Airport Extreme Wireless Base Station

Setting up a network at home or work has never been easier than it is with the Apple Airport Extreme.

Plug the unit in, hook up the cables, and fire up the Airport Utility software. Fill in the blanks and away you go using your new Airport Base Station.

AirPort Extreme uses the Bonjour technology in Mac OS X to allow AirPort-equipped Mac computers running Mac OS X to find each other with no effort on your part--they discover each other just by virtue of being connected to the network.

image Apple MB763LL/A AirPort Extreme Dual-band Base Station - front view
This box works with all WiFi devices. This unit makes it easy as pie to share a broadband internet connection, USB printer, or an external hard drive without running wires. The iPod Touch and iPhone can get in on the action as well.

Share some stuff: Connect any external USB hard drive to the Airport Extreme port and share files between computers. Or connect a printer to that port and share that instead. Got an Apple TV? Stream video to it via the Airport Extreme.

image image Apple MB763LL/A AirPort Extreme Dual-band Base Station - rear view
Security is no problem either. Protect your network with a number of industry standard protocols including WPA/WPA2, WEP with 40 bit and 128 bit encryption, as well as MAC filtering and NAT firewall.

People sometimes get this box confused with the Apple Express because of the name similarities so I always refer to it as the square white box. This wireless router is one of my favorite routers - period. It's easy to setup and install, performs flawlessly, and because its dual band, it plays nicely with other wireless devices such as remote controls and cell phones.

The only suggestion and advice I give my clients about this box is to be sure to place it in a well ventilated area and not to place it in a cubby hole or in an area where other things can get placed on top of it such as books and papers. This unit is very warm blooded and needs plenty of exposure to air in order to keep it cool. In fact I also suggest that you stand the unit on its edge in order to provide more surface area for convected air currents to circulate. Keeping this thing cool will extend its life and provide years of trouble free operation.

Apple Airport Extreme Wireless Base Station

AirPort Express Base Station with AirTunes

For such a small box, the Airport Express packs in a lot of punch. It's actually a bit difficult to explain what this box does with just a single sentence because it does so much.

image apple airport express with airtunes
Its part wireless access point, part printer sharing device, and part iTunes music sharing appliance. And on top of it all, it's small so that makes it portable too.

Let's look at each of these capabilities.

1)Wireless access point: Use this box to set up a quick wireless network. Plug the Express into a wall socket and then plug in an internet connection from a DSL or cable modem. Now all your Macs with built-in Wifi have access to the internet. This is great for travelers that have more than one computer. Say you and your colleagues are traveling and you're sharing a hotel room with a single internet connection; Plug the internet connection into this unit and now you all have access.
image airport express connectivity diagram

2) Printer Sharing: Again plug the Airport Extreme into an outlet and plug a printer into the USB port. Now you and all those Macs in the area have access to that printer. This is a great way to share a printer. Place this unit and a printer in central location and everyone in your office or home then has access to it - all without running any wires.

It’s the easiest way for everyone in your family or office to share a single broadband Internet connection and USB printer without messy cables.

3) Music: Play the music from your computer's iTunes library through a set of speakers or stereo in just about any room in your home — wirelessly. Just like the printer setup, you plug the express into a wall socket, then connect your stereo or powered speakers up to the audio output jack and you have iTunes playing where ever you place these speakers - all without running wires.

AirPort Express works flawlessly with Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touch, and all your other Wi-Fi devices that use the 802.11a/b/g/n wireless standards.

Big features - Small package.

Apple Airport Express w/AirTunes

Web Camera - High Speed Firewire

Of the two web cams that I use, this one from Unibrain in my favorite.

image Fire-i Webcam Firewire Digital Camera By Unibrain model 2036
The main reasons I like it so much is for the excellent output quaility and for the high frame it acheives without taxing my computer's cpu.

Firewire is the key reason. With this cam, high frame rates take place and move the data effortlessly through the firewire pipeline.

This camera is excellent for iChat and Skype.

My only complaint is that the camera is so light, the firewire cable is much heavier and will tend to boss this thing around. Finding a way to securely mount this camera is a challenge. But the output is so good, it's worth the effort of finding a way to lock this down.

Fire-i Webcam Firewire Digital Camera By Unibrain

Time Capsule - Wireless Backup

When you first look at this contraption and read the advertising hype you think that someone really had their head on straight when they came up with this product. However - couple how this really works along with some less than ideal engineering and I would be hard pressed to give this box a glowing review.

