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Wireless Reviews

Airport Extreme Base Station - Simultaneous Dual Band
At a glance
ProductApple Airport Extreme Base Station - Simultaneous Dual Band (MC340LL/A)   [Website]
SummaryLatest version of Apple's 802.11n router with disappointing wireless performance.
Pros• Two radios for simultaneous dual-band operation
• High routing speed
Cons• No web administration
• Poor wireless range performance
• Can't use 40 MHz mode in 2.4 GHz
• No jumbo frame support
• Disk sharing choked on 1 GB file transfer

Typical Price: $90  Shop Amazon  Buy Direct

Introduction

Update 11/13/2009: Added link to follow-up article

Well, it turns out that Apple never even responded to my review request this time. But my curiousity about whether Apple was performing a stealth seeding of three-stream routers in the the wild got the better of me. So I broke down and bought the new MC340LL/A model to see for myself and ended up disappointed on multiple counts.

As soon as I cracked the case, I knew that my three-stream guess was wrong. Figure 1 shows only four antennas, which makes two per radio. And since three-stream routers require three transmit and receive chains, the new Extreme won't be getting a three-stream upgrade sometime in the future.

Inside the new  Airport Extreme Simultaneous
Click to enlarge image

Figure 1: Inside the new Airport Extreme Simultaneous

I was also wrong in my guess that Apple just slipped a new radio module into the old dual-radio Extreme. The previous article showed that the previous Extreme used two Atheros single-chip N radios: an AR9220 dual-band, 2x2 for 5 GHz; and an AR9223 single-band, 2x2 for 2.4 GHz on a mini-PCI module.

Once I got the main board freed from the thermal tape that bonds it to the heat sink blocks, which, in turn, sit on a combination RF shield / heatsink that covers the top of the router, the view shown in Figure 4 was revealed.

New Airport Extreme Simultaneous board
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2: New Airport Extreme Simultaneous board

This is actually an entirely new board, with an all-Marvell design (processor, switch, radios) and more RAM. The new processor is a Marvell 88F6281 1.2 GHz "Kirkwood", which is a popular choice in current-generation NASes, instead of the 88F5181 in the previous model. The switch is now a Marvell 88E6350R 7 Port Gigabit. But Apple's case design still allows only one WAN and three LAN ports to be exposed, none of which support jumbo frames.

RAM has been increased from 64 to 128 MB, but flash stayed the same at 16 MB. Note the big ol' button-cell battery, I guess to keep info alive in RAM. A glance at the bottom of the board revealed a Pericom PI7C9X20303UL PCIe Packet Switch, which I assume helps connect the new radio module to the CPU.

I didn't take the shield off the radio module, so was only able to see the two Marvell 88W8366 devices visible in the photo. Since Marvell keeps details on its devices to itself and its customers, I don't know anything about these devices. But two antenna connections per radio says that it's a dual-stream-only design.

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