Wireless possible, or no?
November 8, 2009 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Did the Apple salesperson do me wrong? I bought an AirPort Express to go wireless with my Mac Mini but now I think I got screwed.

Okay, it's embarrassing to admit this on Metafilter, where almost everyone seems to be very computer savvy, but I DON'T KNOW ABOUT COMPUTERS. I use 'em, but I don't know how they work.

I have an older Mac Mini. I've had it for two years, but it was used by someone else previously and I don't know precisely how old it is. I want to set up a wireless network in my home, and I called the Apple Store to see if that would be possible with my model. The phone rep talked me through looking at my computer. I have a new-enough OS. I do not have an AirPort card. I do have firewire. She said I can connect through firewire.

But the AirPort Express arrived, and when I looked at the documentation, it says I must have the AirPort card installed.

So...is that true about this alleged firewire? Can I connect wirelessly, or am I out of luck? If not, can I keep my Mac Mini wired to the modem, and hook up the AirPort Express so my husband can use his laptop elsewhere in the house?

If I need to return this thing: Have you had experience with the Apple Store? Are they going to easily accept the explanation that I only bought this because the salesperson said it would work with my computer?

Please speak to me as if I am your mentally challenged great aunt. I really need it step by step, spelled out.
posted by BlahLaLa to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
Firewire has basically nothing to do with wireless stuff.

If you want to use the AirPort Express, you will also need to buy the AirPort card for your mini. Yes, you can plug both the mini and the Airport into your ADSL router (or whatever your internet comes out of) and your hubs can use his laptop wirelessly via the Airport while you're using it via the existing ethernet cable.

There might be external WiFi devices available for the mac that connect using firewire or USB; they exist for PCs. That might have been what the salesdroid was thinking of, but it's still an additional thing you have to buy. It just plugs in differently.
posted by polyglot at 8:49 PM on November 8, 2009

You were told wrong that you can connect to an Airport Express with FireWire. Doesn't work that way. It's designed for wireless connections only. The USB port is to connect a printer.

The Apple store has been very good about returns, in my experience.

If your cable modem has more than one ethernet port you can connect the Airport Express to one and your mini to another. That's probably not the case. Return the Airport Express and get one of any number of cheaper wireless routers that have more functionality than the Airport Express.
posted by 6550 at 8:53 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

It does work with your computer. You need an AirPort card to connect to the wireless network.

You connect the Airport Express to the Internet-connected Mac Mini via FireWire. This will allow other computers (with wireless cards) to connect to the Internet over the wireless network, through your computer. Voila! You have a wireless network.

Based on what you said you had, and what you told the guy you wanted to do, it sounds to me like they did the best they could given what it seems you told them.

As I understand it, you wanted to set up a wireless network, but the person at the Apple store found out your Mac didn't have a WiFi card in it, so using the Mac as a hub was ruled out.

Instead, they sold you a Airport Express, which can connect to your mac (and therefore the Internet) via FireWire. Because the connection is over Firewire, whether your Mac has a card is completely irrelevant.
Now you can have a wireless network in your house.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:00 PM on November 8, 2009

Thank you polyglot and 6550. Your answers were clear.

Dunkadunc, I see that in my ignorance I may have asked the rep the wrong question in the first place. So this firewire of which you speak...where does one get that? Radio Shack? Office Depot? Or all the way to the Apple Store? And it connects to a USB on my computer and to the USB on the airport??
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:07 PM on November 8, 2009

Ok, some term clarification.



You can find the full specifications for all versions of the MacMini here.

Read this to find out how old your Mini is

Once you have those bits of information, you should know how to proceed or at least, which questions to ask.
posted by strixus at 9:16 PM on November 8, 2009

Firewire is a different plug than USB. Your Mini has a Firewire port on it; I don't believe the AirportExpress does.

Your problem is that the Airport Express is a bit short on the features that you need. It has a few features not found in other, cheaper products, but it's not going to work for you.

