So this weekend, I continued the inevitable 'Apple-izing' of my life. I picked up one of Apple's new Airport Extremes.
The Airport Extreme is an 802.11n (draft) wireless router. Basically, its a really fast wireless router. It runs at a good 10 times the speed of the old 802.11g wireless standard. It also has a USB 2.0 port built into the router. This gives you the very handy ability to plug USB printers and external hard drives into it and share those on the network. This was actually the main reason I bought it. I have several external USB hard drives and I thought it would be useful to have those shared for backup purposes. I actually haven't connected those yet, but will soon.
As for the wireless capabilities? So far, it works quite well. The only real wireless device s I have right now are a Nintendo DS and a Nintendo Wii. Both work perfectly connecting to the router if you connect with no wireless security. I wasn't able to get the DS to connect using WEP wireless security, but I got the Wii to connect perfectly using WEP. The Wii even seems considerably faster browsing the Internet on this new router than it did on the old 802.11g router I used to have. The thing is going faster despite the fact that now I'm using security and before I wasn't. This is a clear sign that the Wii is getting a better signal from the new router than it did from the old. I'll have to do some work and try to figure out how to get the DS to connect using WEP encryption.
The configuration of this thing is a bit unusual though (at least for me). Every other router I've ever owned was configured over a web interface. Basically you connect to your router's web site and change whatever settings you want. The Extreme doesn't do that. It provides an administration program (for OS X and Windows) that does all this work. While the program is quite capable and the router seems to have all the usual features, I kind of find this lack of a web interface troublesome. I don't like the fact that you can only use Windows or OS X to administer the thing. What if you were running Linux? You are out of luck. What if you were running Solaris? You are out of luck. I run Vista on my PC at home. I haven't tried the admin tool on Vista yet to see if it works. If it doesn't, that's another bad problem. By forcing you to use a custom admin program instead of a standard web interface, you are limiting people to the computers you *want* to support. With a web interface, ANY computer running any OS could work. Hell, with a web interface, I could administer the thing from my Wii! Here, I'm out of luck.
The design of it is quite nice. It's a simple white, square box. The box is exactly the same dimensions as the Mac Mini, but not as tall. I would say it's maybe 1/2 to 2/3 the height of a Mac Mini (which is very small). It also has NO antennas sticking up on it. Despite the lack of visible antennas, it seems to give off a very good signal. This lack of antennas is a very nice change over all the other N routers I've seen. All those things have these big, ugly antennas sticking up everywhere. This box has a nice, typically clean and simple Apple look to it.
Another nice feature is that it also comes with a really long power cord. This was a nice addition because my router sits on the TOP of my computer desk (a good 6 feet from the floor). If it had a short power cord, it would be difficult to put it up there without a cord dangling down, connected to an extension cord.
I was surprised to see how easy these things were to find this weekend. I'd been going by the Apple store for the last few weeks looking for it without any luck. They've been selling them as fast as they could come in. Now suddenly this weekend, they had 3 available at the Apple store and a good dozen or so available at CompUSA. Maybe I just got lucky, or maybe they are just finally starting to get these things out to the stores in large quantities. I think they should be fairly easy to find now, if you want one.
Other than my slight concern with their odd choice of admin tools, this seems to be a quite capable router. I'm quite happy with it so far. I'll have to try the USB HD sharing and report back on how well that works...