture was impossible – WAY too slow. Also, it was corrupting my Aperture library somehow – which Aperture handled nicely by rebuilding the thing. It works GREAT when I connect it straight to my Mac via USB 2.0, but just too slow wirelessly. Rats.

I haven’t been able to make the Samsung work from Windows when connected to the device. I’ve ended up connecting the Samsung to a Windows PC on the network, then connecting to that share from my Macs. Rats.

So, the USB port on the device sits unused at this time.

Update Aug 31, 2007: I have now got the Samsung working through the Airport Extreme. I ended up installing the Apple Bonjour stuff on my PC’s, then using Bonjour to find the printers. It worked great – much better than trying to connect to a shared printer on a PC in a workgroup. Still not using the hard drive connected to the Airport – but I’ll try that again in light of the new firmware in the unit.

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One response to “Review: Apple’s new Airport Extreme 802.11n Router”

  1. Mark Bradley says :

    I have just setup one of these devices and I am very pleased. I have migrated from the Belkin pre-N. I operate a mixed PC environment and basically I get a very stable 54mb/s signal for the non N pcs at 54mb/s. When I connect my Mac Pro the rate ranged between 140-170mb/s. Coverage over a 100 m2 apartment was even and consistent. Overall impressed and a good choice of upgrade even for a mixed computer network environment.

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