Airport Extreme Frustrations

Wouldn’t you know it, I make a glowing post about Apple computers and that very day I experience extreme frustration with our new Airport Extreme N Base Station. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Airport Extreme is a great router for most people (and was packaged just as well as the Mini), but Apple should have acknowledged that it doesn’t work with all older Macs.

I still love the Mini, but am currently frustrated with Apple for poor support for their old computers. I don’t expect them to continue to support old hardware forever, but they should acknowledge what no longer works. Unfortunately, running the Airport with my Powerbook using Mac OS 10.4.11 causes the Powerbook to crash constantly. I called tech support, and they are aware of the issue, but no fix is in sight (I’d seen support posts back as far as last December about this problem, but no notice of it on the Airport’s product page, which indicates any Mac with Airport is compatible, though they list OS versions for several other features, such as 10.2.7 for shared printing and 10.4.8 for sharing a hard drive — we meet those requirements, but nothing is said about 10.4.11 on PowerPC computers crashing with the wireless N router). At the moment, it’s working without the N enabled, but that defeats the purpose of buying a router that will last when we upgrade our hardware. I can buy a Wireless G router for fraction of the cost of the Airport (which I bought refurbished).

I could upgrade my system to 10.5 to solve the problem, but that would cost me as much as or more than the router cost, and I’ve considered upgrading in the past and haven’t felt it was worth it, in part because iMovie 09 won’t run on my old PowerPC computer. I can’t upgrade to 10.6 (the current OS) because you need 10.5 to do so and you can’t install it on PowerPC computers either. Apple switched to Intel processors a few years ago, and they have basically abandoned their old computers.

To be fair, Macs last longer and work better than most PCs I’ve worked with. Apple has done as well as most computer companies to make sure their products are backwards compatible, but the Airport is a noteworthy exception. I’m not even that upset that the router doesn’t work with all old computers — that would be too much to expect, I suppose — but Apple should acknowledge this on their product page under the System Requirements as soon as the issue was confirmed (at least 8 months ago). If you can’t support old hardware, at least let consumers know what is and isn’t supported so we can make an informed decision. Now I am faced with the decision of whether to upgrade or to return the router and buy a cheaper alternative.

I will say that Apple’s Support team has been pretty good with this, though the first person I spoke with wasn’t familiar with the issue. She did get me to try a work around that didn’t work, and they did offer to sell me the upgrade, which you can’t find on the Apple Store by yourself. I will post an update on what my final decision is.

I am also impressed with the Mac community. I figured out what was causing my crashes (Apple calls them kernel panics — and they do cause panic, esp. when they’re so uncommon on a Mac) thanks to the blog Shaniac-iMac, which led me to Apple’s support discussions of the issues. I’ve always loved the free email Mac newsletter Tidbits and I’ve gotten lots of help on using and maintaining older Macs from Low End Mac and iFixIt, which helped me to upgrade two hard drives that were dying on my Powerbook and Kim’s iBook last year. I only wish that Apple would acknowledge that users expect their computers to last longer than a few years and continue to support older models longer. There’s no need to throw away an old computer that still works, but it’s frustrating when new hardware causes the old hardware to stop working.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

13 thoughts on “Airport Extreme Frustrations

    1. Yes, this is a known issue. It may not be true for all Macs running 10.4.11 (my wife’s iBook doesn’t seem to have the same issues… yet). The fix I noted (changing to only a-g wireless network) apparently didn’t work, as I experienced two more kernel panics this morning. I have uninstalled the Airport until I can talk with Apple Support again.

  1. Follow Up:

    Another call to Apple Support, and they are sending me a program to collect data on my kernel panics, system, etc., which they’ll send to engineering, who will look into the issue. This senior support technician was a little more optimistic that there might be a fix if they can isolate what the issues are. At least they are willing to work on this problem with me. That makes me happy, and ultimately whether I keep the router or have to return it, the quality of support makes me feel better about Apple. And of course, the geek in me loves being part of a solution, even if it might not come in time for me.

  2. Follow Up on Friday:

    So far no word from Engineering about a fix, but I did receive 2 surveys from Apple about my Apple Store purchase and my support call. Then Apple followed up with a call back to see how I felt about my support experience. When I explained the situation, Matthew gave me his direct number to call back if I need to return the product. I’ll give it a couple more days before I go that route, since I’d like to find out what Engineering has to say. If they tell me there’s no hope for a fix, then I’ll have to send it back. However, I can’t complain about Apple taking me seriously. They’ve been very responsive.

