Apple has a number of network-oriented devices for sale but few of them seem to have the functionality we found in its Airport Extreme 802.11N (5th Generation)/MD0311L/A router.
The Cupertino-California-based computer manufacturer has stuffed a great deal of technology in a box that is very little larger than a standard Linksys or Netgear home router and weighs about as much. Into this nearly three-pound router, Apple has not only enabled dual-band capability (at the same time), but also USB link ability so that you can share a printer across networks, as well as hard-wired high-speed wired Gigabit connectivity.
More importantly, none of the networks need to know that the others are there and, indeed, the Airport Extreme allows you to set up a guest-only (DMZ) demilitarized zone so that guests on your network can access their own Internet-based services without seeing anything that you might not want them to see on your network, as your networks (notice we used the plural) are password and security protected.
The Airport Extreme is the fifth generation Airport device. This one offers the ability to set up and use a network in the 2.4 GHz Band as well as in the 5 GHz Band. Or, to put it another way, the Airport Extreme recognizes WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n so that you can set up a standard home-style WiFi network, while also having a higher speed WiFi “n” network set up for different devices that won’t see the other network at all.
Additionally, this is an Apple device that speaks more than one networking dialect. If you use most Apple devices (iPads or iPhones) you will run into the problem of compatibility. Apple uses its iOS operating system for all of its networked devices. However, since the Airport Extreme is the device that links even Apple’s own devices to the Internet, it doesn’t speak any dialect except networking.
For example, if you need a WiFi hotspot to which you can connect older 2.4 GHz devices to the Internet or Web, you run either a Mac or PC version of the setup software, enter the range of system IDs that will be using that particular network (DHCP plus a security package such as WPA/WPA2 or WEP) and the encryption key and password for each device and your are up and running. All it takes is moving your DSL or cable modem cable from your current box to the “network” setting on the Airport Express.
By the same token, if you have higher-speed devices that run in the 5 GHz range, you enter the same style of networking numbers (In this case radically different than the 2.4 GHz range devices you have already set up) as well as the encryption and security package you are using and you are ready to go. Like the 2.4 GHz network, the 5 GHz network should require knowledge of the special encryption plus security protocol and once it does, your devices are on their way, as well.
Apple claims as many as 50 people can use this networking device and we don’t doubt it, although we certainly don’t have 50 around here, so we can’t tell, however, we do suspect that if you approach the limits of the bandwidth that the device may slow down.
Not so with the hard-wired Gigabit ports as Apple offers three gigabit direct RJ-45 wired connections to the rear of the device.
Finally, Apple has also included a standard USB port that, using the setup software, can quickly be shared by all parts of the router so that all you need is one printing device for any of the networks you are on.