Migrating the router from Linksys to Apple AirPort Extreme/Time Capsule
December 10, 2009 Leave a comment
The explicit mention of the Time Capsule model is important, since this is the latest model, released in October 2009. Although the new design incorporates some performance improvements, is not yet known if this model continues to be plagued by the same problems. According to The Apple Time Capsule Memorial Register, there are more than 1300 reports describing thermal problems related to previous models (like mb765z/a), and the expected life span is around 18 months.
This new model too feels somehow hot when touched on the top cover, but I can’t tell if the temperature is dangerous; the temperature can be compared with the external temperature of my LaCie external hard disks (the new d2 Quadra aluminum case models), and the temperature of the Thomson SpeedTouch ADSL modem.
Installing the new Time Capsule
Considering this is an Apple product, I thought that installing it is just a matter of plugging the Ethernet cable from my Mac Mini to one of the three Ethernet switch ports and powering the unit.
Well, it is true that the unit was instantly recognized by the AirPort Utility, but it is also true that in order to function, this program suggested to update to a newer version. The Check for Updates… menu did not help, since the program reported that No updates to AirPort Utility or any of your AirPort wireless devices are available at this time.
As usual, when nothing else works, the solution is to read the manuals. And the manual explicitly asked to install the AirPort Utility supplied on the accompanying CD…
This new version (v5.5) immediately recognized the unit and allowed the configuration changes.
Most of the defaults were ok, and there were not many things to configure to start the unit. In my case, since this unit was also used as an external router to connect to the Internet, I had to select PPPoE in the Internet Connection -> Connect Using, and to specify the account name and password.
Although the unit immediately connected to the Internet and started to route packets for the connected Mac Mini, I decided to slightly change the configuration, to match my previous setup. For instance I changed the DHCP network, the address range and the Wireless Network Name.
Additional feature: the printer port
One of the additional features that favored the decision to buy this unit was the possibility to connect an USB printer and access it from the local network in a very convenient way.
Well, this was the first time when the It Just Works motto has proved true. I connected my Canon iP4200 inkjet printer and it was immediately recognized by the Time Capsule and exported to the local network.
The Mac Mini also recognized the printer without any special configuration, and I expect all future Mac computers that will populate my network will have no problems to use this printer.
The last hop was to reconfigure the Windows machines to use this network printer. A really nice surprise was how easy this step was: just install the Apple Bonjour for Windows, start the Bonjour Printer Wizard and select the printer.
One side effect of using this zero-configuration Bonjour protocol is that the network printer does not need a fixed address, so no static DHCP reservations are needed.
Additional feature: the hard disk(s)
The other special feature of the Time Capsule is the embedded hard disk. As expected, this disk is immediately visible in the Mac Mini Finder as a shared resource (authentication with the disk account credentials is required).
Access from Windows machines is a bit more complicated, due to the Windows browsing specifics. In a simple workgroup, if no WINS server is available, I could not make the Time Capsule to be visible for browsing from Windows XP machines. However you can access the Time Capsule by using the ‘Search for Computers…’ and then map the network drive to a letter.
The other detail to be noted is the selection of the authentication mechanism; without Time Machine and with Window clients, I thought that With accounts is the most appropriate method.
In addition to the internal hard disk, it is also possible to add external USB disks and export them to the entire network. However, the transfer rates are lower, due to USB bus limitations compared to internal SATA disk.
Additional feature: Guest Network
One interesting feature of the Time Capsule is the possibility to define a separate wireless network, that you can use for your guests. For this separate network DHCP will allocated a separate network, so the machines on your regular network will not be visible. Access to this separate network is possible using a separate authentication mechanism and a separate password.
As expected, not all features offered by the Tomato firmware are available on the Time Capsule.
For instance there are no service quality settings. It is not possible to explicitly prioritize traffic and make torrent traffic less important than web traffic.
It is also not possible to update dynamic DNS sites; but since I upgraded my subscription with static IP address, this feature is no longer required.
UPnP -> PMP
One of the missing features that made me question the switch to Apple products was the UPnP, since I knew torrent uploads rely on port forwarding, and manually configuring pot forwarding is quite tedious.
Fortunately Apple implemented their own similar protocol, NAT-PMP (Port Mapping Protocol), which is gaining wider acceptance acceptance (currently it is an IETF draft), being also supported by my favourite torrent client, µTorrent.
Although from a reliability point of view the unit may be far from perfect (only time will tell if the new model will suffer or not from the same heat problems as previous models), from a functional point of view the unit is just great; it is easy to configure, performance is reportedly better than most other similar routers, it also acts as a very easy to use print server and also incorporates a large (1-2 TB) hard disk. Not to mention the specific Apple cool look…
Unfortunately the first TimeCapsule devices have a thermal design problem, and after a while the internal disk dies. If if the new models fixed this, the current recommendation is to use specialised servers (like Synology) and completely avoid the TimeCapsule.