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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  • gman_wa - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - link

    I bought a 5th Extreme when they came out a couple weeks ago and returned it based on the Meraki Wi-Fi Stumber java-based browser app.

    Maybe its my house, but with the 2nd gen and the 5th gen side by side, the 2nd gen signal strength was consistently ~5-10db stronger than the 5th ten. My 2nd gen runs the 2.4Ghz b/g/n network in the house and I wanted to replace this with something stronger and add the guest networking.

    I didn't actually try to compare throughput via wired or wireless.

    Maybe I got a dud? Or would the single radio on the 2nd gen model outperform the dual radio models?

  • applesandsynths - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - link

    Hey guys,

    I just had a quick question for anyone who may have a new 5th generation Airport Extreme. Can you tell me if the power rating numbers on the AC adapter are:
    Input AC 100-200v 50-60Hz 0.5A Output: 12V 1.8A Model: A1202?

    I know that these are the numbers from an older adapter but was just wondering if the new adapters are any different?

  • jackwong - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    I have the 4th and 5th.

    They are both 1A instead of 0.5A and the model is 20BB A.
  • Lebannen - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - link

    One thing I'm very interested in with regards to the Airport Extreme is noise. When connected to Airport Extremes (4th gen) over 5GHz, I can hear a reasonably loud noise when data transfer is occurring - elsewhere on the net I've heard it described as screeching and sizzling. I'm aware that it's all solid state so can only speculate that it's switching noise.

    It only occurs with 5GHz transfers, not with 2.4GHz, which *might* make it something to with the antenna configuration? If so, it may not have changed, but I'd be glad to hear either way - thanks :)
  • tichi - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    Just wondering if two other features (not mentioned in the article) are supported in the new version of Airport Extreme :

    1) Can you clone mac address for those of us not using DSL?
    2) Can you still throttle the power output of the antenna?

  • layman2 - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    It would be great if it had wireless internet i.e it gets internet over 3G or cDma networks and share it through wi-fi with other devices
  • Death666Angel - Monday, August 15, 2011 - link

    Hey guys!
    Really good article.
    I was wondering if you will be testing other 450mbps routers, too? You mentioned The Linksys E4200. What about the TRENDnet TEW-692GR which costs 20-30€ less than the Apple and about 5€ less than the Linksys, but seems to support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz with 450mbps simultaneously.

    Also, I have only found one WiFi adapter for 450mpbs for desktop PCs and that is a USB one called TRENDnet TEW-684UB. I have not found any PCI/PCIE cards that support 450mbps for the desktop. Is there any way to use mini-PCIE cards like the Intel 6300 in a desktop PC? Would it make sense to use a 450mbps access point as my WiFi card via ethernet?

    I would like to upgrade my WiFi system in order to stream HD content from my future file server to my media PC in my living room. My wife would kill me if I laid any cables for ethernet, so WiFi is the only way in this situation. I somehow feel like the higher WiFi offers are still very experimental. It's difficult to find decent reviews who test the products not just write down the specs.
  • Matt Campbell - Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - link

    Very nice, especially the FCC listings and teardown. The one thing I would have liked to see is how the internal drive speed compared to a NAS system like the My Book Live, Go Flex or other home NAS system, which would bypass the slow USB connection. I bought a 2 TB unit yesterday and am still reserving judgment vs. a router/NAS setup.
  • Amia - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - link

    I saw this review and bought TC 2T but file transfer speed from TC to PC via GigE is no where near 80mbps,actually less than 40. Wonder how this test has been done (
  • Amia - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - link

    Under 5g my Mac air is getting 270mbps but my another laptop which used to get 300mbps using my previous router can only have 150mbps. Maybe just like Mac air apple doesn't want you to use dual band (40mhz) under 2.4ghz

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