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On The Inside

Circuit board

Figure 3: Circuit board of the AirPort Extreme Base Station

The AirPort Extreme is powered by a Marvell 88F5281 processor and a Broadcom BCM5397 gigabit switch.

RF module

Figure 4: Mini PCI RF module

The radio in the AirPort Extreme base station uses an Atheros dual-band xSPAN chipset. With only a single radio, you have the option of operating on the 2.4 GHz or the 5 GHz band, but not on both bands simultaneously. This single band operation is probably the biggest limitation of the AirPort Extreme. 

Check out the slideshow See this slideshow for more construction details.

The only other currently-available dual-band draft 11n router—Buffalo’s Nfiniti Dual Band Router—allows for simultaneous operation on both bands. With simultaneous dual band operation, you could stream your high definition video content on the 5GHz band where there’s a lot of open spectrum available for 40 MHz (channel bonded) operation, and still maintain a separate data network for email and web access in the 2.4 GHz band.

Apple has chosen not to allow 40 MHz bandwidth operation in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. While this ensures that the AirPort Extreme will be a good neighbor with legacy wireless networks, throughput in the 2.4 GHz band will be lower than in the 5 GHz band where 40 MHz operation is permitted.

Setup

Marching to the beat of a different drummer, Apple eschewed traditional web browser-based configuration found on most wireless routers in favor of their own AirPort Utility. While lacking the ubiquity of a web browser, the AirPort Utility is tailored to provide the user with a good setup experience. 

Versions of the AirPort Utility for both the PC and the MAC platform are supplied on an accompanying CD. I installed both. and both versions worked, for the most part, identically.

If you drop by the Apple site and check out the reviews of the AirPort Extreme, the common thread is ease of setup. Indeed, using the AirPort Utility, the AirPort Extreme base station is quite simple to set up. You can be up and running in a matter of minutes.

When you first launch the AirPort utility, it searches for an AirPort base station. When you select the base station to configure, you either start through an eight-step wizard, or, for the more adventurous, select the Manual Configuration option.

Check out the slideshow Step through the setup wizard in this slideshow

Apple did a good job in choosing which steps to include in the setup process. Too many wireless routers don’t include either setting up wireless security or the option to change the default password as part of their configuration wizards.

For the majority of users, the basic configuration will be adequate. However, others may need or want to explore some of the additional features available using the Manual Configuration option.

Across the top of the Manual configuration screen, you’ll find five top-level icons: AirPort, Internet, Printers, Disks, and Advanced.

AirPort—This top-level menu has four sub-menus:

Summary provides a summary of your currently selected AirPort.

Manual config
Click to enlarge image

Figure 5: AirPort Utility—Manual Configuration Summary Screen

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