My Airport Extreme Base Station Cost Me Another $45 (Because It Couldn’t Do One Thing)

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<rant>

Before I go into the rant I need to state that overall, the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station is a very good residential router, in most cases. In my experience, it’s very stable and most of the features work very well.

But not all of the features… and this one’s a real pain to work with and could be a deal-breaker for many considering purchasing this device. If you plan to use Microsoft VPN PPTP to connect to a system within your network then I suggest that you do not purchase an AEBS.

The description states that it supports VPN PPTP pass-through. Well, I guess that’s only guaranteed for outgoing connections (not specified) or it’s an incompatibility with Microsoft PPTP connections. It would take too long to describe the various forum posts, support documents, and other resources I’ve combed through trying to figure out how to make this work. I’ve spent countless hours trying to find a work-around but I just can’t make it work.

Several posts seem to imply that the AEBS has supported PPTP just fine at times, with certain firmware versions. I don’t know for certain, but I know it won’t work with my device and the available firmware. Port forwarding just won’t work. I can connect to the Microsoft PPTP VPN on a Windows 7 system from the Internet, but after a moment I’ll lose Internet access and typically within 30 seconds to a minute I’ll be disconnected from the server. Modifying the PPTP encryption/connection settings can sometimes prolong the connection to a couple of minutes, but it always fails.

I know the AEBS is the problem. PPTP worked fine before I added the AEBS and it also works internally.

I’ve tried almost anything I could think of, or that others suggested. I’ve changed the subnet to 192.168.1.x and 10.0.1.x, which didn’t make a difference. I’ve adjusted every relevant setting in the AEBS configuration. Nothing has worked.

This isn’t my first time working with network gear, residential routers, or VPN. I’ve been using these devices and applications for several years.

I have spent the last few nights trying, once again, to make this work. Simply trying to get PPTP working with Windows was only part of it. I also pursued the use of hosted VPN services, but none of them setup a true VPN connection that uses the standard methods for L2TP or IPSEC to provide compatibility with Windows, OS X, and the iPhone VPN and also have the ability to connect to my home network (there are plenty of VPN services, commercial and free, available for surfing the Internet over a VPN).

I couldn’t find any software VPN servers that supported IPSEC or L2TP for Windows. I’m not sure why. There’s almost nothing out there. I considered purchasing a VPN appliance or router with VPN endpoint support, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money to make up for the lack of proper support in the AEBS.

Today I gave in. I decided to go the least expensive route that would let me use PPTP on the Windows system. I ordered an ASUS residential router for about $45, which I’ll put in front of the AEBS. Hopefully, I can make the AEBS and the ASUS live in harmony while still using the AEBS wifi and USB sharing.

This is ridiculous. It’s a $200 device. PPTP pass-through support isn’t a rarely used, rarely available feature. To put it simply, this is a shame. Apple should be embarrassed that their expensive wireless router can’t handle a basic function that most routers, cheap and expensive, can support. If the device had any protocol management available this probably wouldn’t be an issue.

If you’re wondering why I’d choose PPTP over L2TP and IPSEC then I have a simple answer for you. A VPN PPTP server is directly supported in Windows 7. It’s not great, it’s not strong, but it does work fine. My goal is to only have one computer at home that runs 24 hours/day. I don’t want to have the iMac running along with the ASUS nor do I want to spend a lot of money on a stand-alone device that will have more features than I’d need.

</rant>

Updated 08/08/2011: One of the best characteristics of the AEBS is that the features provided work as expected and I’ve never had the router reset to defaults or stop responding after changing the configuration.

The ASUS router is inline. I tried to use the stock firmware but it suffered from its own issues so I installed DD-WRT, which seems to be working better though only time will show whether or not it will suffer the same problems I experienced with the WRT54GS. It’s passing PPTP without a problem.

7 thoughts on “My Airport Extreme Base Station Cost Me Another $45 (Because It Couldn’t Do One Thing)

  1. arne

    just forward TCP port 1723 to the ip adress of the computer that is running 24/7 and is correctly set up as the vpn server.
    all the other settings don’t matter at all.

    • Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The AEBS won’t properly forward the port, which I’ve described in a few different posts. However, it’s possible that the problem is specific to the AEBS model and firmware that I’m using.

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