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Apple Airport Extreme 2013

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Style over substance as Apple’s stylish debut 802.11ac router disappoints.

Score 6/10

 

Pros
Class leading design and build quality
Smooth Mac OS X & iOS setup
Strong 802.11n 5GHz performance

Cons
Poor 802.11ac & 802.11n 2.4GHz performance
3x Gigabit Ethernet
Single USB 2.0 port
Limited WPS support
Review Price £169.00

Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless; 3x Gigabit Ethernet; WPA/WPA2 encryption; USB 2.0 port; Integrated PSU
Manufacturer: Apple

What is the Apple AirPort Extreme (2013)?

As the brackets suggest, this is the 2013 edition of Apple’s AirPort Extreme wireless router. The big news this time around is Apple has added the next generation 802.11ac wireless standard to bring it up to date with the latest flagship routers from the likes of Asus, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear. Given the previous AirPort Extreme was released over two years ago, Apple has also overhauled the design, which the company claims is “rebuilt for speed”.

 

2011-2013

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Design

So what does this spruce up entail? Gone is the formerly flat, traditional rectangular design of the 2011 edition to be replaced by what can only be described as a white, elongated Apple TV (see comparison above). The logic is the switch in form factor allows Apple to position the antennas at the top, creating a higher platform for signal dispersal. It also reduces the Extreme’s desktop footprint by 64 per cent with the base measuring just 98 x 98mm compared to the 16.5 x 16.5mm of its predecessor.

This being Apple ‘rebuilt for speed’ isn’t the only motivation, there is no doubt that ‘rebuilt for style’ was also a key consideration as the AirPort Extreme is by far the best looking router we have ever seen. This might seem glib for a product which is essentially a white, angular tube, but the result is a router that is both minimalist and eye-catching and the gentle curves are simple yet dramatic enough that we can imagine Jonathan Ive agonising with his protractor for weeks.

A nice touch is Apple has built in the power supply to keep cabling neat. In short, the company has rewritten the rule book for router design.

Construction is outstanding, too. Typically we forgive routers their somewhat hollow and cheap plastic construction because of the protests that this is needed to let signal pass through. Apple has scoffed at this and the new AirPort Extreme is solid, weighing in at a hefty 945g, and the casing is clearly cut in a single piece with beautifully drilled port and power slots.

If we were to quibble, Apple’s choice of a matt finish for the top and gloss finish for the sides is a little inconsistent, but it isn’t overly noticeable and both are highly resistant to fingerprints. It also seems laughable Apple has including just a single pinhole status light on the front, but many will stomach such wild impracticality for the superficial benefits it brings.
AirPort Extreme 2

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Features

2We haven’t talked so long about router design before so we’ll crack on through the features and the first thing to notice is the theme of minimalism continues, but this time in an area it is not welcome.

Of course the headline act is the new Extreme’s 802.11ac wireless and its backwards compatibility with 802.11a/b/g, but aside from this numerous corners are cut. Illustrating Apple’s stubbornness over standards it dislikes, the Extreme is the only modern, premium router we’ve seen to omit WPS and even takes the effort of fudging the standard with pin codes to connect WPS-based printers.

Apple isn’t overly keen on incorporating standards it does like either and, like the new Time Capsule range, the 2013 Extreme continues to ignore AirPlay missing out on a powerful differentiator. There are also just three Gigabit Ethernet ports rather than the usual four to accompany the WAN port and a single USB 2.0 port, for sharing a hard drive or printer across the network, when a minimum of two or at least one USB 3.0 port tends to be the bare minimum for high-end routers these days.

One the plus side, the Extreme can operate both as a router and wireless bridge (at which point the WAN port can be used as a fourth Gigabit LAN), there’s IPv6 support (which works over PPOE for the first time) and WPA and WPA2 encryption standards aboard. But it isn’t enough.

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Setup

Great looks and restricted functionality mean so far so very Apple, but does the cliché extend to the company’s slogan: ‘it just works’? Well yes and no.

