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Apple's new monolith-inspired AirPort Extreme follows what the company is calling a "top-down" design. We're still not sure exactly what that means, but in this case, it's about 6.6 inches from the top down to the bottom of the redesigned, vertically oriented Wi-Fi base station.
Depending on who you ask, Apple's new design is either eye-catching or a stick in your eye. The vertical orientation makes it harder to stash on a shelf with the rest of your network gear—clearly Apple would prefer you display it proudly on a desktop. But do you really want to do that with a router? Apple zealots will say "Yes!" and the rest of us will try and figure out how to fit the taller device on a shelf, behind a picture frame, in a cabinet, or under the couch (or is that just me?), which is where normal people usually stash their routers.
Feature-wise, Apple has introduced 802.11ac Wi-Fi this time, which is great for anyone who bought one of the latest MacBook Airs. With speeds of up to 1300Mbps, a new Air paired with the AirPort Extreme absolutely screams. It features a beamforming antenna array, which promises to pinpoint ac devices on your network and target that device for optimum performance. For everyone else, you'll have to make do with the b/g/n speeds that you're used to.
Beyond the ac speeds, the features for this latest AirPort are the same as its predecessor. Super-easy setup from a Mac or iOS device, guest networking, printer and hard-drive sharing (courtesy of the USB 2.0 on the back), and three Gigabit LAN ports (if you want to hard-wire some devices to your network) are all still there. The new AirPort is a great router, but Apple still hasn't decided to incorporate QoS, web filtering, or other advanced controls that are common on competing products.
The bottom line. If you don't have the latest MacBook Air, there's no reason to upgrade... yet. Otherwise, the AirPort Extreme continues to offer superior ease of use, at the expense of a few advanced bells and whistles.
OS X Lion v10.7.5 or later, or iOS device with iOS 5 or later. 2013 Macbook Air or other device that supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi for fastest speeds.
Support for 802.11ac networking. New tall design.
New tall design. The latest MacBook Airs are the only Apple devices that currently support 802.11ac. No new features.