First Thoughts: AirPort Extreme Base Station

I decided to jump on one of the new AirPort Extreme Base Stations primarily because both my wife and I now own MacBooks, and we both have varying levels of success at maintaining any kind of steady backup schedule. Now when I say 'varying level of success,' I mean: my wife pretty much doesn't, and I did a fairly good job back when I had an Intel iMac set up on the network to which I used ChronoSync to do incremental over-the-air backups. So what does a new AirPort Extreme Base Station have to do with our backup habits, you ask? Well, aside from the new 802.11n speeds (for which I have not quite gone ga-ga just yet), I am most interested in the new AirPort Disk feature, which allows you to plug a USB hard drive into the station for automatic mounting whenever connected to the network. Now I can have one large drive to which I can back up both mine and my wife's essentials, as well as a repository for my iTunes library to free up space for Final Cut Studio and even tinkering with Linux and (yes, sadly) Windows in Parallels for my work at our sister blog, Download Squad.

I picked up the new base station Wednesday night, which I set up to relieve our trusty AirPort Express from its duties in the living room (now we have 'tunes in the basement office! hooray!). Since it's only been a few days and I'm still waiting for UPS to bring me a bouncing baby external hard drive, I thought I would post some general first thoughts on the setup experience thus far. A more detailed report is pending, and I plan on writing up how-tos for wireless backups and using this setup for a wireless iTunes library. Until then, read after the jump for some general thoughts on my initial experience with Apple's slick new base station.

  • Setup went *mostly* without a hitch. I opted not to use wireless security for now in lieu of hiding my SSID, since i still have a bad taste in my mouth from the hair-pulling reliability issues with wireless security I wrote about last November.

  • Strangely, after getting everything set just right and rebooting the station for its initial use, the activity light kept blinking amber, which is the traditional sign that 'something's wrong.' A brief glance through the manual revealed nothing, though I admittedly could have simply missed it. Fortunately, I noticed the Summary screen on the AirPort Utility told me the amber blinking was due to an 'error' that I wasn't running any security. While I think this is a great way to help kick-start the general customer base into the idea of using security, I was a little annoyed since this traditional light blinking UI was more or less hijacked for something that isn't quite technically an error. Bad practice - sure. But not an 'error.' I think it would have been a better idea to provide some kind of dialog UI, warning me before the reboot that I hadn't set any security. On the off chance there actually is one of these dialogs and I was just an idiot for clicking through it, well... color me green. Or amber.

  • Fortunately, clicking on the amber light that the Summary window displays will give you a screen detailing what any reported errors are. Opting not to be notified of any more 'no security' warnings and then restarting the router gave me a solid green light. Hooray.

  • The new AirPort Utility software that replaces the AirPort Admin Utility is nice. Really nice. The UI is a welcome refresh, and while I've never owned more than one of Apple's AirPort devices before, I love the multi-device UI that allows me to see and admin the entire network.

  • The AirPort Utility offered a great, plain language dialog containing two options for adding my AirPort Express to the network. The options were to simply add it so all machines could access it for things like printer sharing and AirTunes, or to actually extend the range of the network. Since 802.11n's supposed increased range should be more than enough for our townhouse, I kept it simple and opted for the former. Everything's been hunky dory so far, though your mileage may obviously vary.

  • I *think* I've noticed an increase in general web speeds, though I haven't done any hardcore tests. For my follow-up how-to posts I'll do a more serious test, maybe shutting down the N station, hopping back on with mere 802.11b/g and running some speed tests. I'm also using Comcast in the Denver metro area, which I think is already pretty zippy at either 6 or 8 Mbps.

  • Being able to search for options in the new Utility is awesome. I know a few things about a few things, but I'm no network admin and I don't remember where every option I want to tinker with is, let alone what each one is called. Search is most welcome for my moments of non-clarity.

  • The new station is really sexy, and finally looks as though it belongs in Apple's lineup when compared alongside their other products. That old space station design was just starting to look downright kooky.

So there are my thoughts for now. It's definitely no 4-page review from Clint Ecker, but I didn't feel like re-inventing a well-written and thorough review. Stay tuned for some how-tos once my hard drive shows up, and feel free to ask any questions, but be warned: if you start throwing around more than one or two three-letter networking acronyms, I might have to use a lifeline.