The new AirPort Extreme can house SATA hard drive, teardown reveals

By , Jun 12, 2013

WWDC 2013 keynote (Phil Schiller, AirPort Extreme)

Apple at Monday’s WWDC 2013 keynote briefly mentioned its refreshed AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule wireless appliances which now support Gigabit Wi-Fi, also known as 802.11ac, for three times throughput of 802.11an. In unveiling the sixth-generation AirPort Extreme, Apple’s marketing honcho Phil Schiller somewhat cryptically alluded that the redesigned base station might accept internal storage.

“There’s also room in there for a hard drive,” he quipped. Sure enough, teardown wizards over at iFixit bought a brand spanking new unit and tore it apart, finding 3.5 inches of empty space inside…

While the AirPort Extreme doesn’t come equipped with storage, this could potentially allow DIYers to slip in a standard 3.5 inch SATA hard drive and basically turn their AirPort Extreme into a Time Capsule. Unfortunately, iFixit couldn’t find any connectors to plug in the hard drive, only empty spaces on the logic board.

AirPort Extreme 6G (iFixit 001)

As suggested by 9to5Mac, DIYers could “use the USB port and wire a bus-powered 2.5 inch hard drive (up to 2TB currently) or SSD around inside the case”.

I’m sure the aftermarket is already busy solving the Extreme’s lack of the SATA/Power connectors on the board as we speak.

Here’s a look at the top.

AirPort Extreme 6G (iFixit 002)

Notice how the six antenna cables – three for the 2.4GHz band and three for the 5GHz band - run under the supposed hard drive slot into that big, shiny plate at the top, which also doubles as the antenna.

By elevating the antennas, the new Extreme is able to optimize range and signal strength. The vertical design also allows for 64 percent smaller footprint at 4 inches square than its predecessor.

90mm

On the back it has three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a Gigabit Ethernet WAN port and one USB 2.0 I/O.

Apple’s AirPort Extreme web page doesn’t mention anything about internal storage upgrades apart from explaining that the USB port can be used to hook up a printer or an external USB hard drive for wireless sharing across your Wi-Fi network.

I own the previous-generation Time Capsule and Airport Extreme, in addition to three AirPort Express base stations.

I ran into tons of issues with other base stations, but none of Apple’s wireless appliances have ever failed me – th gadgets are reliable, stylish, work as advertised and are easy to set up using Mountain Lion’s built-in AirPort Utility or the free iOS app.

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  • Jacob S

    Of course Apple isn’t stupid enough to leave a SATA connector and a ‘slot’ on the board so that DIYers can simply open it up and attach a drive :P $$$$$

    I have been using Airport Extreme for years and no doubt that it is extremely dependable. However, the new design just doesn’t fit Apple’s elegant design strategy, so I am out! But that is reason# 2 that I won’t get the newer model of Airport Extreme.

    Reason#1 is that it lacks parental control. Unless until Apple brings effective parental control on the device itself, I will stay out of Airport Extreme as I recently pulled out my Airport Extreme and replaced with Asus RT-AC66R. So yes, I am already enjoying 802.11ac feature, thanks but not thanks Apple.

    • IndiePhoenix

      Why would you think the older one looks that much better? Neither of them have the elegance of an iMac but are still beautiful and simple, the newer one being even simpler, which is consistent with Apple’s design strategy.

      • Jacob S

        I don’t think older one is “much” better, but it was “better” compared to the design concepts Apple had that time. Now it has changed and Apple has better design concepts and but some how, I believe they messed up with current design of Airport Extreme and Time Capsule. Well, that is JMO.

      • IndiePhoenix

        It could have been prettier but probably they went the economical way. The more complex a thing looks the more it costs to make it.

  • TesticularFortitude

    I guess it’s time to upgrade my AirPort Extreme and my time capsule…

    • nick

      Why do you have both?

      • TesticularFortitude

        To extend my network outside to the patio and pool area.

      • nick

        Did you choose it over the express for the extra range?

  • Dodgy Debjit

    Are there any apple devices that support ac? Maybe the next iPhone and iPad models will?

    • nick

      The new Macbook Airs that were announced do, as well as all new products that will be launched in the future.

  • Brian Bailey

    Where can I find one of those cool looking screwdrivers?

    • Jacob S

      Google ifixit. I have them and it is not so cool as they look in the pictures – photogenic though :)