Friday, September 5, 2014

Yet Another Apple Product Par Excellence

As you might have noticed, I have become a raving fan of Apple's products (no, really!).  Recently, I purchased a new genre of product from them - the Airport Time Capsule.  This is a WiFi router that has a hard drive built into it, to support network backups.  The Airport boasts the following features:
  • 802.11ac standard, which runs from 433 Mbps up to 2.6 Gbps (this is 1.5x to almost 9x as fast as 802.11n standard)
  • Dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz
  • Optional Guest network (allows friends to come over and use WiFi, without having access to your computers and private systems)
  • Gigabit Ethernet wire ports
Now, as great as that all is, we are talking $299 for an ac router and 2TB backup drive.  I spent $80 for my D-Link DIR-826L, which is the same thing but 802.11n and minus the 2TB hard drive.  This actually is quite reasonable, considering it is a premium brand and current technology - but how does it stack up?


This Airport router is replacing a D-Link DIR-826L, which is also a dual-band router (albeit 802.11n), with gigabit network ports.  Initially, I really liked the D-Link, but found the configuration pages very confusing.  I was also not impressed with their choice of Microsoft ASP.NET as a web GUI configuration platform - and suspect that played into the problems I experienced.  First off, there were a million configuration options.  Having that flexibility is nice on one level, but I found myself having to dig through many screens just to get to the configuration I wanted.  That also means a lot of trial-and-error, and constant reboots to have the new settings take effect.  After downloading firmware updates, and spending weeks on the D-Link forum, I eventually gave up what I was trying to do - bridge to my AT&T network so that my devices using the faster WiFi and media network could also communicate with my TV devices.  I also had trouble routing VPN traffic through the D-Link to my server, and it had replaced a Linksys router that worked great at that.

Second, the performance on the router admin page was atrocious - very slow.

Worse, after a couple of months I noticed that the D-Link router would only stay operational for a few weeks, maybe up to 2 months max - then it would just stop working.  Devices would connect, get IP addresses, but no Internet was available - until I rebooted the router.  There was no automatic scheduled reboot function available, and D-Link support could offer no better solution.  After 18 months of constantly rebooting the router after sudden Internet outages, I finally gave up.

Airport Time Capsule

In true Apple fashion, the Airport router way exceeded my expectations.  And, I was expecting it to behave very well indeed!  Installation was of course easy (how hard is it to plug cords in?), but the configuration was done through a utility built into the Mac operating system.  It seriously could not have been easier - and within 5 minutes I had my personal and guest WiFi set up, bridged to the AT&T network, and running at blazing speeds (all my devices are still n, but ac are coming soon -- boy do I hope the iPhone 6 has ac!).

Note that you must have a Mac or Apple mobile device to configure your Airport product - there is no generic web interface to configure it.  This may be a negative for some people, but I find it reassuringly secure, and greatly simplifies configuration.  Plus, you should switch to a Mac anyhow.

After running for a few weeks now, I am amazed by several things.  First, multiple devices from multiple vendors - Samsung, Roku, Microsoft, Lenovo, HP, as well as Apple just connect to the Airport WiFi quickly, and IP address allocation (via my AT&T router) is also snappy - much faster than the D-Link.

Second, performance.  About 2-3 times a week, I check for my home network performance - a habit I get into, especially when I find a slow web site.  Typically it has been about 12-16 Mbps, with peaks around 18 Mbps (on a service of 18 Mbps).  I have no idea how, but while connected to my Airport router this week, I have noticed speeds up to 24 Mbps - exceeding the bandwidth that I pay for.  I don't know if the bridging as opposed to NAT gives me a speed boost (as I suspect), but definitely life with the Airport router is really nice.

Cloud Drive

One reason why my routers must have a Gigabit Ethernet port, is that I bought about the same time as the D-Link, a Western Digital MyBook Live cloud drive.  This has a Gigabit Ethernet port, and hosts my video library.  Thus, I want streaming from the drive to be fast within my house, and not bottlenecked when we watch shows on 2 Apple TV's and an iPad at the same time (which we often do).  We also use the MyBook Live as a second backup drive (it supports Apple AFP protocol, and Time Machine backups natively).  So, we have redundancy in our backups of 5 computers, and lots of storage space for all those audio and video files.

As opposed to a cloud service (like Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Apple iCloud Drive, DropBox, and more), a Cloud Drive gives you access to storage, but on hardware that you buy, own, and set up somewhere.  My WD drive is 2TB, so I have it partitioned into 800 GB for Apple Time Machine backup, and 1.2 TB for media (video/audio library).  I can access the cloud drive via an app on my mobile devices or computer from anywhere in the world, and from home I simply load the media into iTunes on a computer and share it, to watch from a computer, mobile device, or Apple TV.  For a price of $130 almost 2 years ago, 2TB is very nice.  And, I don't have to worry about anyone hacking into it.

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