Do you know what we absolutely detest? Wires. Although we've been able to use strategically placed furniture and cable hiding products to reduce visible wiring, even our small studio apartment is lined with a Medusa's head full of ethernet cables, phone lines, USB/Firewire cables, and power cords that threaten to drown us in a tangle of technological tethers. An ongoing and welcome trend in home decor/lifestyles items is the emancipation from the traditional limits of cord bound products, whether it be wireless internet connection, home theater or automated vacuums. So you couldn't fathom how pleased we were after purchasing the new Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, a wi-fi networking solution that utilizes the newest IEEE 802.11n 5GHz wireless specifications (theoretically up to 5x faster over previous 802.11g wi-fi), and with the additional benefit of helping reorganize our home decor with its extra features. Previously we had a Belkin ethernet router we hid away like Quasimoto in the bell tower, underneath a desk (whose unsightly presence was partnered well with the industrial design folly known as our Dell desktop), and whose performance and features left us unimpressed. The new Airport Extreme is not only fantastic because its minimal design blends in regardless where we place it (we like this Mac mini-inspired form factor than the previous UFO puck shape), whether out in plain view or hidden away, but also because the Airport Extreme has allowed us to share a single printer remotely between a desktop and a laptop. And using the Air Disk feature and a USB hub, my better half and I are also able to share an external USB drive (with a notable exception noted below). This means we've been able to move the printer and external drive from an already packed home office space once tethered to my desktop to an inconspicuous location in another room. That means less tech product in view...definitely a good thing when you want your Noguchi, not the Netgear, to be the center of attention in your home.
The beauty of any Apple product, and a great reason for the premium price ($179) compared to equally spec'ed 802.11n wireless competitors is the legendary ease of use and setup. We've owned previous Airport Extreme routers, and sadly it never played nice with our DSL connection, and the software was notoriously fickle. This time around, getting started was really a pleasurable process of plugging it in, installing the software, and pressing a few options through the Airport Utility software...and then voila...the sweet glory of wi-fi in our home with some extra bells and whistles that distinguish it from the pack. There's a USB port in the back of the Airport Extreme, which can be used with a forementioned USB printer(s) and/or external hard drive(s). Our HP printer showed up flawlessly in our printing options via Bonjour once plugged into the Extreme, and is now nestled in a corner shelf instead of precariously balancing ontop of our G5 desktop...a welcome improvement to our decor. The glaring disappointment we've had is with the touted Air Disk feature. Although our portable Western Digital 80GB external drive shows up on both of our computers to use and share (we had plans to consolidate our ever growing collection of music onto a single shared external drive), the external 300GB SATA USB2 drive we had set aside for shared use isn't recognized by the utility for setup or use. We've formatted the drive according to directions in all the variants recommended, but only once did we see it appear in the Airport Disk Utility, and only for a moment before quickly disappearing into the ether. Even after following the various recommendations strewn across various Apple-related message boards, we've never been able to use the 300GB drive like the 80GB drive over the network. A shame, since the 80GB is too small for our combined musical assets. This seems to be an issue affecting a few users, so it seems Air Disk is a work in progress with a few kinks to work out with some eagerly awaited updates. Otherwise performance has been fast, steady and reliable, regardless whether we placed it ontop of a bookcase or on the floor. Sometimes my girlfriend's MacBook's connection seems faster than my ethernet connected desktop (my older G5 doesn't have a wi-fi card installed...yet). Another benefit since switching over to the Airport Extreme is partnering it up with a dual mode VOIP (voice over IP) Skype phone solution (we'll save this option/review for another day), meaning we can plug in a VOIP phone directly into the router and not have to connect it/use it with a computer. For an everyday Joe, this has been an extremely satisfying migration from being bound by the limits of a wired connection, to now having the option of placing our myriad of computing and home electronics in areas that make far more sense for aesthetics and space efficiency. Despite some hiccups with the Air Disk feature, we still love our Airport Extreme, and can't wait to partner it up with the upcoming Apple TV for more wireless action.