AirPort Extreme A1521 Teardown

Teardown

Teardown

Teardowns provide a look inside a device and should not be used as disassembly instructions.

When Apple goes to the extreme, we do too. What exactly does it take to be extreme? Whatever it may be, challenge accepted. Join us to find out just what awaits in the new high-rise AirPort Extreme.

Want even more extreme? Follow us in the tubular Twitter-sphere or find us on our fly Facebook page.

If you're curious about the Apple Time Capsule instead of the Extreme, check out the Time Capsule teardown instead.

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Edit Step 1 AirPort Extreme A1521 Teardown  ¶ 

  • We snapped up this 2013 rendition of the AirPort Extreme, which was announced at WWDC just one day prior to its release. Spoiler alert: it's TALL. The winner of this year's "tallest wireless router that is white, roughly rectangular, and has an Apple logo on top" award also boasts:

    • IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

    • Beamforming antenna array

    • Simultaneous dual-band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz

    • Gigabit Ethernet WAN port

    • Three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports

    • USB 2.0

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Edit Step 2  ¶ 

  • First to go are the protective stickers.

  • What's behind sticker number one?

    • Ports, lots'o'ports.

  • What's behind sticker number two?

    • The way in....

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Edit Step 3  ¶ 

  • Alright! Enough lollygagging! Let's get inside this white brick of wonder.

  • Our method of entry involves using a metal spudger to release the retaining clips holding the black base of the device.

  • Base aside, our first glimpse is what appears to be a heat sink… But it's not. <Suspense>

  • Before we cast the base to the darkest depths, it has one final message for us: a new model number.

    • This year's AirPort Extreme sports the model number A1521. Neat.

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Edit Step 4  ¶ 

  • Just like an earlier advancement in Mac Mini technology, this new device's power supply moves inside, contributing to its extreme stature.

  • We begin to free the internals with a flick of the spudger and a twist of the Torx screwdriver. The non-proprietary T8 Torx screws come out with ease.

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Edit Step 5  ¶ 

  • We free the top cover, only to find…3.5" of empty space.

  • While the AirPort Extreme doesn't come equipped with storage, we dug up a standard 3.5" SATA hard drive, just to test it out. Perfecto!

  • This could potentially be good news to DIYers who want to turn their AirPort Extreme into a Time Capsule—except we can't find any connectors where we'd plug in the hard drive, only empty spaces on the logic board. But we'll keep our fingers crossed until we've had the chance to crack open a Time Capsule.

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Edit Step 6  ¶ 

  • We hate to see our tools collect dust, so we're happy to find that opening the AirPort Extreme requires busting out the flexible shaft extension from our 54 bit driver kit.

  • Two spring-loaded, captive Torx T10 screws are the last fasteners clinging to the outer case, but not for long.

  • Like a shucked corn cob, the innards of the AirPort Extreme escape their white plastic prison and are borne from captivity.

Edit Step 7  ¶ 

  • Using the latest in turn-table technology, we bring you the full 360º of the Extreme's internals.

  • Looking for your own turn-table technology solutions? Look no further.

  • For those of you who just can't wait to get the latest Apple product made up of vertical circuit boards surrounding a big empty space, the AIrPort Extreme is the best available for now.

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Edit Step 8  ¶ 

  • Video is great and all, but let's break it down.

    • Port side

    • Starboard Slot side

    • Fan side

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Edit Step 9  ¶ 

  • Next on our path of deconstruction, we work on the shiny plate that caps the innards of the Extreme, and just happens to be the new-and-improved antenna array.

  • The six antenna cables run under the apparent hard drive slot, up the center of the device, and into a big plate at the top, which functions as the antenna.

  • The updated 802.11ac Wi-Fi is designed to have multi-station WLAN throughput of at least 1 gigabit per second and a single link throughput of at least 500 megabits per second (500 Mbit/s).

  • Compared to 802.11n, 802.11ac has up to four times the RF bandwidth (up to 160 MHz), twice the MIMO spatial streams (up to 8), and four times the modulation (up to 256 QAM).

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Edit Step 10  ¶ 

  • A slew of T8 Torx screws secure the heat sinks to the logic board, and the logic board to the possible hard drive slot.

  • With the screws out of the way, the layers slide right apart.

