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Apple has released firmware for its AirPort Extreme with N base stations that bring it to certified Draft 2.0: A few days ago, I noticed that Apple’s N base station was listed as being a Wi-Fi Draft N certified product. Apple has now released the firmware that brought them that certification. The 7.2.1 release can be downloaded through the company’s AirPort Utility, which provides automatic updates to their firmware.
The Wi-Fi Alliance lists a few dozen products from major manufacturers that have achieved Draft N certification: The certification program uses the Draft 2.0 that’s the current circulating set of understandings about what 802.11n will comprise. It’s unlikely to change much before completion next year. The Wi-Fi Alliance made some noise in late June when chipmakers had their reference designs certified, but as you can see by following the link, Apple, Belkin, Buffalo, D-Link, Intel (Centrino products), Lenovo, Linksys, NetGear, and SMC all have one or several products that have reached certification compliance, too.
Draft 2.0 products are starting to flow: SMC is shipping three new 802.11n devices with Draft 2.0 support, the most recent agreed-upon set of principles on which next-generation Wi-Fi is being built The SMC Barricade N Wireless 4-port Gigabit Broadband Router is $175 (list) includes WPS and a stateful packet inspection firewall. It also supports printer sharing via a USB 2.0 port. SMB also released an access point, the EZ Connect N Draft 802.11n Wireless Access Point/Ethernet Client—naming consultant, stat!—which can be used to extend a network without needing all the routing functions, or can act as a client adapter for Ethernet-only equipment or devices with older Wi-Fi standards embedded. It’s $115. Finally, their USB 2.0 adapter ($63) brings Draft 2.0 to any Windows system with a USB port.
Apple slips in 1000 Mbps Ethernet in its Wi-Fi router: Apple quietly upgraded its Draft N-based AirPort Extreme Base Station to full gigabit Ethernet support across its three LAN and one WAN ports last week. I’ve had a chance to test the new unit, and while I can’t post results (a print magazine has dibs), let me just say that the new benchmarks are far better than the old ones.
The first release of Apple’s Draft N base station was rather marvelous for its inclusion of a USB port to share multiple printers and hard drives; the company’s decision to have both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios inside; and the fact that Macs had been shipping with 802.11n inside, requiring just an enabler, released with the base station, to upgrade their performance. My primary complaint, however, was the mismatch between the company’s widespread inclusion of GigE in most of its models long before the competition. With the drop in cost in GigE switches, it seemed odd for Apple to release a unit that was designed for homes and small offices that would underperform a $35 Ethernet switch.
I also suspected that the overall performance of the 802.11n draft that Apple is using was constricted due to internal Ethernet limits. In my testing for a review in Macworld, I was able to top 90 Mbps in Wi-Fi to Ethernet and Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi transfers. But Ethernet-to-Ethernet data was limited to just over 90 Mbps as well. Apple says that their new gigabit Ethernet base station is up to 50 percent faster for wireless-to-wired links, which would put it closer to 150 Mbps, a speed achieved on other GigE-based Draft N routers. My testing shows that these numbers are accurate.
When testing the base station in February, I discovered that with NAT enabled to share access from an incoming WAN link, performance was restricted to about 30 Mbps from wireles LAN to LAN and 60 Mbps from wired LAN to WAN. Apple confirmed this was a bug that was due to performance issues in their NAT stack. Apple wasn’t able to tell me if this limitation has been fixed, but in testing, I found it much improved.
(This bug emerges in only two edge cases: Where a broadband connection exceeds 30 Mbps, which is true for some fiber and cable customers; or where a corporate or office LAN isn’t supplying addresses to the computers connected via the AirPort Extreme. If NAT is turned off, the AirPort gateway has no performance limitations.)
The price for the AirPort Extreme Base Station with Draft N remains $179.