Review: Airport Extreme 802.11n

May 24th, 2007 | Posted in It's All Geek to Me!

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We have a wireless home network in the house, with our DSL line connected to a wireless router in my studio. We run a 802.11g Linksys unit and have an extender up on the top floor. My Mac is the only computer hardwired into the router… all the kid’s and The Lovely Anna’s computers have Wireless-G adapters and connect to the internet in that way. We are pretty secure with no broadcasting of a network SSID (the neighbors cannot see our network, and you must know the exact name of the SSID to access it) and password protected login.

802.11n is the latest flavor of wireless. It’s supposedly up to 5 times faster, using multiple antennas to increase bandwidth as well as range. Apple recently released an updated Airport Extreme Base Station using 802.11n technology that promised that faster bandwidth and the much greater range. I picked one up to see if I could switch to an Apple network in the house, in anticipation of getting Apple TV once it becomes prime time.

While Apple says it will work with both PCs and Macs, it’s not very easy to set up with PCs. I got my kid’s computers, which all use a USB Netgear wireless adapter, to connect but Anna’s adapter, a D-Link, refused to do it. My Macbook Pro hooked up like a champ. When connected, all the computers networked just like they did before and it all worked just fine. Obviously it’s a hardware compatibility issue.

The other problems? The range was actually worse than the Linksys. I don’t know if they only count totally open space with regards to increased range (i.e. in a cornfield you get three times the range), but at least for me it did no better getting through floors in my house than the Linksys did. It also didn’t much like to play with the portable Airport Express I configured to use as a repeater for the upper floor where the kids computer’s are. While it seemed to configure just fine, the kid’s computers refused to connect to the Express and insisted on trying to connect to the weak Extreme signal. Getting rid of the extender, a serious eyesore in our top floor hall, was one of the selling points of this for me.

The other was faster speeds. It occurred to me as I was using the new network that we would experience no increase in internet speed with the Wireless N router. My DSL line operates at 1.5mbs and the wireless G router was many times that speed already… having a faster N router would not make the DSL line any faster. Besides, unless I replaced all the wireless adapters with Wireless N ones, the speed gain for file transfer would be non-existent anyway. The only computer capable of running the N flavor was my Macbook Pro. Transferring files from it to and from my studio Mac would be faster (didn’t really notice that, either) but only if none of the other computers was transmitting data. When a “G” adapter sends a “G” signal to the Airport Extreme, the fastest the Airport Extreme can run is at “G” speeds. “N” adapters are handcuffed.

I took the Airport Extreme back with regrets.

If you are an all Mac home and have the latest Airport cards (N) installed, or get them upgraded, then this router is for you. Expect to have to add an Airport Express to extend your range if you are going through multiple floors, and be sure you name your Express something besides the same SSID as your main router, or you will not be able to connect to it as opposed to the distant Airport Extreme. That I think was my mistake. If you have any PCs in the house, stick with Linksys, Netgear or others for now. Hardware compatibility with wifi adapters is too sketchy right now for a mixed environment. Maybe one day Apple will make an Airport USB wifi adapter that will work with PCs so everything is compatible. If that happened the Airport Extreme would be a great all around solution for basic home networking needs.

Read this review for more info, but the reviewer seems to agree with much of my experience.

Comments

  1. SteveH says:

    I would like to see more cross over for Mac hardware with PC hardware. (When I eventually get a MacBookPro, I shall continue to use my PC’s as they have been an investment I can’t waste). It must make sense as PC guy’s like myself would be more inclined to purchase Mac’s, so we can run both as a combined system. Just my 2 cents!

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