Airport Extreme Base Station: something’s rotten in the state of Cupertino

[Update: I think I found a fix – see here.]

Just when I thought I found a solution to my Airport Extreme Base Station issue, the problem crops up again.

To refresh: after installing the latest base station firmware (7.3.2) and the Airport Utility update (5.3.2), both my n-powered base station connection and my external USB hard drive went haywire. My iBook’s Airport card, nor my iPhone, would not recognize the base station. An Ethernet cord connected to the base station made Internet access possible, but any sort of wireless connection was a no go:

Airport Base Station not found?

Even though my wireless card saw the base station, it wouldn’t connect. Weird, huh?

A few weeks ago, I followed an Apple Support forum poster’s advice by reverting back to the previous firmware, 7.3.1, and reinstalling the Airport Utility fresh from the disc that came with the base station. A fresh start, I hoped, and for a while it worked. Yesterday, though, I noticed my Airport wifi signal dropping out, and my iBook lost the ability to connect to the base station over wifi.

Worse, I lost the ability to connect to my USB drive. As soon as I tried to open up the Airport-connected drive, it signaled a disconnect. The file structure inside was messed up, too: iPhoto crashed immediately after opening as it searched for the drive’s iPhoto library, I couldn’t save files to folders beyond two or three levels deep (see here), and any backups pointing to the drive failed miserably.

Here I had set up a nice system on my new project PowerMac G4, where my iTunes library was synced from the external drive hooked up to the base station. Before, I thought it would be a non-starter because (a) the PowerMac doesn’t have an Airport card, and (b) it didn’t have OS X 10.4 Tiger or the updated Airport Utility. While searching the network, however, the PowerMac spotted the base station and allowed me to connect to the USB drive with a password:

No longer. When I try opening up the drive, it disappear in a cloud of aqua-colored smoke, giving me the above “server connection interrupted” message.

Running Disk Utility showed the drives had some sort of problem, but I’m not smart enough to figure what it means.

And I’m not the only one. Updating to the new firmware and Airport Utility has plagued others, too (in several Apple Support forums), even after the consensus said that reverting back to the previous firmware/utility versions solved the problem. It didn’t solve the problem. The problem came back, for me, after several weeks.

Resetting the base station doesn’t solve it. Unplugging it for a while doesn’t solve it. Resetting my cable modem doesn’t solve it. Disconnecting my USB drive doesn’t help. Even the old revert-back-to-a-previous-version method does nothing. The old strategy was to wait on system updates like this: watch what happens, see what problems erupt, and then download the fix. But who the hell knows when Apple will get a firmware or utility update out? Who would trust it when it is released?

This is a serious issue. Sure, Apple had enough trouble keeping MobileMe up and running, and soothing all the iPhone headaches, but given the choice between a cheap-o Linksys router and an Airport Extreme Base Station, buyers now have a better reason to go with the more affordable option. Who wants problems like these? When I can’t even back up my files without fear of crashing my whole system, Apple’s ease-of-use philosophy is in serious doubt. I can’t imagine what someone with half my patience would do.

It’s hard to put a number on how many base station users are affected by this, but judging from the multiple Apple Support forum discussions addressing this problem, I’d bet it’s no small deal.

Consider this a plea for help. Anyone else having a similar Airport Extreme Base Station issue?


  1. Yes! Thank goodness I found your post!

    I bought Airport EXPRESS first about 2 months ago. Never had been wireless before that. It hooked up without a hitch and I had wireless running no problem.

    Due to me now telecommuting, I wanted to get another router so that I could have both my hard wired work PC and my wireless Macbook hooked up to one router and not have to plug and unplug every night after work.

    So I went to the Apple store and bought the EXTREME. Hooked it up, went off again without a hitch, No problems. I have wireless for my Macbook and my work PC runs perfectly through it as well.

    After about 2 weeks, I started getting dropped signals. Just every night like once or twice. Over the next few days, it started going crazy with signal dropping. I’d even take the Macbook and sit it right next to the modem and router like where I am now and the wireless signal would go out every 30 seconds. It got so annoying. So I thought, well, I will leave the PC plugged in to the Extreme and plug in Express for my Macbook.

    That worked for a few days. Then all of a sudden, my Express couldn’t get a wireless signal. It had set up fine when I bought it, nothing has changed, etc etc…now as of 2 nights ago, all it does is blink yellow. I have reset it twice, I have pulled out all cables, turned off everything, even turned off the power strip, left them all for hours – hook everything back up, and blinking yellow.

    SO – went back to the Extreme. I have a beautiful green light on the front of it. Trouble is, unless I hardwire my Macbook, my computer can’t even FIND the Extreme base station. So I have a cord attached from my Macbook to a port on the back of the Extreme and that’s the only way I can get the Macbook to FIND the Extreme and the only way I can get on the internet.

    I have no issues with my cable internet service and never had before.

    Now the Extreme seems to have killed my Express and I am at a loss.

    And everything was working fine – until I got impatient from being kicked off every 30 seconds. I’ve had to be hard wired ever since.

  2. Bummer, Cheri. I had to keep my iBook plugged in via Ethernet (that’s the fatter-looking phone cord you’re probably using) to keep connected to the web, too. Check out my fix, which involves reverting the firmware.

  3. Hi Dave – the link in your post above doesn’t go to anything yet – I’ll keep an eye out for it Monday. Yes, I am typing this on my Macbook hardwired to my cable modem. I could cry!

    I have only had wireless for a couple months, so let’s just say I got spoiled really fast!

    Looking at other forums, it sounds like this is a really common problem. If you have the solution, you will be a hero!

  4. […] begin again.This, friends, is a new day. Thanks to one lost, but helpful, Apple support site, the issues I had with connecting to my Airport Base Station’s wifi signal and USB hard drive have been […]

  5. […] me to download the updated firmware and Airport Utility software.You know what? Tough luck.After all the trouble this base station’s firmware has given me, and now that it’s finally working right, […]

  6. I was unable to reinstall my base station software. APPLE APPLE APPLE are you playing games again with an on off switch, what is this update for anyway…I was up and running fine

  7. Oh, my I’m, having the same problem, Base and 3 Expresses working fine, then in a month intermitten drops outs, now today no Express can connect to the base, only one laptop sitting 5 feet away!

  8. Okay, thank god I found this discussion- I thought I was going out of my mind! I had the dropping internet connection problem for awhile and my imac and macbook pro not finding the Airport Extreme through the utility. But things really started going haywire when I hooked up my Lacie hard drive. Then I started having the “server connection interrupted” issue, no printer capacity, and none of the computers in the house connecting to internet. I disconnected the base station and hooked the imac up via ethernet directly to the router, and now both macbook pros and the imac are fine. Should I give it a go and install the earlier version of the firmware? I’m scared to plug that thing back in!

  9. Glad you found us, Cristine. Yes, go ahead and install the previous version of the firmware. I’ve been rocking it since I wrote this, and I haven’t had a problem since.

  10. I am having the same problem, I upgraded tot he new firmware, it seemed like the right thing to do.

    Where can I get the previous firmware and how do I revert?

    Thanks, I am in a race to send this before the connection drops again.

  11. Sorry about your issues, Neil. I have the link to the fix at the top of the post.

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