US Robotics 802.11b 22Mbps PC Card and PCI Card Adapters

By Lonny Paul

June 21, 2002

The era of 802.11b 22Mbps 'turbo-mode' speed boosting seems to be here, but in ad hoc mode, these client cards don't take to it as well as they do via an access point.

Model Numbers:
USR2210 (CardBus Adapter, $89.99 MSRP)
USR2215 (PCI Adapter, $99.99 MSRP)

The promise of faster wireless connectivity through the advent of the Texas Instruments ACX110 chipset at 22MB has people in a flurry. 11MB wireless made us all happy, but now we want more speed.

The new US Robotics PC Card and PCI Card 11MB 802.11b client adapters perform well above the standard 11Mbps standard; however working without an access point may be overtime for these cards.

Pros:

  • Faster throughput rates that 11Mbps 802.11b
  • Simple configuration/setup of adapters

Cons:

  • Higher price than other 802.11b
  • USB 2.0 adapter would be nice
  • Standard PC Card in PCI Adapter doesn't allow for "adjustment"

BASIC FEATURES

The US Robotics new "22Mbps" 802.11b network adapters have similar features and setup as existing, traditional 11Mbps adapters, however their throughput is increased. Backwards compatibility with existing 11Mbps access points is promised, and delivered with these new client adapters.

The PCI Adapter is basically a PC Card with PCI interface adapter and not a one-piece unit.

SETUP/INSTALLATION

The accompanying installation CD provided simple driver installation as well as a client utility. The CardBus adapter (a 32-bit version of a PCMCIA-based PC Card) was installed first and didn't cause mass havoc when installed into my notebook. When the configuration of the card was specified as "Auto" transmission speed, it defaulted to 11Mbps, so I increased that to the 22Mbps speed and it connected without a problem.

The same happened with the PCI card, no problems and similar connection experience. The USR PCI Card is basically a PCI adapter with the PC Card inserted -- again, it is not a one piece unit. Other PCI card designs provide an adjustable antenna with additional signal flexibility and USR's engineers may wish to consider it in the future. If my desktop PC is getting bad reception, what am I to do? Move the PC?

The full user's guide is provided on the enclosed CD, along with drivers for practically all versions of Windows.

PERFORMANCE

In standard performance measurements with an access point, the PC and PCI cards both performed identically, reaching speeds double that of standard 11Mbps 802.11b with reported throughput of 6.3 to 6.7Mbps. The increased speed of this USR-based network has won my vote -- the new 22Mbps AP stays put.

Next, I explored the speeds of an "ad-hoc" network for those networking without an access point.

As a benchmark, the PC Card was tested against a standard 802.11b 11Mbps card in "ad hoc" mode. This would provide a number to compare the increase in speed between the two units. This test provided an average "ad-hoc" transmission rate of 1.4 - 1.7Mbps -- about half of that when tested with an 11Mbps access point.

Switching to the 22Mbps PCI card as part of my ad hoc network, my initial reaction was that it defaulted to an 11Mbps connection when set to "auto." This may be a firmware issue that USR should correct in their next update. Setting the transmission rate to 22Mbps in PCBC mode allowed the two units to talk happily with each other.

In measuring their speed, the units had a throughput rate of between 4.3 and 4.5 Mbps. Not so shabby compared to talking to an 11Mbps card, and it was greater than half the speed as shown in the 11Mbps tests.

Range on the units was very similar to that of any 802.11b client, between 75-150 feet indoors, 250+ outdoors. The neighbors may have wondered what some weirdo was doing out by the pool at 10PM, but who cares? It's all in the name of science.

SUMMARY

Although I am already using a 22Mbps access point to make my life a little "faster," being caught in a situation where I can use my "faster" cards to make a connection to someone would be a better experience if it was truly faster. I understand that engineering limitations may limit my "need for speed" between client adapters, and the throughput provided will probably be more than acceptable for most situations.

802.11b 22Mbps networking is here, and works -- if you aren't ready to wait for the 802.11g standard, or don't want to pay for the 802.11a throughput, this is the speed for you at the right price!

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