Mac Musings

AirPort Extreme Should Drive Full Line Overhaul at Apple

Dan Knight - 2003.01.09 - Tip Jar

The biggest drawbacks of AirPort were speed, range, and the titanium case of the PowerBook G4. AirPort Extreme improves the first two, and the new aluminum PowerBooks solves the third problem.

Five Times Faster

As a ballpark figure, AirPort Extreme (a.k.a. IEEE 802.11g) is five times faster than AirPort (IEEE 802.11b). More precisely, it's rated at 54 Mbps vs. 11 Mbps for the older protocol. I'll let the anal types quibble over 4.9 times faster vs. 5, but it's a huge improvement - and half the speed of 100Base-T ethernet.

Home on the Range

The old AirPort was rated to 300', and AirPort Extreme cuts that in half to 150' - so why did I say it improved things? Because AirPort Extreme offers both higher range and lower range modes. Through software, you can turn down the power so that only those in a single room or building are covered. Or you can add an external antenna to increase the range to 250' in all directions or up to 500' in a single direction.

Aluminum

Aluminum isn't just lightweight; it's inexpensive and interferes less with the frequencies AirPort and AirPort Extreme use than titanium does. Expect Apple to switch the 15.2" PowerBook to aluminum with the next revision.

Uh Oh

Are there any drawbacks to AirPort Extreme? It's as affordable, it's faster, and it provides more range options. The only drawback: You have to have an AirPort Extreme ready computer.

That's two models right now, the 12" AlBook and the 17" AlBook. The iBook, the TiBook, the iMac, the eMac, and the PowerMac only support "classic" AirPort, not 802.11g. Major bummer.

On the other hand, the new AirPort Extreme hubs are backwards compatible with the old AirPort standard, so you can buy the new hub, use it with your current hardware, and know that when you buy your next Mac, it will probably support AirPort Extreme.

Anticipation

Until I discovered that AirPort Extreme cards didn't work in older Macs, I figured Apple could wait until the March-May period to release updated versions of the iBook and PowerBook. I believe AirPort Extreme is significant enough that Apple should revise the iBook and TiBook as soon as practical.

For the iBook, it should be relatively trivial. Since the 12" AlBook shares much of the iBook's design, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Apple offer a revised iBook within 4-6 weeks. Processor speed boosts can wait; AirPort Extreme cannot.

It's a whole different story with the TiBook, which should be overhauled to use aluminum during the redesign process. Again, processor speed is not really an issue, but wireless networking speed certainly is.

At the same time, the iMac, Power Mac, and eMac are aging. What better time to replace them than in the next month or two as Mac users clamor for AirPort Extreme? I suspect the entire Apple line will be revised, or at least have announced revisions, to support AirPort Extreme by the end of February at the latest.

AirPort Extreme is as big a breakthrough as the original AirPort was, and it could easily become a compelling reason for iBook and TiBook owners to upgrade to hardware that supports it, further promoting 2003 as the year of the 'Book.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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