Apple has been playing it cool on the WiFi side of things lately. It started with the previous Airport Extreme (Gen 4) which quietly introduced three spatial stream support, followed up by the Early 2011 MacBook Pro update which brought a three spatial stream compliant WLAN stack, and now has continued with an even more understated update for the Time Capsule (4th generation) and Airport Extreme (5th generation).

Both updates launched just prior to this latest round of Apple launches, which included the Mac Mini, Macbook Air, and Thunderbolt Display, but unlike those three, the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme updates saw almost no mention. Starting with the exterior packaging, you’d be hard pressed to tell that a particular Time Capsule or Airport Extreme is the newer refresh. I no longer have the old Airport Extreme packaging, but the new device box is virtually indistinguishable. Outside of bumping the supported storage capacity for the Time Capsule up to 3TB, there’s no real obvious giveaway for the Time Capsule either.

The only way to tell which version is which by looking at the box is by the model numbers—MD031LL/A for the 5th generation Airport Extreme, and MD032LL/A for the 2TB 4th generation Time Capsule.

The contents of the Airport Extreme box remain the same as well, starting with the device itself on top, and underneath it, a power cable, 12 volt power supply (model A1202) and some literature about setup in a white plastic bag.

The Time Capsule box is much the same affair, with the device inside, a power cable, no power supply (since it’s internal), and some literature.

I stacked all three devices up so you can compare physically. Really the only big giveaway between the two Airport Extremes is an extra line of text on the previous generation, and of course the model number or FCC ID. Both the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme still retain the same port configuration—four GigE ports, one USB 2.0 port, power, reset, and a Kensington security slot. Those four gigabit ethernet ports can either be used as a switch, or you can use the device as a router and then the leftmost port becomes WAN and the right three become LAN.

At this point it isn’t really looking like there’s much different, but exterior appearances can be deceptive.

FCC Docs - Increased Power
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  • Amia - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - link

    Under 5g my Mac air is getting 270mbps but my another laptop which used to get 300mbps using my previous router can only have 150mbps. Maybe just like Mac air apple doesn't want you to use dual band (40mhz) under 2.4ghz Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - link

    It would be nice to see a comparison of Airport with other brands of wireless routers. Reply
  • Flachr - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    I noticed that the 5g Extreme's country field in the airport utiliy is limited to very few countries while all my previous TC's had a long list of countries to choose from.
    Is Apple now tailoring devices to regions? Is there a way to get the longer list of countries back to select from?
    Reply
  • IdBuRnS - Monday, August 22, 2011 - link

    I have been using my Airport Extreme (MD031LL/A) for about a week and a half now and I'm loving it. It replaced an old Netgear G router so it's like night and day between the two when it comes to streaming wirelessly.

    Since I have FiOS I only use it as an AP (FiOS router is in my wiring closet in my garage which puts it out of range for all my devices) but so far I couldn't be happier.
    Reply
  • Jack iCaseReview - Friday, August 26, 2011 - link

    I don't think the AirportExtreme will ever be a good solution for massive network backups. For small backups it great, but anything too big, and it somewhat slow....

    Jack
    editor - www.iCaseReview.com
    Reply
  • MarsMSJ - Sunday, September 04, 2011 - link

    I had bought an E4200 to replace a WRT310N that started acting up (going unresponsive.) I had issues where I would get abysmal download speeds on wired. I moved my cable modem to as few splits as possible and that resolved most of the issue (though I argue that my speeds were fast for a year until 2-3 weeks ago and the split had nothing to do with it. Now I get 8-12 where as I had 12-15 for though it's better then the .5 I was getting.)

    Anyway I noticed right away that when connecting the E4200 my speeds are cut by a 1/2 in comparison to connecting directly to the modem. I upgraded to the latest firmware which not only did not fixed the issue, but broke other features of this router (media server does not work among other things.) Cisco is testing new firmware that won't be available until the end of September if everything goes well.

    I found this out because I got an the new Airport Extreme Gen 5 for my side of the house recently. I got curious and switched out the new AE and saw that my speeds were as fast as connected directly to the modem. I spent my Saturday night testing these both by themselves and my notebook and confirmed the E4200 is cutting internet speeds in half. When I hooked everything up the speeds were similar to when I was the only device connected to it.

    Right now I have the AE Gen 5 connected to the modem on the other side of the house while the old WRT310 is on my side with my devices wired in (no wireless on my side for the moment.) Wired into the WRT310 which is wired to the AE Gen 5 (we have a 100 foot cable that runs outside along the roof) and using speedtest.net (used them and the same server for all testing) I get 7-9 Mbps compared to the 2-4 on the E4200.

    Something is definitely wrong and luckily I got the E4200 at Best Buy on sale (130USD though it's back up to 180) and they have a 45 day return policy for Reward Zone Silver members (Dad bought a mac book pro from them thus spent enough to qualify.) I will be returning it and maybe getting another AE Gen 5 or just waiting it out to see if the new firmware fixes the E4200 download/upload speed issue. (I can live without wireless in my room for month.) If you're debating, now is not the time to buy an E4200.
    Reply
  • milan03 - Saturday, September 17, 2011 - link

    You can totally share a printer using Airport Express. I've been doing it since the 4th Gen. Reply
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