  3. OS 10.5 arrived and I’ve installed it successfully. Since there was no other work around, Apple offered it to me rather than have me return the Airport, though it took awhile before they made the offer. I haven’t reinstalled that, but it should work. So now I just have to upgrade a few programs to run under the new OS. The trickiest is iLife. iDVD 4 won’t run in 10.5, but iMovie 8 or 9 won’t run on a PowerPC Mac, so I’m looking for a copy of iMovie 06, which some people prefer to the later versions anyway. It is a more powerful program.

  4. Hi Kendall – did installing 10.5 fix the problem? I’m feeling your pain – just got a new extreme today – it’s AMAZING with our newer computers (two mac minis) but our old imac has been crashing all day. I hope the new os took care of it?

  5. Yes, it appears that Mac OS 10.5 has fixed the Airport problem on my old mac. I finally got a chance to install the Extreme Base Station this morning and set it up using my Powerbook. Also set up our old Express to join its network to act as print server and for Airtunes. That works, and no kernel panics so far.

    The other main issue with upgrading for me was software, but I did find a new copy of iLife ’06 on eBay for $50 (might have gotten one for less if I was lucky and patient, but I wasn’t). It took awhile to research the best iLife for a G4 Mac, but 6 seems to be it — everything will run in 10.5, supposedly, and everything will run on my processor. iLife ’09 won’t run iMovie on a PowerPC Mac. I think the same was true of ’08, but I wasn’t positive. Nonetheless, it looked like iMovie ’06 was a more robust program than iMovie ’08, which came out after FinalCut Express was introduced.

  6. Last update, almost a week later, and I’m still running fine with OS 10.5.8

    My wife’s iBook also needed to upgraded, though initially we though it might have dodged the bullet. It is also running fine with the updated OS. Now the only issues are in adjusting to the new OS and upgrading some other software to run on it. For the most part, everything but iLife 04 has worked fine.

  7. Just a note on the Extreme: it chugged along nicely until late November, then suddenly it stopped being able to establish a PPPoE connection using the Motorola modem supplied by ATT (formerly BellSouth). I took it offline and went back to using our old Airport Express, which is working fine for now. From what I’ve read, there is a problem, either with the Extreme or the ISP that causes this issue. It appears to be a somewhat random issue — an ISP will work with the extreme for awhile, then suddenly stop, potentially working again later. I haven’t tested it. But the work-around seems to be to change the configuration so that the DSL modem acts as DHCP server, instead of using pass-through mode for the modem and letting the Airport act establish the connection and serve DHCP. That seems simple enough, but I haven’t had time to mess with it, and since our old set-up is working, I’d rather take my time and do it when I have time. It’s also possible that an update to the Airport software will solve the problem.

    1. Two notes in what I hope may be the last follow-up post on this topic. Recently I finally got it together to reinstall the Airport Extreme. It turned out to be incredibly easy to set up in bridge mode, letting the modem do supply the DNS addresses (actually, mine is behind a Linksys router right now — either the modem or the Linksys could supply DNS). I’ve had no problems since then.

      Shortly after putting the Airport Extreme back online, I received notice that there had been a firmware update to 7.5.2. I installed that, which might address the issues I had been having, though I haven’t tried it out, since everything is working fine for now.

  8. The system requirements are clearly listed on the Apple store page for the current Airport Extreme. I almost went to Apple Store to purchase but read that & gave it up.
    So I’m currently trying to figure out which older (if any) version of the extreme was compatible for 10.4.11

    1. It’s hard to say. You might get some help with version numbers from this Apple Support article and this MacWorld article from 2008 indicates that 10.4 was supported then. From this, I would say the safest bet would be the A1143 (Gigabit), but if you can find an A1301 from early 2009, it would be worth asking if it is compatible with 10.4.11 since it probably has better 802.11n compatibility. This is just my guess, though. Ours is model A1354, and my sense at the time was the previous model would have been compatible, if I had been able to get it.

      You can also see all of the old model technical specs on Apple’s support site. The 3rd G Airport Extreme Base Station (A1301) from 2009 lists 10.4.8 as a system requirement for installation and management, so that looks like a fairly safe bet (Model A1301), if you can find one.

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