Why then do I list it here when supposedly this list is my Best Picks? Cause anyone that knows me knows that I usually really like Apple products and (usually) recommend them highly. I didn't want people to think I somehow forgot this device and would go out and buy it just cause it's from Apple.

image apple time capsule mb277ll
This product does work, but not exactly as it's marketed. In fact, if anyone tells you there's a great wireless backup solution out there, they're just blowing smoke up your floppy disk. As of this writing there is NO good wireless backup product. Period.

Notice I emphasized the word Wireless? That is were this product breaks down - let me explain...

The nature of backing up is very data transport intensive. Because backup is so crucial, any good backup utility is going to go thru some effort to ensure that what is being backup is done correctly. Note: Backup utilities have many ways to accomplish this and usually employ proprietary ways of performing this task, but the concept is pretty much as follows.

Say I'm a backup utility and when it comes time for me to do my job, the first thing I do is look at all the files on your hard drive and determine which ones need to be backed up. I then start reading those files one by one and as I do, I break them up into small chucks. I send the first chunk to the backup device. I ask the device to write that data to disk. I then ask that it read what it just wrote and send it back to me for verification. When I get the chunk back, I check to see if it was the same as what I sent. If it is, I continue with the next chuck - Rinse Repeat.

If on the other hand, the data doesn't match, I re-send the original chunk and ask the device to try again. I continue doing this until the backup machine gets it right. This back and forth process continues until all the data to be backed up is complete. As you might guess, there's a lot of data movement going on here.

This is why backups can take so long to complete - it's not just a simple copy from source to destination. At a minimum, the data is moved between the computer and the backup drive two times. If there are any errors, the data transfer can increase significantly.

Now throw in a wireless component and you just compounded the process. We all know that even at perfect conditions, wireless data movement is much slower than its cabled counter-part. Also add in the fact that wireless conditions can change by the second as interference of one kind or another inevitably takes place. Can you now see the potential for how this can become a challenging operation?

Ok, so now back to the Time Capsule... As I first stated, the idea behind this product is fantastic. Take an Airport wireless router and couple it with a hard drive and you have a wireless router you can use as a backup device for either one or multiple computers in a given location. On the surface it's a brilliant idea. In reality however, it just doesn't work well.

When you peruse the support forums at Apple, or read the customer reviews at Amazon, Best Buy, etc, you will see that almost half of those people responding are very dissatisfied with this product. If you read a bit further, you'll see that most of them are using this device as a wireless backup platform - and with good reason; Apple is actively selling this as a wireless backup solution. Bad Apple!

If you want to use this box, then do so a bit differently and you will be much happier. First, make sure that you place this box in a well ventilated area. Another complaint of this product is that it runs very hot. Like its cousin the Airport Extreme, these guys are very warm blooded creatures. This high heat can significantly reduce the life of this product.

I tell all my clients to be sure to place this unit (and the Airport Extreme) in a well ventilated area. I also recommend that they stand the unit on its side to increase the amount of surface area for convection air currents. Do not place this in a cubby hole under a shelf or in a closet or cover it with other like sized devices or set a book or papers on it. It needs to breath so make sure it's in an area that will help it cool itself. Thats step one.

Step two is to connect all computers you plan to backup from to the Time Capsule via an ethernet cable. You can still use the wireless portion of the TC to connect to wireless computers, for your iPhone or iPod Touch. You can even connect your laptop for normal internet and network activity. Just don't depend on the wireless option for backup of that laptop. If you have to back-up the laptop, make sure you have a wired connection to use for that function.

This device will work for you, but not the way it's been marketed. The time for wireless backup has not yet come.

Apple Time Capsule (AirPort Extreme Plus 1 TB Storage)

Color Photo Printer - HP

I have yet to invest in a high definition color printer, but this unit from Hewlett Packard comes with some hefty recommendations from 5 of my Mac clients. No other special format printer is so widely endorsed by my client base as this one is so that's almost good enough for me. What puts me in the camp is seeing the output of these machines first hand.

As I said, five of my clients own these machines. Two are graphic designers, one is and artist, one a photographer, and one is a mom that prints a lot of pictures for her scrap-booking activities.

This is a pretty diverse group and without a doubt, ALL of them love what this printer can do for them... I"ll have to agree, the output is most definitely Lab-Quality.

image HP Photosmart B8550 Inkjet Photo Printer
Nice features include built-in color display for easy menu navigation; all the popular flash card memory formats can be plugged in the front of the printer so you can print directly from them without having to use your Mac. Furthermore, you can print a photograph up to 13x19 inches and/or use the included special paper tray that holds 4 of the most popular photo sized papers. The normal output resolution is 1200x1200 dpi, with optimized output of 9600x2400 dpi.

