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.