What I would recommend is this: return the Airport Express to the store, and get a cheaper wireless router from a company like Belkin, Linksys or Netgear (there are others; basically anything at BestBuy will work, and you just need Wireless-G, unless the laptop is brand new, it can't take advantage of Wireless-N).

Here's how you'll set it up: You plug the cable modem into the "Internet" port on the router. Your Mac Mini will get plugged directly into the router via one of the other ports on the back. The laptop can connect wirelessly.

Advantages over the Airport Express: Cheaper, faster (due to the laptop not having to go through your Mini to get to the Internet) and the wireless will work when your Mini is turned off.

I hope that is clear. If it isn't, let me know and I'll do my best to explain it better :)
posted by DMan at 9:16 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Firewire is a port. You've got a USB port on your Mac Mini, and you've got a Firewire port on the Mac Mini. Airport express has no Firewire port, I don't know what dunkadunc is talking about.
posted by floam at 9:17 PM on November 8, 2009

dunkadunc is wrong about the Firewire. The Airport Express has no Firewire at all and never has.
posted by zsazsa at 9:19 PM on November 8, 2009

It seems like you are missing an item here.

If you got a second Airport Express, you could plug the first one into your router, creating the wireless network, and pick it up with the second, which would have an ethernet cable running to your MacMini. Not true "wireless," but it would allow you to move your MacMini away from the router. (I haven't done this, but it seems that this might be the solution that the Apple rep thought they were giving you.)

This assumes that your modem does not do wireless itself (some do). If it does, then you can make do with the Airport Express you've got... But, I'm assuming that it doesn't, as you say that you want to create a wireless network for your husband to connect to.

If you got an Airport card for your MacMini and installed it, you could just pick up the wireless network from the first Airport Express with your MacMini. You would not need a second Airport Express unit.

If you just keep what you've got and your modem has enough ethernet connections, you can connect one ethernet cable to the Airport Express and create a wireless network for your husband to connect to and connect another ethernet cable to your MacMini, but obviously, that would not make your MacMini wireless at all.

Forget Firewire, as it has nothing to do with resolving your internet connection problem.

If you don't want to deal with any of this, returning the Airport Express to an Apple Store shouldn't be a hassle. They do tend to try and offer good customer service.
posted by paperzach at 9:58 PM on November 8, 2009

While what DMan says is doable, and is in fact the norm in the Windows world - but, if you know nothing about computers, I'd seriously suggest sticking with Apple peripherals.

Why? Because dicking around with all the stuff involved in setting up a non-Apple wireless AP or gateway router is a lot harder than just setting up an AirPort through the config utility. And if you don't know the varying terminology between vendors, what you're supposed to look for, what to note down, and what to ignore, it's easy to get yourself very confused very quickly.

Trust me. I used to do it for a living. And I, adept at setting up wireless LANs in configurations that'd confuse the hell out of the average I-run-Linux-on-my-Linksys home networking weenie, use Airport Expresses at home. There's a reason Apple once used the slogan "It Just Works"…

OK. Other people have answered the FireWire question. The salesperson sold you the wrong thing. It happens. In my experience, Apple are very good at returning/swapping stuff for that reason. You've got two options.
  1. If you want a wireless connection to your Mac Mini: keep the AirPort Express & get the AirPort card. Since installing it means opening up the case (easy, but you know nothing about computers!), I'd suggest getting it installed at your local Mac shop
  2. If your modem has a spare LAN port (often marked as "LAN" or "Ethernet" - not "WAN"), and the Mini will always near it: keep the AirPort Express for your husband's laptop to use, buy an ethernet cable & use a wired connection for the Mini.
  3. OK, I lied, there's an option 3: If a wired connection is OK, but your modem doesn't have a spare port, swap the Airport Express for an Airport Extreme - it's got 3 spare wired ethernet ports on it, so you can plug in your Mini.
People who are happy to faff around with the average piece of DLink, Belkin, Linksys, or Netgear kit don't realise how simple & easy it is to set up an AirPort Express or AirPort Extreme with Airport Utility on a Mac. If they knew, most people would be happy to pay the extra bucks for an almost guaranteed simple & trouble-free experience.
posted by Pinback at 9:59 PM on November 8, 2009