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Edit Step 11  ¶ 

  • We finally get a closer look at the logic board. We find:

    • Broadcom BCM53019 router SOC with gigabit switch

    • Broadcom BCM4360KLMG, the same IC we found in yesterday's MacBook Air Teardown

    • Hynix H5TC4G63AFR 4 Gb (512 MB) synchronous DDR3 SDRAM

    • Micron 25Q256A 32 MB serial flash

    • Skyworks 5003L1 5GHz WLAN power amplifier

    • Skyworks 2623L 2.4GHz WLAN power amplifier

    • TDK TLA-7T201HF (which appears to be a pulse transformer)

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Edit Step 12  ¶ 

  • Fans-away! Our trusty Torx screwdriver tackles the two screws holding the fan in place.

  • The DC brushless fan is labeled BSB0712HC-HM01 and is made by Delta Electronics.

  • We quickly blow off the fan in favor of peeking under the metal casing.

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Edit Step 13  ¶ 

  • We've got the power…supply.

  • From the looks of it, it is a fairly standard 12 V, 5 A power supply with your standard large capacitors and coils.

    • Whatever you do, don't lick your fingers and then touch the large black cylinder. You may be shocked to discover what 400 V can do.

  • Like the fan, this unit is made by Delta Electronics. They have named it ADP-60DFS, so as not to be confused with other, less-powerful power supplies.

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Edit Step 14  ¶ 

  • AirPort Extreme A1521 Repairability Score: 8 out of 10 (10 is easiest to repair).

  • No proprietary fastener funny business over here. The Extreme uses Torx screws throughout the structure to keep its act together.

  • Disassembly is pretty straightforward, and modular components are used throughout.

  • No glue (except for a small dab used for the status LED) is found inside.

  • The opening procedure requires a bit of prying that may slightly damage the case if the user isn't careful.

  • You'll have to disassemble a good portion of the device in order to clean the fan.

  • Some of the connectors are super-small and can be prone to breaking.

Required Tools

Spudger

$2.95 · 50+ In stock

Metal Spudger

$2.95 · 34 In stock

54 Bit Driver Kit

$24.95 · 50+ In stock

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1 TB 7200 RPM 3.5" Hard Drive

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iFixit Lock Pick Set

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Comments Comments are onturn off

Ok so im taking it from the teardown, that on the non time capsule version they havent soldered the sata port and power onto the logic board ? so there is no DIY upgrading to a time capsule ? well at least its repairability index is way higher than most of apples other products, im taking from the photos and layout that the device vents in and out of the same thin bottom grey stand, and as usual with apple no foam filtering so the fan will clog up with dust, or sitting on medium pile carpets as that will smother the vents, is it noisy ? what diameter is the fan ? looks titchy and prone to low flow an noise ? 60mm ?

ancientscream, · Reply

Correct, correct, correct, correct, not sure (we just took it apart), ~2" diameter, not sure what "titchy" means, probably silent, seems about right since 60 mm = 2.36".

Miroslav Djuric,

On the first images we can see 4 connectors used. Later I can only see the 2 cables. Being one of the cables the power supply and the other one the fan. What are the other two cables used for? I guess one of them is for a led in the case. is that right? No clue about the fourth one.

Mauricio Scaff, · Reply

The third is for the tiny status LED, and the fourth is for the reset switch that resides next to the power plug. Both cables disappear early on in the teardown since both components are attached to the white plastic case.

Miroslav Djuric,

a 2TB 15mm 2.5" WD hard drive costs $160 to $180. Apple is only charging $100 more. Kudos!

a 3TB mobile drive doesn't even exist as far as I know. (please correct me if I'm wrong, since I'm looking for one of these.) So I can't wait for you guys to tear down a 3TB AP Time Capsule. Could it be TWO 1.5TB drives in there? Regardless $200 more for this is very reasonable.

Apple used to charge $200 more for the $70 1TB drive, which was a major rip off, since I could just get any external USB 2TB drive for $100 and get the same functionality of time capsule.

Gadget Revue, · Reply

@Gadget Revue. Pretty sure they will use 3.5" drives, since they are cheaper, and will fit.

Steve Richardson,

Keep in mind though, that TimeCapsules have always used 3.5"(desktop) drives, not 2.5"(mobile) drives. As noted in step 5, this new model design has a housing for a standard 3.5" drive as well.

Ray Donaldson,

If I understand ifixit.com correctly, the Time Machine version uses 3.5" drives. Thus you pay a 100$ extra for a 100$ 2TB drive. But at least the extra is not much higher than the price of an actual drive.

Hannes,

A 3.5" drive fits fine in the Extreme, and they're available in gigantor sizes. The real issue is connecting the drive to the Extreme, since there's no available connector for this purpose.

