Apple Airport Extreme or Express?
September 13, 2009 10:13 PM   Subscribe

What is the difference between an Apple Airport Express Base Station, and an Airport Extreme Base Station? I have a tiny 500-square foot apartment. All I want is to be able to surf the web wirelessly. Can I go with the cheaper Express Base Station? Why is one cheaper than the other (in other words, what can the Extreme do that the Express cannot)?
posted by invisible ink to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Apple's website is pretty good here. The Extreme can share out a USB Drive (and with 10.5 and above you can use this as a drive as a place to Time Machine to). It also claims to let 50 people share the internet (vs just 10 for the express). The dual band radio lets both 802.11g and 802.11n devices connect at the same time without degrading everything to 802.11n. The Extreme also has a hub built in if you have some non wireless systems.

From my read of it, none of these extra features seem to matter to you. You should get the Express.
posted by mge at 10:31 PM on September 13, 2009

Best answer: The Express has only a single ethernet port - so it can either accept the cable and share it via WiFi, or it can accept WiFi and turn it into wired ethernet by acting as a bridge. The Extreme has more than one port, so it can serve computers and peripherals via ethernet and WiFi at the same time. Both will work with Airtunes, both will allow wireless access to a USB printer. Don't know if they support wireless access to a USB external hard drive.

Basically the Extreme can plug into your broadband and share it using ethernet cables and wireless at the same time. The Express only shares via wireless, or, in bridge or repeater mode, extends your existing wireless network. If you only have one computer, and don't need to plug it directly in to a cable for faster up/download speeds, and you don't have any other networked devices that are unable to use wireless, then you don't really need the Extreme.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:33 PM on September 13, 2009

Best answer: Prett comprehensive feature lists:

- The Extreme is dual-band, meaning if you connect a non-802.11n device to it, you don't slow down all connected devices. On most wireless routers, connecting an 802.11a/b/g device will disable 802.11n mode for all devices. On the current Extreme and Time Capsule, this is not the case.
- The Extreme has a USB port that isn't just for printer sharing, but can also be used to hang a hard drive from. (But so you know, it's not an officially supported Time Machine configuration. Citation.)
- The Extreme has several ethernet ports for doing LAN stuff.

The only thing the Express gives you that the Big Boy doesn't is AirTunes.
posted by secret about box at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2009

Agreed, if you just wanna surf the web, the Express is dandy. And you get AirTunes support!
posted by secret about box at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2009

Further agreeing - my tiny apartment network is all through an Express and it rocks. I use the Airtunes and I use the printer sharing, and it serves a bunch of data off my kitchen iMac server beautifully in bridge mode (to a cheapish Belkin router). Once upon a time the Airtunes would go out like every five minutes but then Apple updated some firmware or something and that awful problem hasn't been back. 802.11n is fast as balls too, if you get it set up nicely.
posted by roygbv at 10:55 PM on September 13, 2009

FWIW I have a 1st gen express and it has a crappy antenna. I would never use it as an AP. You might get by with it, but if you just want to surf, why don't you just buy a better non-Apple wireless router?
posted by wongcorgi at 11:04 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

802.11n is fast as balls

This is true, but keep in mind what I pointed out. The moment you connect anything that isn't operating in 802.11n mode, all of the wireless devices will be throttled down. (E.g., if you have a shiny new MacBook Pro connected via 802.11n, but then connect something running in 802.11g mode, your MBP will be throttled down to the slower 802.11g.)

For YouTubery and MetaFiltering, this won't be a problem you'll care about (or even notice). It generally becomes a concern once you want to communicate between devices. Keeping my vote for the Express. I used one for a long time and loved it (using a dual-band Time Capsule now).
posted by secret about box at 11:06 PM on September 13, 2009

From an ex-Apple support guy, Mikey-San's answer is the most comprehensive and accurate answer I've seen. One additional note is that 802.11n will ONLY be useful to you if you are
a) sharing large amounts of data between devices on your home network, or
b) using an internet connection approaching or exceeding 50Mb speeds.
If you are a single person in an apartment with one computer, and do not have a blazingly fast net connection, 802.11n really won't make enough difference to be noticed.
posted by fearnothing at 1:38 AM on September 14, 2009

I have a 802.11g Express from 2007, and have used it to serve wireless in a small apartment. It needed a lot rebooting and we had a lot of dropped client connections. I now use a Time Capsule (which incorporates an 802.11n Airport Extreme, essentially) and it's much more robust. So, one anecdote against the Express being reliable. Speed, when the Express worked, was no better or worse (running the Time Capsule in 802.11g-compatible mode / with g-devices on the network).
posted by galaksit at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2009

Mikey-San's answer is correct for the original Airport Extreme but incorrect for the new Airport Extreme units , since they have two separate chips handling things -- adding a 802.11b or 802.11g device will not slow down the 802.11n traffic.
posted by mikeh at 8:38 AM on September 14, 2009

Best answer: 802.11n has the added benefit of maintaining a better signal range, being more resistant to signal interference from outside sources. If he has a tiny 500 sq.ft. apartment range isn't much of an issue, but if there's a bunch of other devices in the air the 802.11n will be more robust.
posted by spoons at 9:04 AM on September 14, 2009

mikeh, you did not read my first comment, which points out that the Extreme is dual-band today. my what you responded to was a comment on 802.11n as it applies to the Express.
posted by secret about box at 9:41 AM on September 14, 2009

One additional thing to throw in with respect to wongcorgi's comment - the Apple branded wireless devices are the only ones I have ever seen that require you to use a software package running on your computer to do the configuration and administration of the device. All other brands I have used have a built-in web interface that runs on the device itself. Most wireless devices can be configured using a locally-installed program but Apple is the only company I know which absolutely requires this. I have no idea why Apple does this differently; there doesn't seem to be any real reason for it. I can say that it is often a major pain in the ass - for example I have an older Airport Snow model at home, which works fine albeit a bit slow. Since upgrading to Snow Leopard I can no longer administer this device because the specific version of the Airport software required to access it does not run under Snow Leopard. You'll likely pay less for a non-Apple device, and might actually be able to use it longer - however keep in mind that quite a few of the non-Apple devices are of variable quality and reliability.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:56 AM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys for all the great answers! I think I'll probably go with the Express, but wanted to add the following:

-I have an old 800 mhz Titanium Powerbook G4.
-Also have a Blackberry 8330 Curve on Sprint
posted by invisible ink at 11:06 AM on September 14, 2009

@caution live frogs: Have you contacted Apple about this? I'm surprised they wouldn't offer any sort of a solution.
posted by Cogito at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2009

ah indeed, spoons is correct about 802.11n's strength and quality. that is another situation in which 802.11n makes a big difference and matters to people. when I lived in NYC, I learned that everyone in every apartment building had a WiFi router and they were stepping all over each other at full transmission power. just awful. the 5.4 GHz frequency band on which 802.11n can operate is friendlier in these situations.
posted by secret about box at 7:07 PM on September 14, 2009

Cogito: I'm in the same boat as caution live frogs with an old Airport Snow. Apple knows about the problem, and helpfully invites you to "check with the software vendor to see if any Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard-compatible updates are available". Given Apple's limited interest in supporting legacy applications I'm not holding my breath.


posted by harkin banks at 9:05 PM on September 14, 2009

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