2013-09-02-12-20-47

Approach the Extreme from Mac OS X and the setup is seamless. It detects not just any old router, but an Apple router and configures automatically and enables you to customise settings. The process is almost as straightforward with iOS, but once connected you will need to download the AirPort app for full configuration options, though that is painless enough.

When it comes to Windows, however, things become more complicated. There is no web browser control for the Extreme so users must download the ‘AirPort Utility for Windows’ which hasn’t been updated for the new model and is 15 months old. It is an ugly, text heavy window full of tabs, menus and tick boxes and we found it wasn’t always reliable in detecting the new Extreme.

AirPort-Extreme-UI

Hopefully things will improve if/when Apple brings Extreme management into iCloud to rival the Cloud platforms created by Asus, D-Link and Linksys, but right now it is a mess and we’d advise Windows users to steer clear even if they’re tempted by the Extreme’s design.

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Performance

High on style, light on substance and disinterested in other platforms continues the Apple stereotype, but unfortunately our test results found the Extreme eschews the company’s most important one: a premium user experience.

AirPort-Extreme-ACAirPort Extreme AC 2In our test environment at 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m behind two standing walls the Extreme’s wireless ac performance fell flat, hitting just 26.2MB/s (209.6Mb/s), 25.2MB/s (201.6Mb/s) and 19.8MB/s (158.4Mb/s).

These speeds make the Extreme the slowest wireless AC router we have tested at 2m. It improves dramatically by holding its speed at distance, but it still trails every wireless AC router we’ve tested this year and is a mile off the 2m record of 39.1MB/s (312.8Mb/s) for the Asus RT-AC66U and the 10m and 13m benchmarks of the Linksys EA6700 – which just edged the Asus – hitting 35.2MB/s (281.6Mb/s) and 28.8MB/s (230.4Mb/s).

When you’re beaten at 2m by a router at 13m behind two standing walls, it simply isn’t good enough.

There was better news for the Extreme when tested at 5GHz 802.11n. 2m, 10m and 13m test positions recorded 23.7MB/s (189Mb/s), 18MB/s (144Mb/s) and 9.72MB/s (77.62Mb/s), which place it right up with the fastest routers we have tested (the D-Link DIR-868L’s incredible 14.1MB/s at 13m aside).

AirPort Extreme 2.4GHzDisappointingly, however, the respite was brief as the Extreme’s 802.11n 2.4GHz performance was again off the pace. 7.78MB/s (62.24MB/s) at 2m is amongst the slowest speeds we’ve seen (bettered even by the PlusNet Fibre single band router) and while 10m performance held up better (7.49MB/s – 59.92Mb/s) at 13m rates of 2.54MB/s (20.32Mb/s) are roughly 50 per cent below what we would expect.

Lastly USB performance was little to write home about. The Extreme achieved 3.3MB/s (26.4Mb/s), which sits it squarely in the middle of the pack. This is enough to stream HD video, but as we have said many times before: until routers up their processor power all USB network connectivity will remain a damp squib.

5

Should I buy the Apple AirPort Extreme (2013)?

Even for those highly tempted by the Extreme’s good looks the answer is no. Functionality and performance fall flat and they are ultimately compounded by a £169.99 price tag. This makes the Extreme one of the most expensive 802.11ac routers we have tested (the bizarrely priced £179.99 Belkin AC1800 DB aside) and while 802.11n 5GHz performance is a lone shining light, every modern wireless AC rival gives it a good kicking.

Verdict

The most attractive, well crafted router on the market is sadly a letdown. The AirPort Extreme may have added 802.11ac to a great redesign but its performance falls flat and functionality is heavily compromised compared to other next gen alternatives. Apple detractors argue the company is about style over substance. That isn’t true, but sadly they are right in this case.

Scores In Detail

Build Quality 9/10
Design 9/10
Features 5/10
Performance 6/10
Usability 6/10
Value 5/10

Originally published on TrustedReviews, read it here

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