Apple has made fast even faster. The AirPort Extreme Base Station, in its first incarnation, achieved unprecedented speeds for Wi-Fi network transfers, topping 90Mbps of actual throughput in ideal circumstances. Even in less-than-perfect conditions, the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station with Gigabit ethernet — with a recently updated draft version of the 802.11n standard — beat its 802.11g predecessor.
- Significant speed boosts
- Gigabit ethernet support
- Improved USB file-transfer speeds
- Speed enhancements in complex network configurations
- Modest performance on crowded, lower frequency bands
Apple has refreshed its previous Base Station by upgrading ethernet from 10/100Mbps to 10/100/1000Mbps, with the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station offering Gigabit ethernet in parity with the speed found on almost the entire Mac lineup. The lack of Gigabit ethernet was our biggest carp in our last review.
The Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station with Gigabit ethernet goes beyond improving just the wired side of the network. By adding Gigabit ethernet, Apple took the governor off the top of the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station's engine, allowing it to shoot far above the previous model's limits. Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station network adaptors can now top 140 Mbps of throughput in an ideal case. As we speculated in our earlier review, internal ethernet speeds restricted 802.11n's top rate.
For this review, we ran the same tests we performed previously, and we added some new ones. The ideal case tested then — as now — is with the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station set to use the 5GHz spectrum band, one of two alternatives. The other choice, 2.4GHz, is crowded with older Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth device transmissions, cordless phones, and other interferers.
In the 5GHz band, the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station can use a wide channel, employing twice the frequency as standard 802.11b and 802.11g channels. This enabled us to achieve a consistent rate of 140Mbps from the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station 802.11n network interface in an Intel Core 2 Duo Macintosh transmitting to a Gigabit ethernet-equipped Mac attached to a local area network (LAN) port on the base station.
We found that speeds between two Apple 802.11n adaptors remained high, but unchanged: around 90Mbps throughput when sending a stream of packets from one wirelessly connected Mac to another, and about 50Mbps when sending simultaneously between Macs using the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station.
(Except for the 17in 1.87GHz iMac and Mac mini, all Macs with Intel Core 2 Duo processors include 802.11n. It's a build-to-order option on the Mac Pro. Macs purchased before this summer may need to install the 802.11n enabler, which is included on the disc that ships with the new Base Station. There is no Mac-compatible, third-party 802.11n adaptor that handles 5GHz signals, although QuickerTek offers 2.4GHz 802.11n cards and USB dongles.)
Performance in the busy 2.4GHz spectrum band was erratic due to real-world congestion where the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station was tested. After achieving poor performance, an Apple product manager suggested that we manually choose a Wi-Fi channel, rather than allowing the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station to pick an unused location via the default Automatic setting. (The device scans only for Wi-Fi networks, not other interference.)