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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  • MobiusStrip - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - link

    It would be nice to see a comparison of Airport with other brands of wireless routers.
  • Flachr - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    I noticed that the 5g Extreme's country field in the airport utiliy is limited to very few countries while all my previous TC's had a long list of countries to choose from.
    Is Apple now tailoring devices to regions? Is there a way to get the longer list of countries back to select from?
  • IdBuRnS - Monday, August 22, 2011 - link

    I have been using my Airport Extreme (MD031LL/A) for about a week and a half now and I'm loving it. It replaced an old Netgear G router so it's like night and day between the two when it comes to streaming wirelessly.

    Since I have FiOS I only use it as an AP (FiOS router is in my wiring closet in my garage which puts it out of range for all my devices) but so far I couldn't be happier.
  • Jack iCaseReview - Friday, August 26, 2011 - link

    I don't think the AirportExtreme will ever be a good solution for massive network backups. For small backups it great, but anything too big, and it somewhat slow....

    editor -
  • MarsMSJ - Sunday, September 4, 2011 - link

    I had bought an E4200 to replace a WRT310N that started acting up (going unresponsive.) I had issues where I would get abysmal download speeds on wired. I moved my cable modem to as few splits as possible and that resolved most of the issue (though I argue that my speeds were fast for a year until 2-3 weeks ago and the split had nothing to do with it. Now I get 8-12 where as I had 12-15 for though it's better then the .5 I was getting.)

    Anyway I noticed right away that when connecting the E4200 my speeds are cut by a 1/2 in comparison to connecting directly to the modem. I upgraded to the latest firmware which not only did not fixed the issue, but broke other features of this router (media server does not work among other things.) Cisco is testing new firmware that won't be available until the end of September if everything goes well.

    I found this out because I got an the new Airport Extreme Gen 5 for my side of the house recently. I got curious and switched out the new AE and saw that my speeds were as fast as connected directly to the modem. I spent my Saturday night testing these both by themselves and my notebook and confirmed the E4200 is cutting internet speeds in half. When I hooked everything up the speeds were similar to when I was the only device connected to it.

    Right now I have the AE Gen 5 connected to the modem on the other side of the house while the old WRT310 is on my side with my devices wired in (no wireless on my side for the moment.) Wired into the WRT310 which is wired to the AE Gen 5 (we have a 100 foot cable that runs outside along the roof) and using (used them and the same server for all testing) I get 7-9 Mbps compared to the 2-4 on the E4200.

    Something is definitely wrong and luckily I got the E4200 at Best Buy on sale (130USD though it's back up to 180) and they have a 45 day return policy for Reward Zone Silver members (Dad bought a mac book pro from them thus spent enough to qualify.) I will be returning it and maybe getting another AE Gen 5 or just waiting it out to see if the new firmware fixes the E4200 download/upload speed issue. (I can live without wireless in my room for month.) If you're debating, now is not the time to buy an E4200.
  • milan03 - Saturday, September 17, 2011 - link

    You can totally share a printer using Airport Express. I've been doing it since the 4th Gen.
  • tekenaar - Monday, October 24, 2011 - link

    . . . is: "At this point it isn’t really looking like there’s much different, but exterior appearances can be deceptive."

    . . . S/B: "At this point it isn’t really looking like there’s much difference, but exterior appearances can be deceptive." ?!
  • silvalli - Monday, October 24, 2011 - link

    Can't find discussion of this anywhere.
  • spaztec - Friday, December 23, 2011 - link

    Noticing a fizzing sound coming from my unit during wireless data transfer - any techs here with insight as to which exact component is causing it? I'd check myself, but voiding the warranty for curiosity's sake sounds like a bad idea.

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