Some Buyer Bewares

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2007-03-08 Print this article Print

However, despite the clients performance differences, we were pleased with the overall consistency we saw. In last years interoperability tests, we noted very spiky and irregular performance for almost every client-router pairing we tested. In these most recent tests, we experienced the opposite—clean and consistent results in different runs of the same pairing.

Buyer beware
While we are happy to see Apple leveraging 802.11ns dual-band capabilities, the companys marketing materials illustrate the need for caution when evaluating dual-band technology.
In our initial discussions about the AirPort Extreme, Apple officials said the equipment could boost throughput performance by five times and double range performance compared to Apples previous-generation 802.11g technology. But further prodding revealed that the performance claims were for the 5GHz band, while the range tests were done in the 2.4GHz band. As companies and home users start to look more seriously at 802.11n-based gear in the next two years, purchasers must remember to evaluate and judge a products claims against how the network will be deployed. Also, administrators should get acquainted with all the antenna options that come with these new MIMO (multiple input/multiple output)-based products. Most devices weve seen have three antennae, but buyers must check to see if all three antennae are for both receive and transmit (3x3) or two transmit with three receive (2x3). AirPort Extreme uncovered Keeping appearances simple and elegant, the Airport Extreme is housed in a stark white chassis measuring 6.5 inches along each side and only 1.3 inches thick. All antennae are integrated inside the device—one on each side of the front panel and a third on the back right corner. We found that the unit provided the best throughput performance if we aimed that corner in the direction from which we would be taking measurements, but the antenna placement provided good coverage in all directions. The AirPort Extreme includes a three-port 10/100 switch with a fourth port for a WAN connection. The unit also includes a USB, with which we could connect either a network printer or a USB storage device over the network. We configured the AirPort Extreme using AirPort Utility 5.0, which can be installed on systems based on either Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. We found the retooled AirPort Utility to be a significant improvement over past versions, offering better interaction with the actual device for logging functionality, while maintaining the ease-of-configuration management profile. The new version supports legacy Apple wireless gear as well. AirPort Utility offers a simple wizard to get the AirPort Extremes basic features up and working quickly, but we found much greater flexibility when managing the device in Manual Mode. In this mode, we could define which band we wished to support and whether we wanted to support legacy wireless clients, and we could choose from many wireless security features. WPA and WPA2 are both supported, in both the PSK and Enterprise flavors, as is WEP. Click here to read more about Apples 802.11n-compatible AirPort Extreme. The AirPort Extreme can be turned into a NAS storage device via the integrated USB port, but this feature still needs work—at least for Windows clients. The attached storage device must be formatted in Mac OS File System or in FAT32. Mac clients could see any of the disks we attached to the AirPort Extreme (as long as it was formatted on a Mac), but Windows clients could only access the disk if we formatted it in FAT32 on a Mac. If we formatted the disk on a Windows XP workstation, the AirPort Extreme could not discover the volume. (We were testing with USB flash drives rather than external hard drives, so Apple officials are investigating if the AirPort Extreme was handling flash drives differently than external hard drives.) The AirPort Extreme advertises the attached storage volume via AFP and SMB, but the easiest way by far to find the storage is to install the AirPort Disk Agent on either Windows XP or Mac OS X. The agent uses Apples Bonjour protocol to discover and advertise networking elements, so an AirPort Extreme-enabled drive instantly showed up in our Disk Agent, where we could access it simply by entering a password. However, the Bonjour protocol relies on multicast traffic, something that many wireless clients do not handle well. For example, our Lenovo client could never locate the AirPort Extremes volume via Bonjour, nor could we manage the Airport Extreme (with the AirPort Utility) from the Lenovo system because we could never discover the router to manage it. Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at

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