When you say you want to "set up a wireless network", what exactly do you mean by that. I know it may seem obvious, but it's not. I ask, because, depending on what you want to do, your Mini and the Airport Express might work just fine. Then again, it might not. It just depends on what you're trying to do.

If it's true that your mini doesn't have wireless built in, that means this is the Mini you own. To the best of my knowledge, every mini after the very first model came with Airport Extreme wireless built in (Airport Extreme was Apple's term for what everyone else calls Wireless G).

Assuming that's the mini you own (keep in mind that all minis LOOK the same), you may need two devices to go wireless. You need a wireless sender/receiver connected to your mini (usually an Airport card, but your Airport Express would work too). If your internet source is across the room (let's say you have Cable internet and the cable outlet isn't near your computer, for instance), you'll need a wireless sender/receiver there too (usually a wireless router - which, by the way, is a function the Airport Express can do).

What you need really depends on exactly what it is you're trying to do. "Create a wireless network" is actually a vague term that could refer to many things.

As others have said above, Firewire is a kind of plug (more or less). I connected a hard drive to my mini by firewire. Firewire is the exact opposite of wireless connecting, as Firewire is, in fact, a connector at the end of a wire (more or less).
posted by 2oh1 at 10:00 PM on November 8, 2009

Technically - "I want to set up a wireless network in my home" was fulfilled by purchasing the Airport Express.

You now have a wireless network, but since your Mini doesn't have wireless capability, it can't connect to it. Buy an Airport card for your Mini (and have the Apple store install it).

Not sure where firewire came up, but it's irrelevant.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:10 PM on November 8, 2009

You can return the AirPort to the Apple Store. I've had things refunded for no better reason than "I changed my mind, sorry."
posted by rokusan at 12:18 AM on November 9, 2009

You could keep the AirPort Express and buy a USB wireless adapter which will plug into the back of your mini and interface with your AirPort.
posted by thejoshu at 5:57 AM on November 9, 2009

First things first. Before you jump down any rabbit holes suggested by folks in this thread, you should confirm that you absolutely don't have an AirPort card. Because most Minis do come with them pre-installed. Do this:
  1. Click on the Apple menu and go to "System Preferences".
  2. Click on "Network".
  3. Look for "AirPort" in the list on the left. Is it there?
  4. If it's there, you do have an AirPort card. Which means the AirPort Express you bought will work.
I apologize if this is what the phone rep walked you through, but if I were talking to my mentally challenged great aunt, I would want to make positively sure about this point before going any further.

The other point that needs to be made crystal clear, in case others haven't done so for you, is this: FireWire is not wireless. As its name implies, it is a wire. You can do some nifty stuff with it, but they will all require plugging a cable into the back of your computer. If you're looking for a wireless solution, FireWire will not help you. (And the only thing that will help you is AirPort; if you do in fact not have an AirPort card, you need to take your Mini to the Apple Store and have them install one for you.)
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:45 AM on November 9, 2009

Thanks for all these clearly written answers. I have verified that I do not have an airport card. I think i'm gonna try Pinback's #3.

And Winsome Parker Lewis? You talked to me perfectly!
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:23 PM on November 9, 2009

"If not, can I keep my Mac Mini wired to the modem, and hook up the AirPort Express so my husband can use his laptop elsewhere in the house?"

That's actually what the AirPort Extreme is for. It has wired ethernet ports and is a wireless base station.

Are you SURE that you have the Express and not the Extreme?
posted by drstein at 8:27 AM on November 10, 2009

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