Miroslav Djuric,

Certainly one could just use an external drive. But I'm in the K.I.S.S. camp - no external USB drive means less cable clutter, less equipment to buy and maintain, and less to break. Plus I don't have to power yet another external 15w device (an external USB drive) for 8750 hours/year.

Jason,

I may be wrong but it appears that only the connector is missing from the circuit board for the HD, and the connecting ribbon cable, maybe some inventive individual can come up with a method to retrofit !!!

egrau, · Reply

So! Is it better than previous Airport Extreme!?

Armin, · Reply

So which is faster? Is a USB attached hard drive as fast as a built in hard drive? How would they compare? Is it worth the extra $$$ to have it internal for the Time Machine? I prefer the external because I can swap two drives once in a while for an off site backup, but is seems really slow!

jdsbabcock, · Reply

Generally speaking, I'd place my bets on the internal drive that's hooked up via (most likely) SATA. It should be significantly faster than an external USB 2.0 drive. But, that's just drive throughput, and you're more likely limited by the Wi-Fi connection, rather than the internal/external hard drive speed.

Also, either option is basically a "set it and forget it" kind of thing. You do the initial backup, it takes forever, and then the incremental updates happen here and there. Since everything happens over Wi-Fi (unless you want to hook up via CAT 6 Ethernet for the initial transfer), there's no big difference between having an internal drive vs. an external USB drive -- save for the extra devices absolutely ruining the look of your slick white tower of Wee-Feeness :)

Miroslav Djuric,

You say you prefer an external USB drive so you can rotate it off-site with an alternate.

I'm looking at AirPort Admin Utility v.6.3.1 connected to a 2 TB Time Capsule firmware v. 7.7.2

Actually there's a feature in the AirPort Admin software under the Disks tab to "Archive Disk...". The sheet that drops reads as follows.

Are you sure you want to archive the AirPort Time Capsule disk to a disk connected using USB?

Destination: <pop up>

Make sure the storage device has enough space for the archive before connecting it to the base station's USB Port.

<Cancel> <Archive>

So it looks like you can use the clean form of the internal drive on the new Time Capsule and bring in your external drive for the occasional backup then take it off-site again.

Erik,

Are you sure this has a USB 2.0 and not a 3.0? According to the info about the Broadcom BCM53019 router SOC it has USB 3.0. Did Apple somehow wire this up as a USB 2.0 or is it really 3.0?

Mark Granger, · Reply

We had this discussion last night. Apple's official Tech Specs page says USB 2, and the box says USB 2, so we're sticking with USB 2.0. Unless in Apple's world, "2" somehow translates to "3.0"...

Miroslav Djuric,

In reading the tear-down, does the Extreme still have a fan, since the previous versions do not? Last thing I want to is have to attempt to do maintenance on my router. Also, I hope you guys do some throughput testing on the USB bus, as I'm shocked that Apple would limit/cap the speed!

Clark, · Reply

I guess there is nothing stopping you from shoving your own HardDrive inside, and routing a USB wire from the back to the newly added hard drive? I guess you wouldn't have any power source, but a 2.5" bus-powered drive could work no?

Chris Wood, · Reply

Any idea on the RPM of the FAN ?? i live in India and it gets very hot during summer here. My TC is running very hot right now and the best i get in case of RPM is 1967 something. I think the radio also has temp sensors , during TC backup from rMBP on 5GHz Wireless N at 3 streams 450Mbps (Airport Utility says so) i get around 90 C .. Is that bad ? cause the ambient room temperature should be around 30-33C .... YEA ITS HOT HERE !!

Chinmay, · Reply

"The six antenna cables run under the apparent hard drive slot, up the center of the device, and into a big plate at the top, which functions as the antenna."

apple said at the wwdc that the hight causes the new antennas but the antennas are very flat.. if i see it right? they lied! oO

3gfisch, · Reply

I know you're joking, but calling QAM256 "four times the modulation" is deeply misleading.

Speaking very simply, QAM64 packs 6 bits (ie log in base 2 of 64) into a "single Hz" of bandwidth, QAM256 packs 8 bits into the same "single Hz". So the jump in performance from this particular change is a factor 8/6=1.33 --- nice but not 4x.

name99, · Reply

On the back side - Any idea what the battery is for? also, what's under the 2 metal caps at the bottom of the board (with a "1" stamped in the upper left)?

chrisncarolp, · Reply

Our best guess is that the battery serves some sort of basic date/time retaining function, similar to the PRAM battery on a computer's logic board. As for the caps, we went back later to remove them and didn't find anything interesting—just some more resistors and whatnot.

David Hodson,

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