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What to do with an old airport device

Christian Rentrop

Unfortunately, Apple has discontinued its AirPort router line. Anyone who needs new WLAN technology has to look for alternatives. But what to do with the beloved Time Capsule, AirPort Express and AirPort Extreme?

For real Apple fans, the news was a shock at the beginning of 2018: The further development of the AirPort system, which has been a reliable supplier of Apple router technology for two decades, has been discontinued. The last devices were sold. If you are looking for a router, you no longer need to look at Apple, instead you have to find an alternative. But even if there are no longer any brand new Time Capsules, AirPort Extreme and AirPort Express, the devices are initially not out of date. So there is no reason to panic sell them now: As long as they are still working, they can continue to do their job. The only question is: where and how?

EnlargeUnrestricted use: the last generation of AirPorts

It's a shame about the powerful hardware

The problem: At least the AirPort Express received an AirPlay 2 update after AirPort was discontinued. However, Apple is likely to have delivered the last update for its router line. This is a shame, especially with Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme, because both devices are quite powerful routers: thanks to dual-band support with 2.4 and 5 GHz and, in recent series, fast WLAN according to 802.11n or even -ac standard, they should have replaced or supplemented many a weak provider router. Especially since the two devices were also equipped with practical Gigabit Ethernet sockets for connecting wired hardware.

EnlargeTimeCapsules can still be used as NAS in every generation. With the visually identical AirPort Extreme, however, you should pay attention to the model. The decisive factors are Gigabit Ethernet and the USB 2.0 connection.

Unsuitable as a wireless router?

The good news: Since all AirPort devices support the latest WLAN standards, including the secure WPA2 encryption, they are not automatically insecure because Apple no longer provides updates. In other words: If you still use such a device as a wireless router, you don't have to panic and remodel everything, because the AirPort system remains secure for the time being. If there are no updates, the router is in good company; many manufacturers rarely update their devices or not at all - and yet they still run as WiFi routers everywhere. As long as there are no previously undiscovered bugs or perfidious security holes such as the KRACK hole at the end of 2017, which Apple then quickly closed, an update is usually not necessary. So the old AirPort can keep behind, as it has done in recent years.

EnlargeAirPort Utility is also available for Windows

Almost all AirPorts are secure

All AirPort models that received an update after the KRACK vulnerability was discovered can still be considered safe. These are roughly all AirPort models that have been on the market since 2011: After the KRACK vulnerability became known, Apple released updates 7.6.9 for WLAN-N routers and 7.7.9 for routers with the AC standard. These updates are available for the tower-shaped AirPort Extreme (model A1521) and TimeCapsule (model A1470). All Mac mini-shaped previous versions of the AirPort Extreme (model A1408) and Time Capsule were also secured with the update to firmware version 7.6.9. Regarding the AirPort Express, unfortunately only the last version sold from 2012 can be considered safe (model A1392 / A139X). The bottom line is that as long as the AirPort base station is not round or it is a 1st generation AirPort Express, all AirPort base stations can be protected according to current standards. However, the question arises as to whether Apple will deliver updates in the future if a security vulnerability like KRACK appears again.

EnlargeYou can still load the utility for very old AirPort routers - but it no longer runs on current MacOS versions

Second life for old AirPorts

However, there is a second, very Apple-typical problem with the old AirPort stations: Since Apple has sealed the devices on the software side, there is unfortunately no alternative firmware for AirPort Express, TimeCapsule and AirPort Extreme. Firmware hacks like OpenWRT are therefore reserved for other models. Nevertheless, even a very old AirPort of the round series does not have to be thrown away if it is still working: There are a number of scenarios for which the routers can still be used. At least as long as Apple still offers the AirPort utility.

EnlargeThe 3rd generation AirPort Express can still be used without restrictions, even if it is no longer particularly fast. For this it supports AirPlay 2

What to do with ... AirPort Extreme ac and TimeCapsule ac (2013)?

Despite the discontinuation of the AirPort system, Apple was gracious with its base stations of the last generation: The tower-shaped AirPort Extreme A1521 and TimeCapsule A1470 from 2013 are not yet listed as "Vintage", which means that they should be provided with updates for a few more years . At least if there are serious security vulnerabilities. Both devices own Dual band WiFi according to the current AC standard (up to 1,300 Mbit) and 3 + 1 Ethernet ports with Gigabit LAN as well as a USB 2.0 port for connecting printers or external hard drives.

EnlargeThe more modern AirPort Express has two Ethernet ports and USB 2.0

They can also up to 50 WiFi devices operate and support current standards such as VPN passthrough. Configuration with the current AirPort utility for MacOS, iOS or Windows is easy. Overall, this device class is also that current state of the art - There is no need to replace these two devices as long as the latest update is installed. Anyone who now has a more modern router can integrate TimeCapsule and Extreme into the WLAN as a powerful WLAN-LAN bridge or as a repeater.

What to do with ... AirPort Express N (2008 and 2012)?

The second generation AirPort Express (A1392) and its predecessor in the "power supply design" (A1264) of the first generation are anything but brand new, but therefore do not belong to the old iron : Appeared in 2008 and 2012 respectively, Apple has had the newer model in its range unchanged since then. In fact, both models still have that KRACK security update got, the 2012 model was even provided with AirPlay 2 via update.

