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Wi-Fi Options for Apple Computers: Time Capsule and AirPort

When you switch from a PC to a Mac, you don’t have to switch out your networking equipment. Your Mac will connect to your current internet and wireless equipment. But for future reference, you may want to know about Apple’s Wi-Fi equipment offerings. They offer a few features not available in the PC world.

Time Capsule Wi-Fi

The Apple Time Capsule combines a Wi-Fi base station and a 1TB or 2TB backup hard drive. Wi-Fi connects computers and other devices in your home or office without running wires. Those computers, PCs and Macs, can access the Time Capsule hard drive over your wireless network. Macs can also use Time Capsule to make automatic backups with the Apple Time Machine backup software.

In a normal installation, you run an Ethernet cable from the back of the Time Capsule to your high-speed Internet-connected modem: cable, DSL, or satellite. If you’re in a school or an office that has a direct Internet connection, plug your Ethernet cable into that connection.

[Credit: Photo courtesy of Apple, Inc.]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Time Capsule comes with these features:

  • Support for all Wi-Fi standards: Time Capsule supports all current Wi-Fi standards, including 802.11a, b, g, and n. Therefore, it should work with just about any Wi-Fi–equipped computer and other Wi-Fi devices, such as the iPhone and Apple TV.

  • Two frequency bands: Time Capsule operates on both Wi-Fi frequency bands, 2.4 and 5 GHz, simultaneously for maximum range and performance.

  • Broad support for security standards: The security standards basically keep anyone parked on the street or your next-door neighbor from hopping onto your network to use your Internet access. Time Capsule supports all the Wi-Fi security standards — WEP, WPA, WPA2, 802.11X, Radius, and so on — and includes a firewall.

  • Parental controls: You can set permissible times for access for each authorized computer, which is great for limiting kids’ access.

  • Even more ports: Time Capsule does more than just supply high-speed Internet to any Wi-Fi device within range — which, by the way, is about 150 feet (50 meters), though your footage may vary. In the rear, it has three local Ethernet ports so that you can hook up computers that lack Wi-Fi capability, or if you prefer the greater speed and security of a wired connection. It also has a USB 2.0 port that lets you attach a printer that can be shared by your network. Alternatively, you can attach a second USB hard drive and then share it over the network.

What’s that? You want both a printer and a hard drive? Don’t be so greedy. Okay, okay. But you need to get a USB 2.0 hub. It’s inexpensive, and then you can have multiple printers and multiple hard drives. Go wild.

Time Capsule is styled like the Mac mini. It’s 7.7 inches (197mm) square (same as the mini), weighs 3.5 pounds (0.753 kg), and runs on 100–240V AC — no separate power brick required.

AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi base station

AirPort Extreme is basically a Time Capsule without the built-in hard drive. As supplied, AirPort Extreme provides the same Wi-Fi base-station services as Time Capsule and has the same set of connectors on its back, including a USB port for a printer or hard drive. Add a big hard drive, and you get the Time Capsule backup functions, but with more boxes and wires.

The AirPort Extreme is also styled like the Mac mini. Its footprint is 6.5 inches (165mm) square, and it weighs 1.66 pounds (0.753 kg). It comes with an AC power adapter but runs on 12 VDC, so you can put one in your car to run a Wi-Fi network at your next geek picnic.

AirPort Express, a Wi-Fi relay

The AirPort Express is smaller and simpler than the AirPort Extreme. The AirPort Express looks like the Apple laptop power supply. It even has the same “duck’s head” snap-off power connector.

[Credit: Photo courtesy of Apple, Inc.]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Although AirPort Express can function as a Wi-Fi base station to share an Internet connection, it’s intended more to serve as a relay and an audio interface so that you can pipe music from iTunes to your home entertainment system. It supports the 802.11b and g signaling speeds.

AirPort Express has just four connections:

  • An AC wall plug (just stick it in any outlet)

  • An Ethernet port

  • A USB 2.0 port

  • A combined optical digital audio output/headphone out — 3.5mm minijack

The USB port supports a shared printer. The audio port can connect to your stereo. You just need a 3.5mm stereo phone plug–to–RCA phone plug adapter cable. You can get one from the Apple Store or your local Radio Shack. If you have more than one sound system, you can install multiple AirPort Express units.

You can pack the AirPort Express in your suitcase and use it to create a Wi-Fi network in your hotel if the hotel has only wired Internet.

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