For those who missed it, AirPort Extreme is based on the 802.11g specification (which has not become a formal standard yet), has 54 Mbps bandwidth (almost five times as fast as 11 Mbps 802.11b AirPort), and is backward compatible with the existing 802.11b wireless standard.
What more could you ask for?
Compatibility with older Macs, for one thing.
Apple’s AirPort Extreme card currently works with exactly two Macs: the 12″ and 17″ PowerBooks. The hardware is not backwards compatible with the AirPort slots in older Macs.
Apple Is Not Alone
Fortunately, Apple is not the only company to make or announce 802.11g wireless networking products. According to an article on TidBITS, Belkin, Linksys, D-Link, and Buffalo Technology are also in the “extreme” camp.
The good news is that these companies not only have wireless hubs that cost less than Apple’s AirPort Extreme hub, but they also offer PC Cards for PowerBooks, and some have PCI cards for desktop Macs as well. That still leaves iMacs and iBooks out in the cold, but these companies are providing support for older Macs – something Apple isn’t doing.
Prices are in US dollars and are from the manufacturer where possible, from online vendors otherwise. Street prices may vary.
UPDATE: Since the release of AirPort 3.1, users have discovered that the Belkin, Buffalo, and Linksys PC Cards work flawlessly without any need for non-Apple drivers.
Linksys has a long reputation for very poor or nonexistent Mac support. Its Wireless-G hardware may well work with Macs, but according to several members of our mailing lists, Linksys comes as close to being Mac-hostile as any hardware vendor they know.
Linksys has announced four 802.11g products:
- WAP54G Wireless-G Access Point. $150 at CDW.
- WRT54G Wireless-G Broadband Router. Includes 4-port 10/100 ethernet switch. $140 at CDW.
- WPC54G Wireless-G Notebook Adapter. PC Card for laptops. $86 at CDW.
- WMP54G Wireless-G PCI Card. PCI card for desktops. $70 at CDW.
I have no experience with Buffalo Technology, so I can’t predict how well they will support Mac users. Their AirStation G54 hardware includes just two items:
- WBR-G54 AirStation G54 Wireless Broadband Router. 4-port ethernet switch. $125 at Zones.com.
- WLI-CG-G54 AirStation G54 Wireless Cardbus. PC Card for laptops. $49 at Zones.com.
According to the TidBITS article, Buffalo has provided limited Mac support in the past.
Belkin used to be known as a cable company, but they’ve really branched out into networking. Their 54g Wireless Networking products include
- F5D7230-4 54g Wireless Cable/DSL Gateway Router. Appears to include a 4-port 10/100 ethernet switch. $150
- F5D7130 54g Wireless Network Access Point. $140
- F5D7010 54g Wireless Notebook Network Card. PC Card for laptops. $80
- F5D7000 54g Wireless Desktop Network Card. PCI card for desktops. $80
According to TidBITS, Belkin has promised classic Mac drivers for their 802.11g hardware that will support “extreme” wireless networking on Mac OS 8.6 and later. That’s awesome low-end Mac support!
UPDATE: In June, Belkin announced that it would not be delivering Mac drivers for its 54g PC Card. Since AirPort 3.1 solves the problem in OS X, the only ones left out in the cold are those who had hoped for classic Mac OS support for 802.11g.
Mac users are probably familiar with D-Link as the company that makes the Bluetooth adapter that Apple sells. Well, that’s just the tip of the D-Link iceberg. Their AirPlus Xtreme G line of hardware complements their other networking hardware and nods the head to Apple’s AirPort Extreme branding.
D-Link has announced four 802.11g products:
- DI-624 AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless Router. 4-port 10/100 ethernet switch. Advanced firewall control. $150
- DWL-2000AP AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless Access Point. $140
- DWL-G650 AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless CardBus Adapter. PC Card for laptops. $80
- DWL-G520 AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless PCI Adapter. PCI card for desktops. $90
No word on their level of Mac support, but considering that Apple has made them a preferred vendor and that D-Link has come up with a name similar to Apple’s AirPort Extreme, I suspect they’ll be actively pursuing the Mac market.
Apple’s AirPort Extreme hubs offer one feature none of these others do – USB printer support. You can connect a USB printer to either AirPort Extreme hub and print to it from any Mac on the network, wired or wireless. That might give the Apple products an edge.
Apple’s $250 AirPort Extreme hub also includes a 56k modem that can be used for dialup Internet access or for dial-in access to computers on your network. That may be very practical for you, or it may be something you’d never need.
Comparing the wireless routers vs. access points, the extra $10 gets you four switched ethernet ports. For a smaller network, that can be all the hub you need. Unless you have no need for wired devices, I recommend picking a router instead of the simpler, slightly less expensive access point.
At $50-80, the PC Cards supporting 802.11g are a great alternative to today’s 802.11b cards – as long as the manufacturer has drivers for your Mac. Check before buying.
I can’t speak to the practicality of adding a $70-90 PCI card to a desktop vs. running an ethernet cable, but if running the cable is prohibitive, this could be a sensible option.
But after reading the TidBITS article and seeing the prices on these alternatives, I’ve put that plan on hold. Yes, connecting my Epson Stylus Photo 870 to the network would be nice, but putting a five-times-faster extreme wireless card in my TiBook would be even nicer.
I can buy an 802.11g router and PC Card for less than the cost of Apple’s least expensive AirPort Extreme hub. From a value standpoint, I have to consider that my best option. I can buy a hub, buy a PC card, put my old AirPort card in my wife’s iBook, and have two computers on the wireless network for less than $200. And mine will have much faster network access, which will be a big plus for backup and accessing our file server.
Except for those Macs that can’t support a PC Card or PCI card, AirPort is dead. Just bypass it and buy compatible 802.11g hardware instead.
I’ve got messages in to D-Link and Belkin asking about availability and compatibility. I hope to pick one or the other in coming weeks – and review the one I choose on Low End Mac once I’ve got everything up and running.
Finally, wireless networking that’s both backward compatible and fast enough for the future.
Publisher’s update: Since 2003, USB WiFi adapters have become the best and easiest way to add wireless access to older Macs. As with the hardware mentioned in this article, just make sure the USB dongle has Mac support.
Keywords: #airportextreme #80211g