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Pure Speed: 2013 802.11ac AirPort Extreme Benchmarks

2013 AirPort Extreme 802.11ac Benchmarks

Update: In addition to the AirPort Extreme tests, below, we now also have performance benchmarks [1] comparing the AirPort to other 802.11ac-class routers from Belkin, Netgear, and Linksys.

After our initial AirPort Extreme and MacBook Air [2] demonstrated hardware problems, we waited several days to obtain replacements, which have finally arrived. While we still have much more planned in terms of reviewing the new AirPort Extreme, we wanted to get you some preliminary bandwidth numbers as quickly as possible, so here are our 2013 802.11ac AirPort Extreme benchmarks.

Our testing hardware consisted of the aforementioned 2013 AirPort Extreme (802.11ac and 802.11n), a 2011 fifth generation AirPort Extreme (802.11n), and a 2013 13-inch MacBook Air. We connected one router at a time and then measured maximum bandwidth from different locations relative to the routers.

The tests were run six times at each location, twice each for the following configurations: 2013 AirPort Extreme with 5GHz 802.11ac, 2013 AirPort Extreme with 2.4GHz 802.11n, and 2011 AirPort Extreme with 2.4GHz 802.11n. We disabled all other wireless equipment during the tests, including cordless phones and other mobile devices.

The routers were located on the main floor of our office on a bookshelf approximately five feet from the floor. The testing locations were the following:

Location 1: The same room as the routers, on a wooden table approximately ten feet away.

Location 2: One floor beneath the routers, in a room directly underneath. Approximately 15 feet from the routers through a single wood floor.

Location 3: The same floor as the routers, in a room on the opposite side of the building; approximately 45 feet away through two walls.

Location 4: One floor above the routers, in a room on the opposite side of the building; approximately 50 feet away through three walls and a wood floor.

Location 5: The maximum distance at which we could still reliably connect to the 2011 AirPort Extreme; outside the building (same floor as the routers), down the street about half a block. Note that 802.11ac, stuck in the shorter range offered by 5GHz, was unable to connect at this location, so the test only compares 2.4GHz 802.11n between the 2013 and 2011 AirPort Extremes.

2013 AirPort Extreme 802.11ac Benchmarks

As you can see, speeds from 802.11ac at relatively close distances are significantly faster than 802.11n. We achieved nearly 550Mbps (68.75 MBps) when near the router, and speeds remained over 500Mbps even one floor down. When we started getting further away, 802.11ac lost significant bandwidth, but still noticeably outperformed 802.11n.

So it’s clear that this new wireless specification is going to be a game changer for mobile devices and laptops. But you’ll need to buy new 802.11ac compatible equipment to obtain these speeds. What about those with 802.11n hardware that want to future-proof their router? Is the new AirPort Extreme a good investment?

The answer depends on your needs. At close distances, the new Extreme does indeed offer faster performance via 802.11n, but only by about 10 to 15 percent. That minor performance improvement may not be worth the minimum $200 cost of entry [3].

At large distances, however, the new Extreme maintains a significant advantage over the previous generation model. In our testing, the new Extreme maintained slow, but useable speeds at and beyond the transmission limit of the 2011 Extreme. If you’re looking for your 802.11n signal to reach just a bit further, and you don’t want to go through the process of setting up wireless extenders, the new Extreme may be the way to go.

That’s not to say that performance is the only factor. As we mentioned above, we’re still working on a more detailed review that will take a look at reliability, operating temperatures, and other features, as well as an overall comparison of the new Extreme to other 802.11ac routers. We’ll have that data for you in the coming days, but we just wanted to get these preliminary bandwidth numbers out as soon as possible considering the delays caused by the faulty hardware.