Wednesday, June 27, 2007
For wireless networking in your studio, Apple's new AirPort Extreme offers a major upgrade of performance and features
Moving, storing and sharing data isn't one of the sexier parts of what we do. Our networks are like plumbing—need it, but don't want to think about it.
One of the nice things about wireless networking is the simplicity. Setting up a wireless router takes about 10 minutes and requires no holes in the wall, wiring schematics or cords strung from station to station.
For the ultimate wireless networking experience, Apple has completely reinvented the AirPort Extreme. Its flagship router got a major speed boost, plus new functionality that can improve your workflow. If you're already wireless or thinking about making the switch, you can take advantage of the latest wireless networking technology for about $200.
Before we get too far into the details, it's important to note that the AirPort Extreme is a cross-platform device. Like most Apple peripherals these days, AirPort plays nicely with Windows. One caveat, though: Because this router employs truly cutting-edge technology, you might experience some backward-compatibility issues with older wireless clients, depending on the type of encryption you choose. We'll come back to security later.
The AirPort Extreme is one of the first routers to use the new IEEE 802.11n draft specification for wireless networks. It's referred to as a draft specification because the final standard won't be formally approved until 2008. Most of the specs have been hammered out, however, with future compliance assured, so Apple and a few others have begun to market 802.11n gear.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of 802.11n is multiple-input, multiple-output, or MIMO, technology. This employs multiple antennas to transmit data simultaneously, making better use of the available bandwidth. What this means for us is a huge boost in speed, with transmission rates approximately five times faster than 802.11g. It also means increased range, about twice that of predecessor technology.
The Apple AirPort Extreme also uses both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wireless frequencies, reducing the possibility of interference from household appliances and cordless phones that use the 2.4 GHz frequency.
To take full advantage of the performance gains, your client computers also need 802.11n wireless transceivers. Most Intel-based Macs with wireless built-in are already compatible. For older Macs and Windows systems, you'll need to upgrade your wireless connectivity. However, 802.11n is backward-compatible with earlier standards, so earlier WiFi devices will typically connect, just not at the faster speeds.