Repairing a broken AirPort Express

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Description

Fix an Apple AirPort Express Base Station that does not power up.

Steps

  • Open device
  • Try to find problem
  • Cheat
  • Close device

Development

A friend of mine had an airport express that had stopped to work. He bought a new one and gave the broken one to me hoping that I could have any use for the parts. I was grateful, since it has WLAN, Ethernet, USB printer support and audio functionality.

The first thing I did was crack it open. This is actually harder than it sounds, Apple really didn’t want you to open this device since they have welded it together. I had to use a snap off knife and cut my way thru the plastics in the split line. If you use this approach, be gentle and make sure that you do not cut off the wires from the power supply (PSU) to the main board, they are located between the audio jack and the power led.
When the cover was opened I started to look for the error. I quickly found that the PSU only provided 5v, the 3,3v line was almost dead. However there were no visual hints of what was broken, and after a few minutes of measuring I decided to take a shortcut and simply replace the PSU.

The broken PSU

The existing supply was not dimensioned for any extra load on the 5v line, so I used a switched PSU that delivered 5v/2.5A. To get the 3.3v I used a MCP1827 3.3V LDO that can deliver 1.5A. I thought of using a switched regulator, but I figured a LDO to be a better option, easier design, no EMI that could interfere with the WLAN radio and I can live with the dissipated head. As a heat sink I reused one that was used for the 5v regulator in the original PSU.

I added two capacitors and soldered the power down signal to gnd. The LDO was soldered directly to the connector from the original PSU and the heat sink was glued to a shielding plate for the main board (away from the WLAN trace antenna). I removed the 220v connector, glued 5 DC jack in the same position and connected it to the 5v line and the LDO. When I attached the switched 5v regulator to the new connector, the airport booted as it should. After gluing it together and restoring the factory settings, I thought about what I should do with it. It is actually a quite nice piece of hardware and there are a lot more hacker friendly options if I should use it for something else. Today it simply streams audio over WLAN to a pair of pc speakers in my kitchen.

One fully functional AirportExpress!

Caution

Don’t work on live PSU unless you know what you are doing. Make sure you have disconnected the mains and make sure that all caps are discharged before touching any part of the device. And don’t cut yourself with the break off knife trying to cut the welded device open. I don’t take any responsibility for damages or injuries.

 

9 Replies to “Repairing a broken AirPort Express”

  1. Do you have any idea on how to fix the 2008-revision of the APX, namely A1264?

  2. Sry, impossible to say, without having the product, or even knowing how it behaves.

    If it is the PSU, they can fail in several ways, first check the fuse and connectors. If they are ok, then look for a damaged capacitor (where the top bulges or cracks) or a burned component. If you are lucky you will see the damage on the component itself, or black particles on the PCB or casing…
    If it is not a visible problem, then you need more advanced equipment and knowledge to locate the fault.

    Good luck ;)

  3. I am about to go off to college very soon, and would love to get my Express running again.

    I got it open about 3-4 months ago, but didn’t know where to go from there so I left it to sit on the shelf.

    It definitely needs a new power supply, and I was wondering if you had the walk through with images to show what parts you used and where things go.

    What would be an even more amazing idea would be for me to send this thing out to one of you cool guys to fix up because I do not have the slightest clue about internal electronics.

    1. Hi
      I’m sorry to hear that your express broke as well. My first recommendation would be to check if there is any warranty. I think that I added all the info needed to manually repair it, but it certainly requires some electronic skills. Maybe you could try to find a spare power supply and just switch it. It is definitely easier than building a new one. Or you could try to find some electronics specialist at college. I don’t think it makes much sense sending it all over the world, with shipping cost and everything, but I’m glad to help if you miss any specific info.
      Good luck with the studies!
      /j

  4. I’m attempting a similar repair, but don’t know what the 6-pin GND/5V/3.3V connector is called, could you please share that information? I’d rather not have to cut the wires and recrimp something else on!
    Thanks!

    1. I actually don’t know. Instead of getting a new connector I desoldered the connector from the broken PSU PCB and attached the LDO directly to that one. It has a quite small pitch that seems to be a bit higher then 1.27mm (0.05inch). I would guess that the pitch is 1.5mm but I have not measured it.

      /johan

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