Ok, so I got back from my trip and installed and set up my new AirPort Extreme. The Extreme comes with a CD-ROM that installs new AirPort management software on your machine and also applies the draft-n software patch that otherwise has to be purchased from Apple for applicable machines; interestingly the AirPort software installer does not remove older versions of the AirPort management software from your Utilities folder, so you have to do that manually -- you want to have "AirPort Utility" and "AirPort Disk Utility" as the remaining AirPort applications in your Utilities folder after you have installed the new software.
Set up is very easy: simply plug the ethernet cable from your cable internet, DSL, etc. into the Extreme, plug in the Extreme, launch the AirPort Utility software to find the Extreme, and follow the instructions to set up the Extreme. I should note that the instructions are vert straightforward and it should be very easy for even basic users to get the Extreme up and running.
Once the Extreme is configured, you'll want to go the "Base Station" menu and select "Manual Setup" so that you can tweak settings like broadcast channels, interface robustness, etc. Note that if you do not enable the Manual Setup option, if you double-click the Extreme you will go right into the initial configuration that includes renaming the device, the network, etc.
A few thoughts/comments:
- I renamed the network basically the same that it was on my old Extreme, but I added the "N" qualifier to the name. It has been my experience that you can totally screw up your Keychain in OSX if you rebuild a network from scratch with the same name it had before.
- I defaulted all of the AirPort Expresses that I am using for WDS just to make it easier to add them to the new network. It's best to quit the AirPort Utility, default the Express devices, reopen the Utility and let the Utility configure the Express devices for WDS. Note that the Utility now does all of the initial setup for AirPort devices, eliminating the need for the AirPort Setup Utility that had to previously be used.
- The firewall cannot be configured. According to Apple's sight, the firewall is immediately activated when the Extreme is connected to your cable, DSL, etc. -- I'd feel much better if I could specifically configure firewall settings myself and I hope that such configuration is forthcoming.
- There is no area on the back that allows for the connection of an external antenna; I haven't had the need for an external antenna, but it's a little disappointing to see that it's not an option if I need it in the future.
- The default configuration of the network is 802.11 draft-n/g -- in easy terms that means that the network is compatible with draft-n clients and 802.11g clients; you need to change these settings if you want to, for example, support 802.11b clients.
- There are some people posting that you have to restart all of the computers prior to joining them to the new network -- I do not believe this to be true as long as you change the network name slightly as I described above (note that if you have a Mac with a draft-n card, you will have to restart that machine in order to install the draft-n software patch). None of the machines on my network needed to be reset in order to join the new network.
- Please use WPA security. If for some reason you have a device on your network that doesn't support WPA either look at upgrading it, or hang your old wireless router off of one of the ethernet ports on the back of the Extreme and set it up for WEP.
I have not yet decided what to do with my now old AirPort Extreme. I suppose that I should just go default it, plug it in somewhere, and WDS it to the new network, but with the new Extreme and the Express, I don't really have too many dead spots in my house. If the old Extreme had an audio out on it like the Express, I'd ditch the Express and move the old Extreme into its spot. Perhaps when I receive the AppleTV and no longer need the Express where it currently resides in order to stream audio, I can find another spot for the old Extreme.
At some point I have to guess that Apple will be rolling out a new AirPort Express with draft-n (or maybe even ratified 802.11n) hardware, but the big question will be what the multimedia streaming capabilities of the 802.11n Express will be in light of AppleTV.