MacBook: Not compatible with older (Graphite) AirPort Base Station

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 27th, 2006 • 2:56 pm

Bloody swines.

I was in the process of setting up my brand new black MacBook, and everything was going fine. As expected, the system setup assistant automatically detected my existing wireless network, and configured the MacBook to use that network to connect to the Internet.

And, as reported yesterday, I was pleased to note that the laptop’s AirPort reception was much improved compared to my five-year-old TiBook.

But then I tried to add my AppleTalk printers to the MacBook’s printer list. And that’s when, as they say, it all went pear-shaped.

Simply put, the MacBook was utterly unable to see my AppleTalk printers. Of course, I made sure that AppleTalk was activated in the MacBook’s AirPort connection settings. And I made sure that my printers were on and in working order. And I double-checked to make sure that AirPort-to-Ethernet bridging was active on the AirPort Base Station. (Of course, it was. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to use the printers with the other computers.)

I restarted the Base Station, just in case. I restarted the MacBook, just in case. All to no avail.

My network setup is pretty straightforward: The (Graphite) AirPort Base Station provides the Internet connection, and is the DHCP server for my little local area network. My AppleTalk printers are connected via Ethernet to an Ethernet hub, which in turn is connected to the AirPort Base Station’s Ethernet port. And, as I said, AirPort-to-Ethernet bridging is active on the AirPort Base Station, so that the computers connected to the LAN via AirPort can see the Ethernet-connected printers and use them.

And it had all worked just fine for many years—until today.

Because, you see, when Apple moved to Intel processors for its computers, apparently they also decided to stop supporting certain things. It’s not that the MacBook is unable to connect to the Graphite AirPort Base Station. This part works just fine. After all, the base station uses the standard 802.11b wireless protocol, and the 802.11g protocol used by the AirPort Extreme card in the MacBook is supposed to be backward compatible with the older protocol.

Sure it is—as long as you don’t try printing wirelessly over AppleTalk.

It’s not that the MacBook is incompatible with AppleTalk either. Not at all. If I connect the MacBook directly to the Ethernet hub with an Ethernet cable, and activate AppleTalk on the Ethernet connection, then the MacBook sees the printers just fine, and is perfectly able to use them.

No, it’s the combination of the older Graphite AirPort Base Station and the MacBook and AppleTalk that does not work.

Now, I realize that the Graphite AirPort Base Station is now officially an obsolete piece of hardware as far as Apple are concerned, and is no longer supported. But it still works just fine! Just what was so hard to making sure that AppleTalk printing would continue to work properly on the Intel-based MacBook via an older Graphite AirPort Base Station?

It’s not like Apple has a thousand different models of AirPort base stations to test and support… We are talking about a piece of hardware that is only five years old and is still in perfect working order. But obviously someone at Apple decided that it was time for me to spend more money on new hardware that I do not need.

Theoretically, I could try printing via TCP/IP, but only one of my AppleTalk printers supports this, and it doesn’t look like Mac OS X comes with the required drivers for that printer anyway. It only has the drivers for that printer when used via AppleTalk or a direct USB connection. The other printer is connected via Ethernet using an AsantéTalk adapter, and doesn’t support TCP/IP printing at all.

So basically I have no choice. I have to buy new hardware. And since I still need a 56K modem for my dial-up Internet connection, this means that I have little choice but to buy a new AirPort Extreme Base Station with built-in modem.

Needless to say, this is not an expense that I had anticipated at this point. And it’s particularly infuriating in light of the fact that the older Graphite base station is still working just fine, and that the PowerPC Macintosh computers are still able to print via AppleTalk over AirPort with that base station just fine.

But no, five years is an eternity in computer time, and obviously Apple needs the extra cash that I will have to spend on a new AirPort Extreme Base Station.

I am not particularly impressed.

2 Responses to “MacBook: Not compatible with older (Graphite) AirPort Base Station”

  1. Arden says:

    It’s actually IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g. As far as I can tell, there is no IEEE 801-dot-anything at all.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks. I always get this one wrong :).

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