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Apple Airport Extreme Gen 5 Reviewed

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AirPort Extreme Base Station -5th Gen
At a glance
ProductApple MD031LL/A AirPort Extreme Base Station -5th Gen   [Website]
Summary5th generation of Apple's 802.11n router with three-stream N support on both bands and Broadcom radios
Pros• Gigabit ports
• 400+ Mbps routing speed
Cons• No web admin
• Can't use 40 MHz mode in 2.4 GHz
• 3 LAN ports
• Limited routing features

Typical Price: $99  Compare Prices  Check Amazon

Overview

Updated 8/25/11: Clarified cost comments

I've received enough requests for a review of Apple's latest overpriced simultaneous dual-band N router that I caved and ordered one from Amazon for testing and a quick review. This review will focus mainly on performance, since the feature set of the fifth generation of Apple's AirPort Extreme hasn't changed from when I looked at its predecessor almost two years ago. This will also be the first time I've seen what Apple has to offer for three-stream N performance. Let's start by looking at what's changed.

Inside

As it turns out, not much. Since I'm not keeping this little gem, I didn't open it up. But Brian Klug over at AnandTech did. The bottom line from his findings is that the Gen 4 and 5 motherboards (Figure 1) are exactly the same, but the dual-band radio module is not.

To recap, the main board uses a Marvell 88F6281 1.2 GHz "Kirkwood" SoC processor, which is normally found at the heart of many inexpensive NASes. The switch is a Marvell 88E6350R 7 Port Gigabit, but you still get only three 10/100/1000 LAN ports.

RAM and flash remain at 128 MB and 16 MB, respectively and there is still a Pericom PI7C9X20303UL PCIe Packet Switch on the bottom of the board to connect the radio module to the CPU.

New Airport Extreme Simultaneous board
Figure 1: Gen 4 and 5 AirPort Extreme main board

Instead of a custom PCIe module with two Marvell 88W8366 802.11n 3x3 SoCs, Apple has once again switched vendors for its 802.11n radio technology, this time tapping Broadcom. Figure 2 shows the FCC closeup of the Gen 5's radio module, which sports two Broadcom BCM4331 802.11n Dual-Band 3x3 SoCs.

Gen 5 Airport Extreme radio module
Figure 2: Gen 5 AirPort Extreme radio module

If this device sounds familiar, that's because it's used in Cisco's Linksys E4200 and NETGEAR's WNDR4000 as the 5 GHz band radio. Neither of these routers produced very impressive performance in the recent three-stream tests using my standard Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 three-stream N test client.

So I didn't expect any miracles from Apple and didn't get any, even with the outboard amplifiers that you can see in photo above. The photo is too fuzzy to completely identify the external parts, but the ones on the left appear to be from SiGe.

Figure 3 shows the Gen 4 radio board, where I could make out the numbers on the larger external parts on the right-hand 5 GHz radio. Those were SIGE 2537L 5 GHz Power Amplifier with Power Detectors.

Gen 4 Airport Extreme radio board
Figure 3: Gen 4 AirPort Extreme radio board

This time, after zooming in on Figure 2 enough, I was able to tell that the external components in the left-side 2.4 GHz radio are from SiGe. But it looks like the right-side 5 GHz radio components are not from SiGe.

The Gen 5 AirPort Extreme retains the funky two single-band, two dual-band antenna design of its predecessor. But this time it seems Apple got everything connected correctly the first time instead of erroneously swapping a pair of connections as it did on the first Gen 4s, killing 2.4 GHz band performance for lower signal levels.




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More Surprises From The New Airport Extreme
About That New Airport Extreme...
Three Stream N Performance: Two More
Apple's New AirPort Extreme Offers No Innovation
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User reviews

Average user rating from: 5 user(s)

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4.5 Features :
 
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My Escape From Endless Router-Induced Heartache

Overall rating: 
 
4.3
Features:
 
4.0
Performance:
 
4.0
Reliability:
 
5.0
Reviewed by hexomega
April 13, 2013
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I used to be a router snob. I used to scoff at the Airport Extreme and I was a purist who used DD-WRT and Linksys and nothing else. I'd grown up thinking that no matter how much you tweak things, routers were just faulty and had to be reset from time to time. This was the norm for me. And they'd rarely last more than two years. I have used the E4200 (x3, every single one succumbed to the same issues), the E3000 (again, issues), a $70 D-link (cannot remember the model name, it was a gift), over four different models of Netgear including the revered N750.

This is the only router that I have been able to use without hassle. It's true, I did sacrifice some features, but in truth I don't miss them at all because I'm too busy having a router that works with many devices in a three story townhome. It's on the top floor and signal on the bottom floor is fantastic. I had signal issues to the lower floor on my E4200 to the point where I was forced to use ethernet on any devices downstairs. Not to mention constant speed problems, dropping to as low as 1mbps.

