Apple’s new Airport Extreme 6th generation has been announced and is now available from the Apple Store for £169.
In its all new design the Airport Extreme stands approximately 17cm tall, by approximately 10cm square, and features 3 LAN ports, a USB 2 port and a RJ45 WAN port – pretty standard and not dissimilar to the older model.
The real difference is in the wireless speed bump with Apple surging forward with their implementation of the wireless standard “AC” which is marketed as being 1300 Mbps, quite a difference when compared with most other wireless networks. The range 802.11ac (to give it its correct name) is also reported to be much further, in part to its use of the 5GHz spectrum.
In our tests the connection speeds was much slower than the reported 1300 Mbps, which in all fairness is to be expected. We found that the device happily transferred data at about 400 Mbps (or about 50MBs) meaning that you can copy an HD video in under 1.5 minutes which isn’t bad at all. This really starts to make streaming several HD videos at once possible wirelessly.
Our range tests also proved to be pretty good, the Airport Extreme was able to keep its connection above 250 Mbps even at ranges of 20 meters plus, with several walls between the computer and the router. In comparison to this our standard 802.11n router’s connection dropped to just 40Mbps at half that distance of 10 meters.
All in all Apple’s new Airport Extreme is pretty good. There are a couple of cons though if you intend to use one and need more advanced features.
One major con that we found – and this has been a theme running through Apple’s wireless routers for some time now – is that the port forwarding really doesn’t seem to work well. Legacy VPN PPTP ports simply weren’t forwarded through the firewall in our tests which is a real headache if you intend to cater for older Windows systems on your VPN server.
Minor cons include; no USB3, still only 3 LAN ports, no web administration (you still have to use Airport Utility which is a bit, well crap).
Otherwise its a nice, albeit quite expensive upgrade from Apple. Now we all need to buy an 802.11ac compatible iMac so we can actually get the wireless speed increases!
We’ve used the new Airport Extreme in a few real world installations now, actually using the new hardware in peoples offices and homes, both with and without Macs fitted with the new wireless AC chipset.
In some of these installations we have found the Extreme to be somewhat wanting; the achievable wireless range has been dramatically lower than our initial tests would indicate. Burst speeds tend to be very fast, even at a distance from the base station. But, and more importantly for us, these speeds are very sporadic and occur only 30% of the time. In certain properties transfer speeds absolutely crawl; in one example we got speeds jumping from 19mb a second to 200b per second – yes 200 BITS.
After replacing the Airport Extreme with the defacto free router from the Internet provider the transfer speeds jumped to a steady 1.5mb per second. Not great, but usable for general Internet surfing, and much better than pages that never open at all. In this example the computer used was infact a brand new iMac with the AC wireless card installed; when we replace the Airport Extreme with the BT Home Hub (which is a wireless G unit) connections speeds were much more reliable.
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