Apple on Tuesday quietly introduced a new AirPort Extreme Base Station that supports 802.11n, a faster networking standard that works up to five times faster and up to twice the range as its predecessor. The new base station ships in February for $179.
The new AirPort Extreme Base Station marks a radical design departure from its predecessors. While the older base stations had a squat, teardrop-shaped design, the new model features a beveled, square shape similar to the new Apple TV. It measures 6.5 inches square and 1.3 inches tall.
Based on a draft specification of the IEEE 802.11n standard, the new AirPort Extreme Base Station is backward-compatible with the earlier 802.11g standard, and also works with 802.11b and 802.11a-based devices. 802.11n utilizes a technique known as Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) to achieve the faster performance and longer range, and while it offers seamless connectivity with older products, the performance of an 802.11n network will slow down if slower devices are connected.
The new base station also enables you to share USB-based printers and hard disk drives with the network, and can support a hub, so you can attach multiple devices. Software included with the device enables you to create password-protected accounts, or limit access to certain files and folders. The device itself can support up to 50 users at once.