What's the down side? Everyone agrees that the ink cartridges are a bit pricey but when I ask them if they would buy this same printer again? All said with a resounding voice - YES!

I guess I can't go wrong then recommending this printer for those looking for a high end lab-quality photo printer capable of printing large format photo prints. Who knows, maybe someday I'll get one too.

HP Photosmart Inkjet Photo Printer

Stereo Speaker Sound System

Tired of the tinny sound from your laptop speakers? Maybe you need a nice sound system for your desktop system instead. Whichever camp you fall into, this stereo speaker system by Logitech is an impressive unit sure to make your eardrums happy.

This system was developed for laptops but could be just as easily at home with a desktop system too.

image Logitech AudioHub Notebook Speakers
The side speakers telescope to accommodate a laptop with a screen size of up to 17 inches. Also in the cabinet is a tuned subwoofer for those incredible deep tones. Piping in at 15 watts rms, the sound from these 3 speakers left me with my jaw open. For those of you that know me it takes quite a bit for me to become speechless.

I have yet to invest in a laptop but I bought this system for my home machine which is a Mac Mini. I have my monitor up on a stand and so I placed these speakers just under the raised monitor. This sound system certainly impresses me when I'm sitting in front of it. So too when I'm away from my machine and listening to something from my iTunes library, the sound fills the room nicely and serves up a great audio experience.

Another fav of mine is the built-in USB hub. These speakers are USB powered so having a built-in powered hub is a real nice touch. For laptop users this is especially handy - keep all your peripherals plugged into the hub. Then when you sit down with your machine, just plug in the speaker system and everything else comes along for the ride with that one single plug-in.

Also included with this unit is a webcam stand. Another nice touch for holding your web camera in place.

If Logitech comes out with an enhanced version of this product, I hope they'll include a mini headphone jack on the front side. That way I can plug my headphones in and not disturb my neighbors during one of my late night sound sessions. Aside from that, I very happy with these speakers and give them my Best pick in the USB speaker department.

Logitech AudioHub Notebook Speakers

Mouse - Apple Mighty Mouse, Wireless

If a wireless mouse calls to you, you might want to consider this mouse from Apple. It's the same mouse that I reviewed in an earlier post (Mouse - Apple Might Mouse Wired) but instead of being a wired version, it is a wireless model.

image apple wireless bluetooth mighty mouse
It uses bluetooth technology to communicate with your Mac. It has the same pros and cons as the wired version, with an extra pro for being wireless.

I won't repeat myself with all the details but if you would like to know more, just visit the link above for my full review.

Apple Mighty Mouse Wireless Kit

Flash Drive - Big Storage Tiny Package

I absolutely LOVE these devices. They are the best thing to come along since the computer itself.

image flash drive sandisk cruser micro 16 gb sdcz6-016g-a11
What an ingenious way to store files, etc. These things are so small they can hang on your keychain yet have enough capacity to store a handful of high definition (HD) movies.

I made a video not too long ago and I wanted to show it to my family so I uploaded it on this flash drive and took it with me. Every modern computer has a USB port so this was an easy way to take my data with me.

When I got home I erased the data and loaded some other files on it for a client visit the following day. The flexibility and portability is unparalleled. The other thing I like about them is that they are cheap. It's easy and painless to add more storage capacity - simply buy another flash drive.

I have one that I use as a portable backup device. I carry a copy of my password file, my keychain, my address book, and my financial (Quicken) files on it.

In order to use it though, you need to have easy access to a USB port. For instance, the iMac has all the ports on the back of the machine making them hard to get at. For this situation and other where the ports are inaccessible, I suggest a USB hub. With that port right in front of you, you will be more apt to realize the full benefit of this Flash Drive.

I would be lost without mine.

USB 2.0 Flash Drive - 16GB

Webcam - Cheap Workhorse from HP

If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive web cam that works good with your Mac, I present you with this camera from Hewlett Packard - model GX607AA.

This is one of the two web cameras I use. I use this cam whenever I'm taking stills, talking in iChat or doing any video conferencing during the evening. This camera performs flawlessly in low light environments.

You might ask why I don't use this all the time and it's simply because I bought this cam after I bought my more expensive firewire cam that works great, but requires a ton of light to work correctly. During the evening, I don't want a bunch of lights on me so this cam gets my thumbs up.

image hp webcam gx607aa 12mp
It is a USB 2.0 webcam so make sure your system has USB 2.0 ports. If you're on an older Mac with USB 1.1 ports, you will be disappointed with its performance and should look at a firewire camera instead.

