802.11ac Airport Extreme Time Capsule unboxing and first impressions

Extruded. That's the word Apple's SVP of Marketing, Phil Schiller, used to describe the new 802.11ac Airport Extreme and Time Capsule at WWDC 2013. Tall also came to mind immediately. Its footprint is smaller now, like the redesigned Airport Express, but for an internet router and base station, its height is significantly exaggerated. 3.85-inches square, it juts 6.6 inches up now. So, is it both less and more...?

The biggest advantage to the new design, as far as I'm concerned, is that the power supply is now built-in, and I have one less brick dangling behind the gear table (which in my case, since I have a cable modem, is shoved ingloriously behind my ironically cable-cut TV). The Airport Extreme and Time Capsule (which is an Airport Extreme with built-in hard drive) now also share the same exact body. There's enough space to fit 2TB or 3TB of platters inside the tiny tower, if you want super simple Time Machine backups, or simply remote storage along for the ride. (Though you can't add an internal drive to an Airport Extreme later, so you'll need to decide that up front.)

Apple claims the new form factor takes up less desk space, which is true provided you weren't trying to cram it under something, but also puts the antennas at the top, giving them a slightly higher profile. There are six of those antennas now, by the way, 3 each for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. There's also 3-stream 802.11ac, which Apple says maxes out at 1.3Gbps, and double the channel bandwidth, at 80MHz.

Lastly, Phil Schiller's favorite new feature -- and admittedly my own -- is beamforming. That means instead of blanketing an area in coverage, it detects 802.11ac devices coming onto the network and then shoots its signal directly at them. Think of it like a lightbulb that can turn into a flashlight. Or, you know, the Eye of Sauron.

The only downside for me is that Apple didn't take the opportunity to add more ethernet ports. The new Airport Extreme has just three, same as the old Airport Extreme. While 802.11ac should make for better wireless, Battlestar Galactica types like me, the ones who prefer plugging in Apple TVs, Macs, PlayStations, Xboxes, and more, will have to make hard choices, or add often sucky or noisy additional routers into the chain. Also, the USB port -- great for printers and (non performant) hard drive expansion, remains depressingly USB 2.

I've also picked up one of the new 2013 MacBook Air's and will be putting the two parts through their paces together. The new air is currently the only device Apple makes that supports 802.11ac but it's hard to imagine the next generation of Mac and iOS devices both won't ship with this speedy new technology as well.

So, in the meantime, if you have any questions or want to make sure something specific gets covered, hit the comments.

  • $199 - Airport Extreme - Buy now
  • $299 - Airport Extreme Time Capsule 2GB - Buy now

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

802.11ac Airport Extreme Time Capsule unboxing and first impressions


Meh.. I can't mount it on my wall or sealing. Routers are not meant to be seen.. meant to be hidden in sealing or back room. I don't want my cable mess on my desk!

Looks cool, but I need new Apple equipment to take advantage of the new Wireless Spec. Also an unboxing outside is a different way to do this. Nice Job.

You must have been really excited to get this Rene. Couldn't even wait to get inside before opening it! :)

I was in the market for a time capsule, so I bought one of these last week. It was simple to set up, and has worked as advertised, though I am a little disappointed in the signal strength; my devices often pick up a stronger signal from my included-from-the-ISP 2wire router rather than this one, even though it is in a closet and the Extreme is out in the open.

Airport Extreme / Time Capsule height: 6.6 inches.
Mac Pro diameter: 6.6 inches.
Coincidence? Yes, absolutely.

May be its just me, but i really wish the backup was to two 2.5" HDD running in Mirror mode in case one HDD suddenly failed. Instead of just one 3.5" HDD.

Picked up a Belkin AC router at COSTCO for $90! My Galaxy S4 is wicked fast on wifi since it can utilize AC spectrum! oh wrong forum... well my Macbook Pro, iPads and Apple TV are all faster too!

I have a cable modem right now, but Airport Extreme doesn't have any cable connections. How do I connect my cable (ISP) to my Apple Airport?