Upgrading an AirPort Network - February 2013

Apple's AirPort networking products have a few built-in advantages. 

First off, they're high quality - both in terms of functionality and in terms of build quality. 

Secondly, they're simple. Very simple. With the AirPort Utility on a Mac doing most of the heavy lifting, they're basically plug-and-play. In my experience, that is somewhat unusual. 

We've been very happy with our wireless network, which has a Time Capsule as the primary router, and multiple A1264 AirPort Express devices extending the network. 

So why am I updating my AirPort networking components? Why rock the boat? 

Well, it's been a solid 5 years since we got our Time Capsule, and it's starting to look a bit long in the tooth. 

Time to make a brand-new AirPort Extreme (A1408) the center of our AirPort network!

Ooooh, fancy.

We purchased the very first generation Time Capsule, back in early 2008. It is Model Number A1254, and had a 500 GB internal drive. 

The Time Capsule was (and is) a compelling networking product, because it's not only a router - it's also a NAS. It automatically backs up our entire iMac, which is crucial in this all-digital era - if our drive failed, or if our computer was stolen, we won't lose all of our music, or all of our son's baby pictures.

I say that the Time Capsule "had" a 500 GB internal drive, because that drive died a year or so ago, and I replaced it with a low-speed 1 TB drive- which should last substantially longer. (Speaking of which... "Time Capsule Hard Drive Replacement" would make a good AAAD post!) 

    So why update the AirPort Network?

    • The first-gen Time Capsule does not support guest networking. 
    • It did NOT support dual-band operation. 
    • It certainly doesn't support IPv6. 
    • It's an older antenna configuration - the newer 3x3 MIMO config is allegedly 50% better in terms of performance, 25% better in terms of range. 
    • Finally, I'd like to make a hardwire ethernet connection between the Time Capsule and the iMac. Those hourly incremental Time Machine backups are pretty taxing on our wireless network - especially given the limitations of the Time Capsule's wi-fi capabilities. 
    I managed to find a current-generation (5th Gen) AirPort Extreme on Craigslist for $90. They're currently available new for $180, or refurbished from Apple for $140 - so this was a pretty good deal. 

    In the new configuration, the AirPort Extreme will create the wireless network, while the Time Capsule and A1264 AirPort Expresses extend the network. (The AirPort Expresses will continue to act as AirPlay devices, too.)

    I'll get this set up over lunch (or after close of business) today, and I'll update this post with any improvements (or, I guess, regression) in our network's performance.

    UPDATE (4:45 PM) - After some maneuvering, the network is back up and running. Good news, too, because we have an unexpected work project coming up shortly.

    There were a few hiccups - the person I'd purchased the Airport Extreme from didn't reset it, so I had to do that manually. And then, strangely, the AirPort Expresses (which I hadn't reset) refused to connect to the "new" network - even though it had the same name and WPA2 security - until the old Time Capsule came back online in bridge mode. And then they all turned green. Go figure.

    The first Time Machine incremental backup went off without a hitch -- it's connected to the iMac via an ethernet cable--but I'd like to verify that the backup is happening over the ethernet cable, rather than the wi-fi. I turned off the iMac's wi-fi during the backup, and the backup continued.... good news, I guess?


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