I've had the Airport Extreme since late 2011. I have not once had to restart it for any reason. I have not once had speed problems like I had on the Linksys, D-link, and Netgear routers. The only other options at this point on this website are more expensive or the same price as my Airport Extreme and I don't consider them worth the hassle. If I ever do need a new router I may consider ASUS.

The most important thing about this router is that it has worked. It has worked very well, and very efficiently. For the first time in over two years I've actually been getting the speeds I pay for with my router (I was lucky to hit 50% of it before). I do quite a bit of online gaming, video streaming, hosting a server from my house, downloading large files, and I have been able to organize and give priority to what needs priority. Nothing of value has been sacrificed except maybe a few extra dollars.

Honestly, the only con about my purchase is that I wish I could go back in time and slap myself for stubbornly spending hundreds of dollars on routers that were just inconsistent at best. I could have saved myself the time and money and bought the extreme after the E4200 died.

 

Non-Apple user finds Airport Extreme to be excellent!

Overall rating: 
 
4.7
Features:
 
4.0
Performance:
 
5.0
Reliability:
 
5.0
Reviewed by Varxx
January 16, 2013
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Desperate to have a stable, fast wifi network in my two-story home, I believe I've tried all of the high-end routers available as of Dec. 2012. I've used this site as an info source for my search. Of these routers, only the Apple Airport Extreme 5th Gen. router has been able to do the job flawlessly.

I marked it 4 instead of 5 only in the Features category, as I don't believe the router has some of the fine-grained controls that the other pro-sumer models have. But I can easily live without those if I have a fast wifi network that doesn't disconnect.

My situation may be made more complicated by the fact that my house has aluminum siding and that the wifi signal has to pass through at least two, and sometimes more, layers of the siding to get to the entire house. The Western Digital MyNet N900 was doing a good job until the holidays came and the number of online devices went up (more kids around meant more cell phones and notebooks, plus video streaming time -- Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, Skype -- went up). The the WD router started choking, maybe because of an overheating problem. But the Apple, despite having come on the market in mid-2011, has been a workhorse. And I won't even go into how easy the thing is to set up. As an longtime computer and home network user, I don't necessarily appreciate the hand-holding and even find it off-putting, but Apple does do a nice job with this aspect.

The Apple was the very last of these routers that I tried, since I'm from a Linux and Windows background entirely. I've been pleased with my daughter's MacBook that has gotten her through college without needing any intervention, so I knew that Apple was capable of producing decent equipment. But I have been very, very impressed.

If you're having trouble finding a wifi router that does the job, give this one a try.

 

Airport Extreme Works Good

Overall rating: 
 
4.3
Features:
 
4.0
Performance:
 
4.0
Reliability:
 
5.0
Reviewed by Zach Hudson
November 14, 2011
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The Airport Extreme is a nicely put together device. I have setup MANY routers through the years, but the Airport Extreme is one of the easiest routers I have ever setup. It does not have a web interface, but that is part of what makes it so simple. You don't have to type in a IP address in your web browser, you just run the Airport Utility.

There are some features missing, as mentioned in this review, but if you want a fast and reliable router then the Airport Extreme will work for you. Another benefit is Apple's support.

Note: Most of the features not included in the Airport Extreme are NOT deal breakers for home environments, which is what the router is geared towards.

 

Good performance, easy to use, very reliable

Overall rating: 
 
4.3
Features:
 
4.0
Performance:
 
4.0
Reliability:
 
5.0
Reviewed by Jozz
October 29, 2011
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OK, it is considered overpriced by many and purely looking at features and performance (as with other Apple products) it probably is.

But performance and features are more than adequate, it is very easy to configure, and very reliable: it just works - always. No nagging software bugs that (e.g.) interrupt audio streams or require you to reboot the thing because it freezes up.

 

Excellent router

Overall rating: 
 
4.7
Features:
 
4.0
Performance:
 
5.0
Reliability:
 
5.0
Reviewed by Alpha64
September 12, 2011
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I purchased this router as an upgrade to 3 stream from my 2 stream original edition WNDR3700. I was initially inclined toward this router because of the review over at anandtech. I used my WNDR3700 and this router both as simply access points. The performance increase on both my 13" early 2011 MBP and my Dell Latitude E6400 with an Intel 6300 wireless card was significant.

I see real-world wireless throughput over 200Mbps with the 5th Gen Airport Extreme on both of these laptops. With the WNDR3700, I never saw over about 130Mbps.

It all, I am very happy with the upgrade, and would highly recommend this router. I the airport extreme over the WNDR4000, because I decided with this router upgrade to start using WPA2 Enterprise, which the WNDR4000 does not support (according to the review of it on this site).

 
 

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