The sixth-generation Apple AirPort Extreme is a solid choice if you have an all-Mac or mixed Mac/PC network and want 802.11ac support. Experts say it's fast, easy to use and reliable, and they praise its sleek design. While the AirPort Extreme offers a respectable array of features -- including the ability to host up to 50 guests on your network or share printers -- those with PC-only networks might find this router a bit limiting.
Great for novices, Mac users. Experts say the Apple AirPort Extreme wireless router is very easy to set up, even for first-time users. Samara Lynn at PCMag.com calls it "idiot-proof," but this convenience comes at the expense of flexibility. Apple's free AirPort Utility software is required to use the router, which is geared toward Mac users; external hard drives formatted in NTFS (Windows) aren't supported. You can share wireless printers easily, although only Mac users can do this via the Internet. "There's not much love for Windows users here," writes CNET editor Dong Ngo. Since the AirPort Extreme is 802.11ac-equipped, all Wi-Fi clients are compatible.
Solid overall. In most professional tests, the AirPort Extreme delivers speedy throughput on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands, but it's not the fastest router available. Lynn says throughput is good, and unless you're a hardcore gamer or stream multimedia obsessively, it "should satisfy most needs." It offers "excellent performance," particularly on the 2.4 GHz band, she adds. According to CNET's tests, the AirPort Extreme offers good performance and range, and outpaces most other wireless routers. Ngo says it has very good range, on par with similar 802.11ac routers.
The newest version of the AirPort Extreme is taller than previous iterations, thanks in part to its six internal antennas -- three for each band -- that are designed to improve coverage.
Up to 50 guests on your network. Experts and users agree that the Apple AirPort Extreme's white, mini-tower design looks great. It's relatively compact and sports an LED light on the front, but those who don't care about Apple's sleek hardware may find it hard to justify its steep price. Feature selection is mediocre at best, reviewers say. You also can't stream digital content from an external USB drive to a device such as a Roku box, a function many routers are capable of. You can, however, host up to 50 guests on your network, but only on the 2.4 GHz band.
The AirPort Extreme has one USB 2.0 port, three Gigabit LAN ports and one WAN port. It includes a firewall to help protect against threats.
Ngo tests the Apple AirPort Extreme and gives it 4 stars out of 5. He likes its "solid" performance, "elegant design" and ease of use, but says it's "inflexible" and doesn't offer as many robust features as other routers. He suggests that advanced users look elsewhere.
Review: Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station Review: Speedy and Elegant Home Wi-Fi Router, Dong Ngo, June 24, 2013
Lynn says the Apple AirPort Extreme will "please fans" but isn't a "revolutionary router." She adds, "Those who need to get very granular with their wireless networks will likely want to look to other dual-band routers with more advanced capabilities." She also gives it 4 stars out of 5.
Review: Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (A1521), Samara Lynn, June 28 , 2013
3. Small Net Builder.com
Higgins doesn't test the latest Apple AirPort Extreme, but says the decision to include a USB 2.0 port instead of a USB 3.0 port is "a step backwards." Only devices with 802.11ac support will benefit from the router's draft-802.11ac capability, he notes.
Review: Apple's New AirPort Extreme Offers No Innovation, Tim Higgins, June 12, 2013
About 40 owners post feedback on the Apple AirPort Extreme model ME918LL/A. While this isn't a large number of reviews, it's notable that the router earns 4.6 stars out of 5 and that most users are pleased. Many say the wireless router's speed and reliability justify its steep price.
Review: Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (ME918LL/A), Contributors to Amazon.com, As of July 2013