I Heart AirPort Routers

I helped my Mom get a new iBook along with an AirPort Express router on Thursday. Setup of the thing was ridiculously easy, taking maybe three minutes. So what did I do when I wanted a router for myself today? Did I go out and buy a AirPort Express? Nah, that would be too easy.

I went out and got a Belkin Wireless G Travel Router. I can't recommend it. It seemed like a good deal because it was very compact and only $59. I just wanted something small, cheap and simple. The installer required Windows but I have wintel a laptop handy so I didn't think it would be a big deal. Two hours later, I gave up on the thing and returned it to Fry's.

Without getting into all the details and causing any one person too much embarassment, I think the problem is that I'm a Mac user and, as a result, have an annoying personality flaw where I just want things to work.

The initial setup of the router was within reason, but that left me with an unsecured network. Setting out to change this is how I ended up with a wireless brick. Somehow I infuriated the WEP password gods and I couldn't log onto the thing. I'm not sure how much of this was due to Windows, but the "connecting..." thing just ran forever.

I initially tried to use a WAP password but that route asked me for all sorts of details I had never heard of, apparently requiring the use of the Radius server and an nas-id? If I don't know what it is I doubt the average consumer will.

After it became clear the password was in a bad state I tried using the reset button on the bottom but there was no indication that it was working and I saw no effect. I followed the directions with a little slip in the box that said to visit the web site for support. I did this, but Belkin's support site doesn't appear to have any information on this model (F5D7233).

There was no manual included, just a fold-out setup pamphlet. There might have been some help on the CD somewhere but at this point I had lost patience with the whole thing.


Before I even got back to Fry's to return the Belkin Saturday night, the solution was obvious to me: buy an AirPort Express. The installation of the one for my Mom was absurdly easy. I just ran the AirPort Setup Assistant.

So why did I buy the Belkin? I thought I could save $70 without any major drawbacks because I could run the installer from the Windows laptop. Belkin is a fairly well-known name as well. It might be that most people would have no problems with this route.

In fact, it might be that another $60 router would have worked fine. The question is, what if I want to do something other than the default behavior or what if the next one doesn't work at all? What if I don't have easy access to a Windows machine? How many times should I go through it?

The AirPort Express works beautifully. There couldn't be a stronger contrast between the AirPort Assistants and the Windows installer apps that come with other router brands. I could save money with the other routers, but it's a moot point if they don't work.
Design Element
I Heart AirPort Routers
Posted Jan 15, 2006 — 6 comments below


MJ — Jan 15, 06 644

This is one of those arguments. I agonise about it all the time - save 30 quid and buy a known make (Netgear, Belkin,), save 50 and buy a white box model (mentor? epic?). Suffice to say I like Draytek (), Apple () and Netgear () and most of the white box models work better than any of the Belkins.

I'd never buy another Belkin router again but the reason I like the Vigor models is because they offer some PRO features. PPTP VPN server that works seamlessly with Mac OS X, USB printer server port, multiple VLANs, more ethernet ports than Airport, bandwidth throttling per port...

I like em a lot. Can barely afford them though.


bluk — Jan 15, 06 645

I can understand your love for Airport Expresses, but can anyone tell me what's so good about Airport Extremes? You're paying $70 more compared to an Airport Express for a single Ethernet port but lose iTunes streaming and the portability.

Heck, you could buy an Airport Express and a Linksys WRT54G, and still come out monetary-wise ahead with iTunes streaming, more router ports (essentially a four port switch), a whole portable router, and more configuration options. Granted, the Linksys may be harder to configure (I actually find them very easy to configure and you can configure them with just a web browser), but you usually only configure them once and leave them alone. Software wise, AFAIK everything can officially be done on a Linksys that an Airport Extreme can do except Apple's version of WDS. There isn't a performance advantage either that I can tell between the two routers.

Perhaps Apple is keeping their price high so that when 802.11n or whatever comes along, it won't look like they're charging a lot more for it. Other than that, I just don't understand why it is priced so high when it offers very little advantages compared to the Airport Express.

MJ — Jan 15, 06 646

The extra things an Airport Extreme can do include using the modem as a backup line, using the modem for dial-in (yeah, dial-IN). Using it as a router for wired networks (that's the second ethernet port) and it has an attachment for an extended antenna. Plus it's easy to configure (which was the entire point of Scott's post).

Colin — Jan 15, 06 647

I'm not sure I'd pay the premium for an Airport Extreme. The "it just works" factor is nice, but they're so expensive: Even with my education discount, they're $225 in Canada.

Am I correct in reading the tech specs that they have only one LAN port? I'd have to buy a switch in order to connect more than one wired computer. The dial-in connection is neat, definitely, though I'm not sure how many people would actually use it.

As far as easy-to-set up routers, I actually quite like SMC products. The express set-up option is web-based, and it asks about things like security. (It also supports what Apple calls WPA Personal, ie, WPA without a Radius server.) It also has a built-in 4 port 10/100 switch.

Originally, I had issues with mine; WPA security was flaky. After much back-and-forth with SMC support, it turns out their implementation was fine. The latest Airport update from Apple fixed the issue. Go figure, sometimes it doesn't "just work". :-)

Oh, and the router was $69.99 CDN, with a $60 mail-in rebate. $10 for 802.11g with WPA, 10/100 switch and the ability to turn off the routing features (I already have a Smoothwall router) definitely works for me!

Oh, and after my experiences with Belkin, I'd avoid them at all costs. The wireless keyboard/mouse combo I bought for my settop Wintel box had an effective range of 1.5m, and the car charger I bought for my 3G iPod caused it to stutter and eventually freeze once it was fully charged. :-/


Nat — Jan 17, 06 671

The problem with the Express, and the main justification for the overpriced Extreme, is that the little guy will not offer DHCP or routing to wired clients. I went round and round with this, expecting it would be as functional as my first-generation Airport base station. I wound up taking it to a genius bar, where they resorted to the special-red-phone to consult with the oracular applecare deities, who quickly told me I was SOL.

The other thing that bugs me to no end about Airport software is the inability to forward more than 20 individual ports (not ranges), across the whole local network. That's a completely arbitrary number, and especially on the Extreme, it's unjustifiable. I filed a bug on it which was, of course, closed.

Brian — Feb 22, 06 817

I own 2 wireless routers an old LinkSys 802.11b which I bought years ago, it decides to forget all it's settings sometimes or refuses to let anyone connect to it wirelessly sometimes. I also have a 3Com office connect wireless router 50% of the time I try to connect to it with my powerbook it will say could not connect but always works the second time. I've also setup an Airport Extreme at the office and man it's flawless it really just works, I think the range on all the consumer wireless products are just ok but atleast you can get an extender with the Airport extreme. Btw I really like your blog layout very spiffy :-)


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