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Wireless Reviews

Features

Apple still marches to its own tune in its refusal to put a web admin interface on the Extreme. The latest version of the AirPort utility (5.5) now requires Win XP SP3 or Vista (if you're not running Mac OS), which was an annoyance when I tried to install the utility on an XP SP2 system.

Figure 3 shows the Summary screen, which shows that the Extreme can detect when another router is sitting between it and the Internet (Double NAT status).

AirPort Utility Summary screen

Figure 3: AirPort Utility Summary screen

The Extreme's feature set has stayed largely the same since we reviewed the original Draft N model. The main differences are the addition of a wireless Guest Network feature, support for the second radio and support for IPv6.

But don't expect the Extreme to be like other dual-band, dual-radio N routers. First, the Guest Network runs on the 2.4 GHz band only, although it can have its own wireless security settings.

You also shouldn't bother trying to find the setting to enable 40 MHz channel width mode in the 2.4 GHz band—Apple still has it locked out. Even Intel has backed off on the no-40 MHz-for-you-in-2.4 GHz policy in its original 4965 AGN 11n adapters, allowing it to be enabled in the newer 5100 and 5300 AGNs. Perhaps its time for Apple to take a similar path. While I still think hogging bandwidth in 2.4 GHz isn't a neighborly thing to do, there are some cases when it might be helpful.

When it came time to check to see if the Extreme dropped to 11g rates when using WEP or WPA/TKIP, I ended up not being able to run the tests. No matter what I tried, I could not force the Extreme to allow only WPA/TKIP connections, nor could I get it to allow WEP only.

Speaking of WEP, I wasn't able to even find it among the Wireless Security options. And a search through the PDF User Guide didn't yield even a single hit. When a search in Apple's Support database also didn't come back with anything obvious, I finally turned to Google. But even that didn't come up with an obvious solution right away.

I finally found an obscure discussion group post that revealed that I needed to press the Control key while clicking the Wireless Security dropdown in the Windows version of the utility or the Apple key in the Mac OS version. This then exposed WEP, which was marked as a "Transitional Security Network".

But even then, WEP testing was not to be. Despite repeated attempts, I could not get the Extreme to allow WEP-only connections and my client insisted on connecting via WPA2 / AES. Note also that I could only enter thirteen characters, even when I tried the $ Hex Escape character. So good luck if you're trying to use a 128 Bit WEP key with the Extreme.

I also found that the Extreme doesn't support automatic wireless security setup via Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which is surprising given Apple's focus on ease of use. And finally, if you want separate wireless security settings for each radio, you'll need to choose another product. The Wireless Security controls apply to both radios.

Another area where I wasn't able to complete testing was measuring the performance of the USB drive sharing feature. I was able to get the FAT-formatted disk to be recognized and mapped to my Vista SP1 test system. But when I ran the robocopy routine, which copies a folder of files from a ripped DVD, the connection locked up when the copy got to a 1 GB VOB file. I also tried just drag-and-dropping the 1 GB file itself and gave up the test when it also locked up.

Routing Performance

Table 1 shows that the new Extreme's routing speed has had a significant boost from the original, single radio version, with over 400 Mbps for download and 300 Mbps upload. Maximum simultaneous sessions aren't top-notch, however. I was able to reliably get only 128 sessions to complete the one minute test. This is in contrast with most new routers, which hit the maximum test limit of 200 connections on the first try.

Test Description Throughput - (Mbps) Original Extreme Throughput - (Mbps)
WAN - LAN 419.5 132.7
LAN - WAN 330.7 125.5
Total Simultaneous 414.7 124
Max. Connections 128 128
Firmware Version 7.5 7.2.1
Table 1: Routing throughput

Figure 4 shows the IxChariot aggregate plots for WAN to LAN, LAN to WAN and simultaneous routing throughput tests, which look nice and steady.

Apple Airport Extreme routing throughput
Click to enlarge image

Figure 4: Apple Airport Extreme routing throughput

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