AnandTech reviews Apple’s new Airport Extreme and Time Capsule: More powerful, modern, faster WiFi

“Apple has been playing it cool on the WiFi side of things lately,” Brian Klug reports for AnandTech. “It started with the previous Airport Extreme (Gen 4) which quietly introduced three spatial stream support, followed up by the Early 2011 MacBook Pro update which brought a three spatial stream compliant WLAN stack, and now has continued with an even more understated update for the Time Capsule (4th generation) and Airport Extreme (5th generation).”

“Both updates launched just prior to this latest round of Apple launches, which included the Mac Mini, Macbook Air, and Thunderbolt Display, but unlike those three, the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme updates saw almost no mention,” Klug reports. “Starting with the exterior packaging, you’d be hard pressed to tell that a particular Time Capsule or Airport Extreme is the newer refresh.”

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Klug reports, “What’s changed between both previous generations is simple — the Time Capsule gets an official 3TB option, and both the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme now have a much more powerful, modern, and better-performing BCM4331 based WiFi stack… I wager the vast majority of Airport Extreme and Time Capsule owners have no idea what 3×3:3 is or how to even check their physical link rate, and for the most part that’s a testament to how stable these devices are. Maybe that’s the reason why Apple doesn’t make a super huge note about changes like markedly improving their WLAN connectivity. One thing is for certain, Apple’s wireless division is either playing it incredibly cool, or honestly not getting the credit it deserves.”

Tons more in the full review here.
 

23 Comments

  1. Time Capsule, one of THE most disappointing Apple devices EVER. Just see the massive thread in the discussion group on how many of these products just stop working, less than 2 years after dropping serious coin on them.

    1. You don’t have to buy Time Capsule. You can buy an AirPort Extreme and attach an external hard drive to it. It’s a much cheaper option. The drive is removable and the drive capacity can be upgraded at any time. It’s much more flexible than Time Capsule as a standalone product.

    2. True. THey have indeed had a larger than normal amount of failures and, as a mission critical component, that is unforgivable on Apple’s part.

      However, having rebuilt three system now from TimeMachine backups, all I can say is … when it works, it’s worth every penny.

      “Mac installer has discovered a local TimeMachine. Do you want to rebuild your user account from there?”

      “Yes” (click)

      done!

      1. Totally agree.
        Works perfectly.

        I know way too many people who lost every photo they ever took when a drive went bad. For most users a 2-3 TB Time Capsule is a must-have.

        1. too bad Time Capsules fail at a far far higher rate than just about any other drive. A real shame as I am sure they would be great if designed properly.

          1. Just one of over TWO THOUSAND examples over at Apple:

            “Just to add to the catalogue of failed time capsules. My 1TB from August 2009 has now failed – no power light, plug in again after changing the fuse and the light comes on briefly before dying for good and yes you have read this story before from the numerous previous posts. I will not be replacing it and I cannot imagine why anyone else reading this posting would either. This is a product that falls well short of what might be expected from Apple.”

    3. My first AirPort Extreme was the White UFO model (2003) which ran 24/7/365 until I replaced it last year with a Dual Band with Improved Antenna. I gave the old one to someone who is still using it.
      I got 7 years of flawless performance and expect the current one will last for years as well.
      As to Time Capsule- buy an Airport Extreme and an inexpensive external USB HD.

  2. I’d like to know the total number of sales of the units….

    And I’m fairly sure that the ones that have failed (more so than the other models) were due to the manufacturer of the components apple sourced being cheap and cutting corners! Having had 3 of the various models only one had such an issue and upon tearing it down as well as both of the others I found that the capacitors were different physical sizes (so for me purchase 1 and 3 had the same component size and 2 which broke down, had smaller capacitors..) after a little testing with a trusty DMM I found that my thoughts were correct… This thing is on all day and night 24/7 365.. Eventually it will fail – such is life..

    But Ive found that when apple does find an issue they tend to correct it sharpish!

  3. I have the very first (square) 802.11n AirPort Extreme. It’s been solid. I have a question for anyone with expertise in this area. My Macs and other wireless devices are somewhat older (most use 802.11n). If I get a brand new AirPort Extreme base station with these “understated” improvements, do you need a recent Mac to actually “appreciate” those improvements?

    1. Yes, in particular antenna diversity which spreads the load off three antennas. In order to attain maximum throughput a few cardinal rules must be met. The first and most important is bit density. Generally the higher the frequency, the more bits can be transmitted per channel width. The second is the RSSI or MCS index which gives you information as to the modulation protocol, whether QPSK, QAM, BPSK, which correlates to spatial density, number of antennas, and throughput.

      In summary, the 2011 MacBook Pros and iMacs have three internal antennas and so will be able to take advantage of the three antenna configuration of the 6th generation AirPort Extreme. I don’t have reliable data for the number of internal antennas for the MacBook Air but it is most likely to have at most two (probably just the one) due to space constraints on the lid.

        1. You don’t need a third antenna to see added benefits of the 5th gen airport. The 5th gen extreme has significantly increased the power output (around 2x 4th gen for both g&n 2.4&5ghz). Data transfer speeds have increased anywhere from 20% at close range up to 10x the rate at longer distances and in some cases getting a signal at a distance with the 5th gen that was not available in the 4th gen. This performance boosts impact both the 2 & 3 antenna setups. The anandtech article used both a 2010 macbook (2×2:2 setup) and 2011 macbook (3×3:3 setup).

          So the power output on the 5th gen is 2x the 4th gen and 3x the 3rd gen. They don’t show vs. 1st gen but I would assume it is at least 3x.

          So you should see significant performance gains even with a 2 wire setup. Plus once you get newer equipment with 3 wire you will be able to take advantage of the 3rd antenna. I have an Asus laptop and swapped out the 2 wire Intel wifi card for a 3 wire card wit no issues.

          The Anandtech article does a good job of showing the benefits with both a 2×2 and 3×3 antenna configuration.

  4. I have an older time capsule which ran very hot so I got an old 7″x7″ heat sink, took the rubber pad off the TC and set it on top of if the heat sink. Then I plugged into the TC a USB computer fan on a little stand and set it to blow through the fins of the heat sink. Been running that for a couple of years now and the TC has been cool to the touch ever since. Cost me $20 for everything.

  5. I just upgraded from a first generation Time Capsule to the fourth generation. First one was fine, if a bit noisy and slow. This one is FAST and absolutely silent. And setting both up were a breeze.

  6. I have a first gen Time Capsule. Lately, and maybe it’s just coincidental that it’s started happening around the time of this new one’s release, it is fine for a couple hours, then it just seems to ‘poop out’ and go all amber on me. Unplugging and replugging it in usually resolves it, but I fear my main backup solution may be tanking. Anyone have any ideas what’s going on? It’s in a cool spot with lots of air flow, so I don’t think it’s the heat. And, it’s rarrrrrely moved.

    1. It’s a sign your drive is failing. Install a SMART utility called Volitans which will give you an indication of when your drive is about to fail.

      1. So, even though the TC smart status says “verified” (which was one of the first things I checked) this program can check it via my MBP? Usually when it ambers, I get a double NAT warning or some BS that resolves immediately upon restart.

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