Apple sent us both a Time Capsule and Airport Extreme which I used for testing, but I also purchased a copy of each to tear down and get to the bottom of the changes internally. Before doing that, however, I hit up the FCC to see what I could glean from comparing the test reports between generations. Apparently I wasn’t alone in doing so, as other people likewise picked up on this avenue for finding out what’s different.

Inside the test reports for both are some nice tables that outline maximum output power for the wireless stack inside the devices. I’ve copied and formatted the data for both the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme.

Airport Extreme—Power Output Comparison
WLAN Mode Gen.4 (BCGA1354) Gen.5 (BCGA1408)
2.4GHz—802.11b 286.42 mW 257.04 mW
2.4GHz—802.11g 143.22 mW 307.61 mW
2.4GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 130.92 mW 257.63 mW
5GHz—802.11a 202.77 mW 326.59 mW
5GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 164.82 mW 337.29 mW
5GHz—802.11n (40 MHz) 139.32 mW 392.64 mW

Time Capsule—Power Output Comparison
WLAN Mode Gen.3 (BCGA1355) Gen.4 (BCGA1409)
2.4GHz—802.11b 237.14 mW 257.04 mW
2.4GHz—802.11g 143.22 mW 307.61 mW
2.4GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 130.92 mW 257.63 mW
5GHz—802.11a 202.77 mW 326.59 mW
5GHz—802.11n (20 MHz) 164.82 mW 337.29 mW
5GHz—802.11n (40 MHz) 139.32 mW 392.64 mW

It’s curious that for the 802.11b category power actually went down on the Airport Extreme, but hopefully nobody will find themselves using 802.11b in the first place. Interestingly enough, the results are almost the same on the Time Capsule, except 802.11b power has gone up accordingly. There are different output powers for each wireless mode, including 20 MHz and 40 MHz channels, but on average power between Airport Extreme generations has increased 135 mW, and 143 mW between Time Capsule generations.

Of course the next logical question is whether antenna gain has changed between the two—after all, having a more powerful output power only goes so far. It turns out that both Airport Extreme generations share the exact same antenna configuration and gain, and likewise with the Time Capsule. Note that two antennas are actually shared among the 2.4GHz and 5GHz RF chains—AP2 and AP3 to be exact.

Airport Extreme—Antenna Gain
Antenna Gen.4 (BCGA1354) Gen.5 (BCGA1408)
  2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi) 2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi)
AP1 - 1.74 - 1.74
AP2 1.41 2.97 1.41 2.97
AP3 2.33 2.67 2.33 2.67
AP4 1.83 - 1.83 -

Time Capsule—Antenna Gain
Antenna Gen.3 (BCGA1355) Gen.4 (BCGA1409)
  2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi) 2.4GHz (dBi) 5GHz (dBi)
AP1 - 4.38 - 4.38
AP2 0.1 0.81 0.1 0.81
AP3 0.27 3.09 0.27 3.09
AP4 4.32 - 4.32 -

I hadn’t looked up the Time Capsule antenna gains until now (having not owned one) but it’s surprising how little gain there is on 2.4GHz with antenna 2. I’m a bit surprised that Apple hasn’t moved over to using the antennas from the Airport Extreme in the Time Capsule. The Airport Extreme has a much more even gain configuration between the three antennas, however as we’ll show later performance is relatively comparable between the two products.

Without even breaking the devices open, we now know that the Airport Extreme and Time Capsule both have substantially increased transmit power, and likely share the same radio given the identical transmit power characteristics.

Introduction and Physical Appearances Disassembling Airport Extremes
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  • geekd0m - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I'll second the request for QOS and uPNP on these. I would love to get the Airport Extreme or Time Capsule for their solid performance, but really need the QOS.... Reply
  • MGSsancho - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/Gallery/Album/1282#13 passwords Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    That's my placeholder password ;)

    -Brian
    Reply
  • pius - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Hi Brian

    Thank you for a very thorough review! Based on your review I think I'm going to buy the new AirPort Extreme. I think I need two of them to reach the entire appartment. Should I instead then get one and then add an Express? Or will I then lose the advantages of the new Extreme? Also, is the Extreme any better that the Express when I don't need the USB and ethernet ports? I've heard about a device limit on the Express. Does that also apply if I only use it for extending the Extreme?
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I have an Express I originally intended to use to "extend" the network (really just WDS), but ran into all sorts of issues. I don't think they've updated that product in a while, and yeah the Extreme has much more power and range than the Express in general.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • gameman733 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    During the review, you mentioned that you ran into some trouble with Lenovo blocking the installation of mini-pcie wireless cards. I just wanted to let you know that this is definitely not the first time I've heard of it happening, and its not a recent thing.

    My old laptop, a Compaq Presario V2402US, purchased in 2005, didn't come with a wireless card. I went looking for a 3rd party wireless card (buying from HP didn't make sense when it came with a mini-pci slot available, and I could find a mini-pci card cheaper), and came across a page that mentioned several HP/Compaq laptops that did exactly what your Lenovo laptop did.

    As I recall, it was only watching the device and vendor ID's of the card, and the bios could be modded to take any card, but this really shouldn't be necessary. The only close to legitimate reason I could think of was FCC clearance, but that doesn't make any sense either. Anyway, just wanted to share my experience.
    Reply
  • Alchemy69 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Oh look, Apple have invented Wi-Fi. Expect lawsuits Reply
  • repoman27 - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    I bet it would work just fine. As long as you update the older model to version 7.5.2 of the AirPort Base Station and Time Capsule firmware first (available download from Apple), you should be good to go. The reference module has everything it needs, and the main board is the same hardware revision. No muss, no fuss.

    eBay has scads of listings for various Broadcom reference modules which can be used to upgrade older Macs, so I imagine it's only a matter of time before these hit the streets as well.

    And it was an amazing review - everything I've been hoping for since I was looking at Hardmac's take apart photos back in June and noticed that Apple had switched from a Marvell to a Broadcom radio module.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Thanks! Interesting, if the reference module BCM94331 comes up, I'll definitely give it a shot. I too bet it would work, I just wonder whether the device only gets flashed an image with the appropriate controller drivers depending on what "generation" it is, as opposed to actually looking at what card is installed.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Are there any non-Apple routers using this new Broadcom wireless chip? Would they get the same performance with the same chip, or is there some added Apple-juice in there? No doubt this is a great router, just very pricey. Reply

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