Airport Express Power Supply Repair

I bought an Apple Airport Express off Craigslist a couple months ago so I can send music to my living room stereo via Airtunes. The little bugger quit working about a month in though, so I tossed it in a drawer to be put on Ebay for scrap or otherwise dealt with. As is wont to happen this semester, however, one day recently I got bored and went hunting around my room for things to do. I ran across the Airport Express and started wondering what was wrong with it. Here’s the story of the teardown and my attempts at repairing it:

Apple, being Apple, decided to make it im-freaking-possible to get into the guts of the Airport Express. The case is two halves of thick plastic ultrasonically welded together, making it a serious pain in the ass to get it open. I tried prying it apart with a series of screwdrivers:

Attempting to pry it open
Attempting to pry it open

This was the wrong way to go about it. After a half hour of struggling with various sizes of screwdriver, I got impatient and grabbed my hand-saw. I carefully sawed around the three sides without the connectors. I tried to saw down the plastic until I was just starting to break through to the inside of the box, but this was pretty tricky in spots. Eventually I got impatient and went back to the screwdrivers:

Back to screwdrivers
Back to screwdrivers

After a good bit of prying and swearing, I managed to get the thing open. The Airport Express internals are split into two halves… a power board, and the airport-express-stuff board, with just a power cable connecting the two:

Halved
Halved

Once the Airport Express is open, there are a few screws holding the Airport motherboard in place. I pulled those screws and then popped the metal shielding off of the board.

Airport motherboard
Airport motherboard

Here’s what the two boards look like after yanking them from the plastic shells:

The boards
The boards

The motherboard is actually made out of two boards. The larger board holds all the RF and computing stuff, and the smaller daughterboard holds the audio interface circuit. Here’s a pic of the two separated:

Board and Daughterboard
Board and Daughterboard

Here’s the back side of the motherboard:

Back of the motherboard
Back of the motherboard

Next, I sat down to try to figure out what was wrong with the airport express. I tossed a volt-meter on the power supply outputs and plugged it in, and it turns out the power supply was shot. Neither the 5V or 3.3V outputs were pumping out any juice. I briefly considered trying to troubleshoot the supply, but I decided it was easier jut to chuck itย  and throw some wall-warts on the inputs. I had a 3.3V wall-wart, but no 5V supply, so I used the 3.3V supply and a 12V supply running through a TI PT5101A 5V, 1A switching power supply:

Complete with warts
Complete with warts

Unfortunately, the 3.3V and 12V wall warts I had sitting around were only 300mA and 500mA supplies, whereas the Airport Express’s original power supply was spec’d at 1.21A and 0.7A for each voltage. I was hoping that the Airport wouldn’t require that much power to operate, but it turns out that it does. When I plugged the power supplies in, the green LED briefly lit up and slowly faded out. I’m going to try to hunt down some more powerful supplies and try again.

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10 thoughts on “Airport Express Power Supply Repair

  1. Thanks for the Article. I had the same problem with my AirPort Express. One day I just found out it has stopped working. I opened it up and decided the problem had to be within the power-supply part, as the other part was mainly low voltage electronics.
    There is no smell from burns, so I suspect some of the capacitors are dead but I don’t have equipment to check out exactly which one.
    If you ever delve some more into this problem and find out more, please let me know. I will do the same

  2. Can you tell me the part numbers for the Broadcom and TI chips on board. Do you know who is providing the USB and Ethernet functions on the board? Thanks! Trying to understand how this router works.

  3. Thanks for documenting this!

    Today I started thinking about trying to built a wireless oldschool boombox to haul around the house and wondered if I could mount the guts of an Airport Express into the boombox. Then I found your site and obviously the answer is a big yes since the power and guts are separate. Very cool

    Thanks again.

  4. Would it be possible to wire the 12v supply from a car cigarette lighter to power the Airport Express?

  5. Fantastic. After 2 years of not being able to access my Airport Express in spite of trying all the methods I finally got the courage to open it up (it was tough and it does not look pretty now ๐Ÿ™‚ but it is working 100% again! The problem was obviously the tiny connector where you plug the two sides together. All I did was unplug the little connector, then re-plug it again making sure it was well seated.

    About a year ago I did manage to connect to the Airport Express for a short period of time (using the hard reset + LAN cable method) but it went under permanently before I could get any use of it (less than a day). The little connector must have come even more unplugged.

    I love the versatility and functionality of Airport Expresses but I with the inner design would have included a better connector that does not come loose inside an ultrasonically welded enclosure. Wow! Form did not meet function in this case.

    The only caveat now is that I won’t be able to continue to brag about how nice it looks when I travel with my coworkers… ๐Ÿ˜‰

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