Apple AirPort

AirPort is Apple's brand name for 802.11 wireless (or WiFi) networking. Apple's AirPort hardware will interoperate with most of the 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n equipment out there.

If you're using older networked printers or older Macs on the network, it may be important to have a router that supports the AppleTalk protocol. Apple's AirPort hardware does; a lot of third-party equipment doesn't. (Because someone else already owned the AirPort trademark in Japan, it's known as AirMac there.)


When Apple unveiled the 300 MHz G3 iBook in July 1999, one of its most talked about features was AirPort. Wireless networking was almost unknown at the time, and Apple was one of the first computer companies to offer it - probably the first.

The original AirPort supported the 802.11b protocol, which has 11 Mbps of bandwidth - theoretically a little faster than 10Base-T ethernet, although not quite true in the real world. Still, it was fast enough (approximately 5.5 Mbps real world), and even today it's faster than most broadband connections, which makes 802.11b sufficient for most home and small office use.

All G3 iBooks, the 2000 "Pismo" PowerBook G3, and all titanium G4 PowerBooks support Apple's AirPort card. All Power Mac G4 models with AGP video also have a slot for the AirPort card, as do the first two generations of eMacs. Slot-loading iMacs also support AirPort, but you need a special adapter to hold the AirPort card, and the first G4 iMac supports it as well.

AirPort Extreme

WiFi took a big step forward with the 802.11g specification, moving from 11 Mbps bandwidth to 54 Mbps. Apple called their version AirPort Extreme, as it offered nearly 5x the speed of the earlier AirPort hardware (about 25 Mbps real world).

Introduced at Macworld San Francisco in January 2003, it became the norm until 802.11n began to replace it in late 2006.

Macs that support AirPort Extreme include all aluminum PowerBooks, all G4 iBooks, the faster eMacs, later G4 iMacs, all G5 Power Macs, and all versions of the Mac mini to date (April 2007). The MacBook and MacBook Pro models all come with AirPort Extreme built in.

Apple never embraced any of the competing enhanced 802.11g protocols which various companies used to push bandwith to 108 Mbps.

AirPort Extreme 802.11n

Apple moved to 802.11n in January 2007 while still using the AirPort Extreme brand. 802.11n has ten times the bandwidth of 802.11g. In addition to greater bandwith (and about 8x the real world throughput of 802.11g), the new protocol can double WiFi range compared to 802.11g.