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I had bought three 802.11b adaptors and none worked properly with my equipment. I borrowed a friends MA101 and got a 100% signal. By a process of elimation I worked out it was two specific computers that were the problem. I found out that these other adaptors had system requirements where the computer processors are running above 300MHz or even 400 MHz in the case of Netgear MA521. The curious thing is the MA521 did work well with the 366Mz machine up to about ten feet, but not at the distance we needed, even though it was a few feet more away. The computers we are using are about 3½ years old but perfectly servicable for needs.
Oh your PC's connected to your... WiFi and your Wi-Fi's connected to your... HiFi. Well not quite, but almost... As something of a confirmed 'gadget' fan, I've long been keeping a watchful eye on the price of wireless networking kit, waiting for it to reach a reasonable level. Well PCWorld (of all places!!) finally managed to break the price-barrier, offering a NetGear USB wireless network adapter for the stonkingly good price of £40. So I bought two. For those of you that don't know, WiFi is the brand-name for Wireless networking products. Anything with the WiFi logo on should interoperate with any other thing bearing the same logo. Which is all well and good, but what does it actually do? Basically it replaces the traditional computer network, no more hubs or switches, no more messy cables, no more need for additional power sockets. Just a WiFi card in each computer and you can happily network between them at respectable speeds (11Mbps). Of course you won't get the same performance as you would from a 100Mbps switch, but for home use 11Mbps is more than adequate especially when you consider that the fastest home Broadband connection is only 1Mbps. Like all things, there is an easy way and a hard way of doing it... Being me, I opted for the easy way and thus bought two USB cards, this being the bare minimum you need to build a wireless network between two computers. The adapters themselves are neat little things, about the size of a hand (only thinner) with a stubby little aerial that folds flat or stands upright and two amber LEDs to indicate a link and power. The supplied USB cable ia about a metre in length, allowing you the freedom to place the beastie somwehere better suited to sending/receiving radio signals that stuck at the back of a PC next to a wall! Being USB, it also means that you can hot-plug and unplug the cards, which could be handy if friends bring their computers round for impromptu m
ulti-player gaming sessions. Plug the adapter in and windows (2000 and XP) recognises the new device and starts the search for drivers. The supplied CD contains drivers for both Win2k and XP although there are newer XP drivers on the website (although I still haven't found any that are properly signed by Microsoft). Installation is a breeze, under Win2k you just add the device as normal and then install the additional configuration utility from the CD which is used to set up some of the parameters for your wireless network (such as the mode, "infrastructure" if you are using an Access-point, "Ad-Hoc" if you are setting the cards up to work peer-to-peer and the level of security you want to use, with support for none, 40-bit and 128bit encryption). Once this is done you are ready to roll. Installation under WinXP is slightly different as XP includes native support for wireless networks and you must use the native XP gui to set up the WiFi parameters, but this is done with the usual Windows Wizards and help-files so doesn't prove too difficult. Next step is to assign IP addresses, pick a range you aren't already using on your home network, apply the changes and you're finished (even if you don't pick an IP address range, Windows should see you right by default, but I haven't tried this). Your WiFi network should be up and running. A quick test from the windows command line using Ping proves that everything is well. So I'm set up and installed OK, but at the moment my two computers are in the same room, hardly a test of the claimed 50m range... Unfortunately, neither of the machines is a laptop. So I unplug one and take it in the lounge, hook it up to the TV and turn it on. It chugs into life and connects to my other PC first-time, at a distance of over 20feet and through a double-thickness brick wall. I double check that all is well by trying to browse the web, sure enough dooyoo appears in all
it's green-and-black glory! Plugging the sound-card into my stereo means that I can now access MP3s stored on my computer in the study from a machine in the lounge and play them back through the main stereo; in effect connecting my WiFi to my HiFi... In short, at £40 a pop, these little USB cards are a bargain. They mean you don't have to open up the PC, give you the freedom to position them for best reception, have good driver support for Windows (and Linux!), conform to all the necessary standards and are dirt-cheap! What more could you want? They are such a bargain that I bought a spare just in case a friend should bring their PC round for a game of multi-player Civ3! Dispose of your cabling today, the WiFi revolution is just around the corner!