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How to speed up your network without replacing your AirPort Extreme Base Station

Chuck La Tournous | Dec. 8, 2014
With the addition of a faster (and less expensive) wireless router, you can speed up your existing network.

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Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Stations (AEBS) have never been a bargain, but they've always offered good speed and range. What's really set them apart, however, is ease of configuration and the ability to connect remotely using Back to My Mac.

If your base station is more than a few years old, though, the performance gap between it and newer routers may tempt you to replace it. That could leave you in a bit of a quandary: Replace it with a newer but relatively expensive $199 AirPort Extreme Base Station or switch to a lower-cost (and potentially higher-performing) third-party Wi-Fi router. Choose the former, and you replace functionality that still works perfectly well and spend top dollar for what may not be the best performance available. Or choose the latter and you lose out on that easy configuration and remote access. (And if the router you're thinking of replacing is an AirPort Time Capsule, you would lose convenient network backups via Time Machine.)

There is a third alternative, however: Leave your existing base station in place, and add a Wi-Fi router to your network. With this option, you still get the benefits of Back to My Mac and the ability to use AirPort Utility. But you'll also get a speedy, robust dual-band Wi-Fi router and save a few bucks at the same time. You may also wind up with a more flexible network, since you can have your AEBS in one location and your new Wi-Fi router in another, where it may provide a better signal to your Wi-Fi devices.

You had one job
The trick comes in letting each device know what network chores it's responsible for, so that they don't conflict with each other. Letting both devices act as routers can lead to network problems and will prevent wireless and wired devices from seeing each other. So in order to continue to use AirPort Utility and Back to My Mac, we'll let the AirPort Base Station continue to route traffic on our network, and turn off that function on our Wi-Fi device.

In our example, we'll be adding a TP-Link Archer C8 Wi-Fi router (currently $128 on Amazon) to a network running on a second-generation AirPort Extreme Base Station. The Archer C8 (about to be replaced by the C9) is a highly rated Wi-Fi router that provides nice features such as a dual-band guest network, "beamforming" for better signal and faster throughput, and Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) for easily connecting a wireless printer. (Apple's newest base stations also have these first two features, but don't support the push button implementation of WPS.)

 

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