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

Airport Express Cable Kit

This kit is for those folks that want to stay strictly Apple when extending their audio output from an Apple Airport Express. Yes, there are less expensive options out there but none of those keep with the sleek white Apple design motif.

image Apple Airport Express Stereo Connection Kit with Monster Cables M9573LL/A

This set includes three cables to compliment the Airport Express. There's an extension power cable, a Monster mini-to-RCA left and right audio cable, and a Monster mini-to-optical digital Toslink audio cable. Most folks won't use that last cable - however, sophisticated audiophiles will appreciate it.

Apple Airport Express Stereo Connection Kit w/Monster Cables

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)

Airport External Booster Antenna

In most cases the Airport Base Station works pretty darn well. There are times though where it could use a boost. This antenna is a great way to give your Airport Extreme a hand. This is especially true if you need to elevate the signal but can't easily move the Base Station.

Here in the southwest, many homes are built with thick solid walls and there are a lot of stucco walls too. That wire mesh under the stucco raises cane with a wireless signal. This product may just help you solve a weak signal problem.

You can plug this antenna into the back of the AE and then place the antenna where you want. It also makes it easy to experiment where to put the antenna. You can easily move this booster around without having to deal with all the cords and cables coming out of the Airport - something you would have to do if you didn't have this antenna but had to move the box instead.

I find it curious that Apple no longer offers an extension antenna but continues to place a connector on the Airport. Thank goodness for this 3rd party source.

UPDATE: Early models of the AE came with an external antenna connection port. The most recent models however, no longer have this port. It's still possible to add an external to an airport that doesn't have this antenna port but it involves opening up the airport extreme case and reconnecting antenna leads. I don't recommend doing this as it voids the warranty. If on the other hand you are comfortable around electronic devices and your unit is out of warranty, visit this link for instructions on how to attach an external antenna to an Airport Base Station and click on the drop-down menu at the bottom of the page titled 'Installation Instructions. The antenna booster shown here is connected in this manner

image Tri-Band Antenna for AirPort Extreme Base Station 802.11 n

Tri-Band Antenna for AirPort Extreme Base Station (802.11 n)

SECONDARY NOTE: The above booster antenna is not always available. If not available, you may want to consider other ways of boosting your wireless signals by reading my post entitled Apple Airport Antenna Booster Solutions