EnlargeThe "old" Airport Express is available in two versions: the original version and a WLAN-N version. The former can be reactivated via a hack, the latter is just as usable today as its successor with small restrictions.

Except for the housing design, the dual-band WiFi, the second Ethernet socket and USB 2.0 on the 2012 model, the two routers are very similar, but never had the great technical data of their bigger siblings: The WiFi is at 300 Mbit / s not fast, but thanks to WPA2 up to date. Unfortunately, the fast Gigabit Ethernet connection from Extreme and TimeCapsule is missing. We therefore advise against using it as a repeater, as the stations might slow down the WLAN badly. As an AirPlay receiver on the stereo system and as a WLAN-LAN bridge but may she continue to perform her service. And the Ethernet port is useful when, for example, a device like the Raspberry Pi needs to be quickly brought into the network. Unfortunately, only a printer, but not a hard drive, can be integrated via the USB port.

EnlargeMany AirPorts can still be used while AirPort Utility is in place

What to do with ... TimeCapsule and AirPort Extreme N (2009-2013)?

What applies to the AirPort Express of the last generation also applies to the AirPort Extreme and TimeCapsule devices in "Mac mini design", which Apple sold between 2009 and 2013 in quick succession. Basically, all devices have Gigabit Ethernet ports, which means that they can still be used with cables without any problems, for example as a Time Machine drive or NAS . However, this only makes sense with the TimeCapsule of all generations and the AirPort Extreme models from the 5th generation (model A1301 and higher), as these have a USB 2.0 port to which a hard drive can be connected. If the device supports WPA2, it can work without any problems as a repeater or bridge or of course print servers can be used in the WLAN.

Pay attention to the model!

As WLAN devices, however, due to the 802.11n WLAN standard, they are no longer completely up to date in terms of speed, but at least the last devices in this series released in 2011 - AirPort Extreme A1521 and TimeCapsule A1409 - dual-band Establish WLAN networks with up to 450Mbit / s. So you are in doubt significantly better suited as a WLAN access point , than some routers that providers delivered until a few years ago.

Unfortunately, devices built before 2011 do not have a fast USB 2.0 port, which means that integrated hard drives work extremely slowly according to the USB 1.0 standard. With today's data volumes, it only makes sense to continue to operate TimeCapsule devices before 2011. By the way: With a little manual skill, the hard drive can easily be enlarged.

What to do with ... AirPort Express (1st generation)?

With the first generation of the AirPort Express (A1084), Apple landed a bestseller in 2004: The relatively inexpensive WLAN base station based on the 802.11g standard not only enabled a network to be expanded quickly and easily, but also made it possible for the first time to stream music from iTunes to the stereo system . There are probably only a few Apple users who did not own or even still own the device at the time.

EnlargeThe WiFi standard has become the main problem with many AirPort devices, especially if the main router is more modern. Old TimeCapsules can also simply run as a NAS on a cable.

With this device there is no reason not to further as a music streaming device to be used as long as you switch off your slow and insecure WPA-1 WLAN and connect it via Ethernet. Modern iTunes or macOS and iOS versions still recognize their AirPlay, but the AirPort utility no longer. However, the older version 5.6.1 of the utility, which still supports the first AirPort Express, can still be used on modern Macs with a free third-party patch, which makes it a very inexpensive way to wirelessly record stereo systems.

What to do with ... AirPort Base Station Graphite & Snow and AirPort Extreme (1999 to 2007)

It has been almost 20 years since Apple introduced the first AirPort base station, initially as a graphite version in UFO design made of clear plastic, later in white. The 2003 successor was called Extreme, but had the same design.

EnlargeAnyone who still owns such a UFO AirPort should no longer use it as a WLAN device. Unfortunately, it no longer has any practical application

The original model was a first step in the matter of WLAN, actually still has a built-in 56K modem for the telephone line and WLAN according to the 802.11b standard. And although all three devices are lived technology nostalgia, they no longer have any practical use : Since the AirPort Graphite (1999) and Snow (2001) only use WEP encryption, the successor Extreme only WPA1, they should definitely no longer be used as WLAN devices. However, this is hardly possible: If you don't have a Mac of this time with the appropriate AirPort utility, you can no longer configure the base station on newer Macs and iOS. The only thing that helps here is throwing it away or putting it on the shelf as a design object.

Conclusion: Many AirPort routers are still completely OK!

Overall, it is amazing how long Apple's AirPort devices last: the modern WLAN-ac versions can be used without restrictions despite their age and even 10-year-old TimeCapsules and AirPort Express devices can continue to be used without any problems with few restrictions. Even 15-year-old first-generation AirPort Express are still in use. However, it always becomes critical when either current security standards such as WPA2 are missing or the WLAN, Ethernet and USB hardware is simply too lame to be used meaningfully, which is why not every device is suitable for further use. Unfortunately, only Apple knows how long the AirPort system will be supported at all: by discontinuing the AirPort utility, the company could abruptly withdraw all AirPort devices. However, there is actually no reason for that.