I want to reduce my device zoo so I have to figure out which wireless router by Apple would be best for me. For a Mac user like myself it’s the obvious and reasonable choice to buy an Airport base station.

All devices support 802.11n at 300 Mbit/s (simultaneous dual-band 2.4 and 5 GHz), 802.11g at 54 Mbit/s and have guest networks. Guest networks allow to have guests using your wireless without you having to give them your password. They use a guest password.

The newer devices (2013 and later) also support 802.11ac (1,300 Mbit/s) and the wireless reach has been extended.

AirPort Express $99

  • AirPort Express 802.11n 2nd generation (2012)
  • only two fast ethernet ports: one for Internet, one for a wired LAN device
  • no Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbit/s), but “only” Fast Ethernet (100 Mbit/s)
  • small enclosure: 98 x 98 x 23 mm / 3.85 x 3.85 x 0.9 inches (the same size like an Apple TV)
  • internal power supply
  • optical (digital) and normal (analog) audio out for music streaming using AirPlay
  • USB 2.0 port to connect a printer
  • max. supported users or devices at the same time: 10

AirPort Extreme 2011

  • AirPort Extreme 802.11n 5th generation (2011)
  • four Gigabit Ethernet ports: one for Internet, three for wired LAN devices
  • mid-sized enclosure: 165 x 165 x 34 mm / 6.5 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • external power supply
  • no audio out
  • USB 2.0 port to connect a printer
  • max. supported users or devices at the same time: 50

AirPort Extreme $199

  • AirPort Extreme 802.11ac (2013)
  • four Gigabit Ethernet ports: one for Internet, three for wired LAN devices
  • large enclosure: 98 x 98 x 168 mm / 3.85 x 3.85 x 6.6 inches
  • internal power supply
  • no audio out
  • USB 2.0 port to connect a printer or hard drive
  • max. supported users or devices at the same time: 50

Time Capsule 2011 (2TB / 3TB)

  • Time Capsule 802.11n 4th generation (2011)
  • internal hard disk for Time Machine backup or storage (NAS)
  • four Gigabit Ethernet ports: one for Internet, three for wired LAN devices
  • large enclosure: 197 x 197 x 36 mm / 7.7 x 7.7 x 1.4 inches (same size as an aluminium Mac mini)
  • internal power supply
  • no audio out
  • USB 2.0 port to connect a printer or hard drive
  • max. supported users or devices at the same time: 50

Time Capsule $299 (2TB), $399 (3TB)

  • Time Capsule 802.11ac (2013)
  • internal hard disk for Time Machine backup or storage (NAS)
  • four Gigabit Ethernet ports: one for Internet, three for wired LAN devices
  • large enclosure: 98 x 98 x 168 mm / 3.85 x 3.85 x 6.6 inches
  • internal power supply
  • no audio out
  • USB 2.0 port to connect a printer or hard drive
  • max. supported users or devices at the same time: 50

Which One Does Suit Me Best?

If you don’t have a backup solution, the Time Capsule is the best choice. A Time Capsule is the easiest way to have automatic hourly backups via wireless or wired network connections. It uses less power than second computer or a base station and an external drive. It also is inaudible. You just have to be connected to your network and Time Machine and Time Capsule take care of the rest without you having to remember to connect a drive to your computer.

You can restore a Time Machine backup any time, even when you bought a new computer. You just connect to your network at home while powering up your new computer and macOS will find the Time Capsule and your backups. You will be asked if you want to restore this backup which copies all your data to your new computer and you can safely delete your old one.

If you want to have AirPlay to stream your music to your home stereo however the only choice is an AirPort Express. But you don’t get Time Machine backups over the air. Instead your only option is to connect a hard drive to your computer.

The AirPort Extreme is somewhere in-between. It has the same features as the Time Capsule but no internal backup drive. Having a computer without any backups is not very smart, because computers and hard drives break all the time. Using the external hard drive for Time Machine backups is not possible. And the external power supply (if it’s the 2011 model) is inconvenient as well.

The Less Expensive Option

The AirPort Express, if only one or no wired LAN devices have to be supported. For more wired devices an inexpensive switch or an AirPort Extreme would be a better choice. It supports Airplay, but no backup.

The Ideal Option

The Time Capsule, because it supports convenient wireless backups. On top an Apple TV, to have AirPlay and being able to stream movies wirelessly and mirror videos, pictures and games to a big screen TV.