Just plug this into any Mac running 10.4 or higher and the system immediately recognizes it. As I mentioned earlier, the low light sensitivity of this cam makes it a shining star. I also enjoy the easy mount clip and how you can position the camera to any angle with just the simplest of moves.

The base is heavy enough and the hinge tight enough that the cord does not affect how you place the camera. Move it to the position you want and it stays there.

I came by this camera simply by accident but I'm glad it found me cause as the title of this post states, this is an excellent cheap webcam workhorse.

Hewlett Packard 12MP Elite Webcam

Laser Printer - Hewlett Packard

My favorite type of printer is a laser. The print quality is fantastic and speed if remarkable. One other thing I really like about laser printers is that they are gentle on consumables.

I used to have an ink jet type printer and I was constantly having to clean the print heads and each time I did, I was wasting ink. That doesn't happen with a laser printer.

As many electronic gizmos of late, laser printer prices have fallen to historic lows. It's quite common to find a great laser printer for under $100.

image HP LaserJet P1006 Printer
Such is the case with this unit from Hewlett Packard. I've always liked HP printers because they perform flawlessly. This small printer is big on features and performance and yet very gentle on the pocketbook.

If you are looking for a simple printer that does its job, doesn't complain, and has a small appetite for consumables, I would encourage you to give this printer your consideration.

Small footprint, 1200dpi output, 17 pages per minute print speed, less than $100 price tag. Pretty amazing I would say!

HP LaserJet P1006 Printer

Note for those folks on Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6.x): It took HP a couple of weeks to release updated drivers for Snow Leopard but they finally have. You can find them here. If you've already updated your operation system to 10.6.1, you should be ok.

Hard Drive - External, FireWire & USB

image iomega ultramax 500 gb usb 2 firewire 400 desktop external hard drive 33904
External Hard Drives are getting to the point that they're considered commodities now. The price has plummeted while performance has continued to skyrocket.

For normal uses such as additional storage or a device to use with TimeMachine, this drive should work just fine.

This drive clocks in at 500GB of storage, 7200RPM platter spin, and includes both FireWire and USB interface connectors.

In addition to great performance specs, this unit looks great too. Drive is small enough to tuck into a purse, backpack, or briefcase. Use it at home or on the run. Btw, it's made by Iomega so there's that going for it too. Includes a one year warranty.

This is an unbelievable storage solution for under $100.

Iomega UltraMax 500 GB USB 2.0 - FireWire 400 Desktop External Hard Drive

Keyboard - Apple Bluetooth Wireless

Sleek and compact, this Bluetooth keyboard by Apple gets my top pick for those looking for a small keyboard without all the hassles of being tethered to your machine by a cable.
I'll admit that I wished this had a numeric keypad but if you're looking for a compact entry divise, this can't be beat. It works well and sits nicely on your lap so typing while leaning back is quite comfortable.

I use this keyboard in tandem with my wired keyboard. When I get into my writing mode, I grab this, lean back, and start typing away.

Apple Wireless Keyboard Kit

Mouse - Apple Mighty Mouse, USB Wired

You and a Mouse should have a very intimate relationship with one another. This device is what you use to control your computer and should therefor be a product you pick wisely.

As you know, not all mice are created equally and what works well for one person may not be the best bet for you. In addition, everyone works a bit differently and so there may be features or options that appeal to you that get lost with the next person.

I encourage you to really study how you work and find a mouse that meets those requirements.

image of apple might mouse wired usb interface
This mouse - the Mighty Mouse by Apple is one I like but not enough to give it my full endorsement. It has a couple of features that I like a lot. It also has one caveat that keeps me from buying it.

The main reasons I really like it is because it WORKS well. It's got a slick exterior that accommodates both left and right handed users. I especially like the track ball on top of the case. You use your finger to scroll in any direction. It seems so intuitive that you can navigate a page with incredible ease. THIS single feature is what got me to fall in love with it.

But as I said, there's one caveat that keeps me from using it and that's the fact that you can't control the "squeeze" buttons with enough control for my taste.

I tend to have a lot of applications open and switch back and forth between them. What I wanted to do was program a keyboard shortcut for the squeeze action to perform a {command H} keystroke (hide application). My old mouse gave me that option and I use that function at least a hundred times a day. While you can program the squeeze buttons for some activities, a keyboard shortcut of your own design is not one of them. This was the deal breaker for me.

As I stated earlier, you need to really figure out how you work when you select a product. This one habit of mine would not work with this mouse.

Other than that I love this mouse and keep watching for the next release hoping that the squeeze function is enhanced. When that happens, this mouse is mine!!

Apple Mighty Mouse - USB Wired