With the announcement of the new Airport Expresses (they work great with Airfoil), and their obvious resemblance to AppleTV 2s, my first thought was “I wonder if it’s just an AppleTV 2 inside?”. With only one way to find out, we ordered our test units as well as one to go under the knife screwdriver. So to the workshop we go:
The bottom case pops off with just a thin screwdriver around the edges. That said, I broke nearly all the tabs holding it on in the process. Putty knife might have been better, but the few remaining functional tabs still hold it in place after reassembly.
Inside the Airport Express is rather similar to both the AppleTV 2 and the old Airport Expresses. There is a power supply board and a logic board, and one giant anodized aluminum heat sink.
The logic board itself is not too different from previous Expresses. The main chips are an Atheros AR9344 and Atheros AR9582, with 64MB of RAM from a Hynix H5PS5162GFR. No A5 chip in here yet. Notably absent is a Flash memory chip, which the old models used to store their firmware and user settings. Presumably this is built directly into the CPUs now.
More pertinent to our customers, the audio digital to analog converter is an all-new 24-bit/192khz Asahi Kasei AKM4430. This chip is similar to the Cirrus Logic CS4344 used in the previous model, but should be a improvement over the Burr-Brown PCM2705 used in the original 802.11g Airport Expresses
On to the power supply, a 3.3VDC / 2A module made by Delta, similar to the AppleTV 2. Previous Expresses used a dual-output 12VDC/5VDC supply made by Samsung.
The Delta power supply, in its case
The compactness of this little board is quite striking, with the main transformer suspended through the PCB to shave off a few millimeters of thickness.
One thing to note here is that power is delivered from the power supply to the logic board by way of the 2 screw mounting holes that overlap between the boards (labeled V0 and GND on the PSU). If your power supply ever dies, you can just wire a 3.3VDC wall supply directly to these positions on the logic board and it’ll happily power up:
Powering the AirPort Express from an external power supply
All in all, the design of the new Express appears to be a mix of both old and new. It’s a beautiful little box which has thus far performed quite well in all our tests.
Interested in another look? Check out SmallNetBuilder’s Airport Express 2012 disassembly.