APRIL 29, 2003
Apple AirPort Extreme
I've been using the Mac in creative production environments for about 16 years, and I've been networking Macs for almost as long. It's always been a simple thing to network Macs, though the actual laying of cable--tucking it up in acoustical ceilings, through walls or under carpeting or floorboards--has made me crave a fast, high-quality, reliable wireless alternative for quite some time. The first generation of Apple's 802.11b-based AirPort looked promising, but the speed--at just 11 Mbps--wasn't there. Neither was the range. And so I held off.
Then, in January of this year, Apple announced AirPort Extreme, an 802.11g-based wireless system that promised 54 Mbps throughput and a range of up to 150 feet. For a wireless solution costing just $199 for the base station and $99 for an AirPort network card, that's pretty darned good. So I thought I'd better check it out. What I found was disappointing to say the least.The setup
Let me backtrack a little. My first experience with anything related to AirPort Extreme was at the NAB convention in Las Vegas earlier this month. There, right on the show floor, I opened up my 17-inch PowerBook, launched my Web browser and instantly got connected to the wireless system running throughout the exposition. I was blown away with the simplicity, and I couldn't wait to get back and fire up my own AirPort Extreme base station to experience the full potential of the system without the imposed bandwidth limitation of the Las Vegas Convention Center's wireless system.
After I got back, I plugged it in, opened up my PowerBook, launched my Web browser and got nothing.
"OK," I thought, "I'll just go to my AirPort Setup Assistant and see what's going on." Again, nothing. No AirPort detected.
"All right," I thought, "then I'll just launch the AirPort Admin Utility and get into it that way." Can you guess it? Yep, again, nothing. Now, let me make a long story short. I, a person who writes about Mac for a living and who has been using Macs professionally for nigh on 16 years, had to open up the manual to get this thing running. Eventually I did get my Internet connection working, and eventually, some time after that, I also managed to get an AppleTalk network running on it as well, though this is something of a task if you're using AirPort in conjunction with a pre-existing wired LAN. Which is precisely what was going on with me.
See, I'm so used to everything "just working" on the Mac that I was lost when it came to this. I mean, I plug my Mac into a DHCP server, and it just works. I hook it up to another Mac, and it just works. Everything I plug into my Mac just plain works, with the exception of AirPort. (Incidentally, if you're currently going through this trauma, the solution for getting an AppleTalk network going in conjunction with a DHCP server is to turn off the "distribute IP addresses" option in the AirPort Admin Utility by clicking on the "Show All Settings Button" and then clicking on the "Network" tab. Then click the "Update" button and wait for the AirPort Extreme Base Station to reconfigure itself.)
But whatever. This is a one-time setup, and, although it was far less intuitive than it should have been, at least I now had this network working. Somewhat.
Range and performance
After the setup was completed, I was delighted to start trying it out. But something was strange. I sat down not 30 feet away from the Base Station and saw that my reception fluctuated between 30 percent and 50 percent. And the network wasn't very quick at all. Web pages loaded slowly, and network transfers just plain lagged.
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