Airport Extreme Mini-Review

I picked up an Airport Extreme base station from Apple this week. I’ve had trouble with the wireless router I’ve been using on and off, and now that my laptop has N, I wanted an N base station. Plus, the Mac laptops can use Time Machine to back up to a drive hanging off the USB port plugged into the Airport Extreme, so it was a natural choice.

In general the hardware is great. Only 3 ports on the inside of the network (and one WAN port), which is one less than what most other similar devices have, but probably enough for most people. The wireless connection has been rock solid – 5 bars non stop, and fast.

But the Airport Utility and the options it gives you for configuring the router are bizarre, and lacking in some pretty basic areas.

Here are a few of the things I wanted to do, that I haven’t been able to do with the Airport Extreme:

  • Use an existing DHCP server for my internal network. If you want NAT, then the Airport Extreme has to be doing DHCP as well. There are some workarounds but this is just a strange limitation. I just surrendered and let it do DHCP.
  • See a list of IP addresses that DHCP as assigned. For some reason even though it’s given out a number of IP addresses, it shows 0 wireless clients, and when I click on that, it takes me to a Logs window that doesn’t show the addresses it’s assigned. I have to boot up a machine, log into the console and see what IP address it has, and then update the hosts file on all the other boxes to be able to refer to it by name. Blah.
  • Configure the IP address of the router. You can configure it to some extent, but only within one of three preconfigured ranges: 10.0.*, 172.16.*, or 192.168.*.

For most users these limitations won’t be limitations at all, but considering that every other wireless router I’m aware of would handle all of these, I don’t think I’m expecting too much of Apple to allow a little more configurability.

With Mac OS X, you’ve got unix under the hood, and you’re only a Terminal window away from being able to configure anything yourself. I wonder if there’s something similar for the Airport Extreme.