Available in 3 varieties - Express, Extreme, and Time Capsule.
At a Glance
- Apple's AirPort base stations are designed to create or expand Wi-Fi networks, providing dual-band connectivity in addition to other features like music playback, wireless printing, and wireless backups.
- 802.11n/ac Wi-Fi
- Wireless printing
- Hard drive sharing
- Automatic backups
AirPort Express (802.11n): $99 AirPort Extreme (802.11ac): $199 AirPort Time Capsule (802.11ac): - $299: 2 TB storage - $399: 3 TB storage
Apple's AirPort Express is its entry-level AirPort base station, designed to be easy to use and affordable. Priced at $99, it offers dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi along with AirPlay for wireless music playback and wireless printing.
At $199, the AirPort Extreme is Apple's mid-level base station, offering dual-band higher-speed 802.11ac Wi-Fi, printer and hard drive sharing, and a stronger signal due to its high-rise design and six antennas.
Apple's AirPort Time Capsule, priced at $299 to $399, is essentially an AirPort Extreme with a built-in hard drive that facilitates automatic wireless backups using Apple's Time Machine software. It offers 802.11ac and all of the features of the AirPort Extreme, with the addition of a 2 or 3 TB hard drive.
All of Apple's AirPorts include a built-in Network Address Translation (NAT) firewall to create a barrier between a network and the Internet, along with password encryption and closed network options.
While both the AirPort Extreme and the AirPort Time Capsule were last updated in June 2013 with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but the 802.11n AirPort Express has not been updated since 2012.
In late May 2016, Apple's base stations disappeared from retail stores sparking speculation of a refresh, but just a week later, they returned to the store. It's believed a regulatory issue caused them to be temporarily pulled.
Apple is rumored to have stopped development on its line of AirPort wireless routers, suggesting we will not see refreshed devices in the future. Apple engineers who worked on the AirPort lineup have transitioned to other product teams as Apple aims to focus more on products that generate the "bulk of its revenue."
The AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule remain available for purchase, but could potentially be discontinued in the future. Apple will instead direct consumers to third-party wireless router and backup options, but has not officially confirmed that development has stopped.
Despite the apparent lack of development on AirPort products, Apple is rumored to be working on a device that would serve as sort of a whole home hub like the Amazon Echo, and it's possible wireless connectivity could be built into that product.
In More Detail
The AirPort Extreme is Apple's fully-featured high-performance Wi-Fi base station, which was given a significant update and radical redesign in June of 2013.
Taking on a tall, cubic shape, the new sixth-generation AirPort Extreme supports the three-times-faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol, which reaches data rates of up to 1.3 Gbps and offers 80MHz-wide channels for double the channel bandwidth.
Though it takes up more volume than the previous generation, at 6.6 inches tall, its 3.85-inch base gives it a smaller overall footprint than the previous AirPort Extreme. With the new shape comes the addition of new antennas, including 3 for the 2.4Ghz spectrum and three for the 5Ghz spectrum.
The AirPort Extreme's newfound height is designed to optimize range and signal strength by elevating the antennas while also facilitating beamforming, a function that automatically locates 802.11ac devices and targets Wi-Fi signals towards those devices for optimum performance.
With the AirPort Disk feature, users can plug a USB hard drive into the AirPort Extreme to function as a network-attached storage device for both Mac and Windows clients. Both USB hubs and printers are also supported, allowing shared wireless printing.
The AirPort Extreme features three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a USB 2.0 port for disk and printer sharing, a built-in file server, and support for AirPlay. Though the AirPort Extreme uses the same hardware as the AirPort Time Capsule, with space for a hard drive, it is not possible to connect a third party hard drive within the device. It is compatible with 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac specifications.
AirPort Time Capsule
Apple's AirPort Time Capsule is a router/storage hybrid device that is designed to combine the full functionality of the AirPort Extreme base station with additional storage that is designed to run Apple's Time Machine backup software. The fifth-generation version, which supports the faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol, debuted on during Apple's June 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference.
It includes the same specifications, features, and ports included with the AirPort Extreme, but adds an internal 2–3 TB hard drive to facilitate system backups. Using Apple's Time Machine backup software, the Time Capsule captures hourly images of files that are altered, condensing older images to save space.
The 2 TB Time Capsule retails for $299, while the 3 TB Time Capsule retails for $399.
Last updated in June of 2012, the AirPort Express is Apple's compact, affordable Wi-Fi base station. Unlike the Time Capsule and the AirPort Extreme, the AirPort Express has yet to be updated with support for the faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi, instead offering only 802.11a/b/g/n simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi.
The AirPort Express, when connected to an Ethernet network, is designed to act as a wireless access point, like the AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule. It supports 50 networked users and can be used to extend the range of an existing network.
Apple's AirPort Express supports AirPlay, allowing it to stream audio from a computer running iTunes or an iOS device to a stereo system or AirPlay-compatible speakers and it supports wireless printing. It comes with 2 Ethernet ports (WAN AND LAN), an analog/digital audio output jack, and a USB printer port. It is compatible with 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n specifications.
Apple's line of AirPort products are set up and managed with Apple's AirPort Utility apps for iOS and Mac. The software provides a graphical overview of both the Wi-Fi network and connected devices, allowing users to change base station and network settings.
Guest networks can also be initiated from AirPort Utility, offering a way to create a secondary network to avoid handing out Wi-Fi passwords. The software is also used to restart or restore base stations and for updating firmware. Apple regularly updates AirPort Utility, adding additional functionality.