D-Link Air Wireless 2.4GHz Print Server
October 17, 2003
Got an older printer with a Centronics-style parallel port you'd like to share among users? This unobtrusive print server can get you up and sharing in no time.
Price: $112 street
Pros: easy to set up, wide network OS compatibility
Cons: 802.11b support only
Physically D-Link's 802.11b print server is quite compact, only slightly larger than its own external AC adapter. The device connects directly to a printer's parallel port, and a configuration mode toggle switch and a pair of LEDs flank the detachable dipole antenna. Being a 2.4 GHz 802.11b device, (based on an Atheros chipset) the DP-311P is limited to an 11Mbps signaling rate.
D-Link provides a configuration utility for the DP-311P, but its use is optional since you can fully configure the unit via a Web browser. To modify the DP-311P settings, you must first set the toggle switch to "configure" then afterward back to normal before power-cycling the unit for changes to take effect. (The utility software and the Web admin tool both provide exactly the same configuration settings.)
Finding a compatible printer with which to test the DP-311P was more difficult than I expected. Though I own several printers, they all either used a USB interface or a different physical version of the parallel interface that was incompatible with the DP-311P's IEEE 1284 Centronics-style port.
I had to make the rounds of several friends and colleagues before finding one with a suitable printer (a Canon i550). Indeed, given the ubiquity of USB ports, many personal and small-business printers (and almost all inkjets) use USB and USB only (and some parallel laser printers eschew the older Centronics connector), the DP-311P will probably most often find a home paired with a mid-range laser or older printer models. If your printer is of a relatively recent vintage, you want the USB model, the DP-311U, which can be had for about $20 more.D-Link lists more than two dozen printers from ten vendors that are compatible with the DP-311P, though it's quick to note the list is not all-inclusive. There are also twenty printers that are confirmed to be incompatible with the device (many Windows GDI and multi-function printers qualify). This information is contained within the product manual, available online at D-Link's Web site.
I tested the DP-311P with Windows XP, but D-Link says the device is also compatible Windows 98SE or later, MacOS 9 and X (for PostScript printers only) or Netware 5.x or later (Bindery or NDS). It supports both ad-hoc and infrastructure mode, and provides the ability to configure advanced wireless settings like the transmit rate, preamble length and beacon interval. 64 and 128-bit WEP encryption are supported.
I configured the DI-311P with a static IP address (DHCP is also an option) and had it part of my WLAN in just a few minutes. I used it successfully in both ad-hoc and infrastructure mode, and with both 802.11b and 802.11g (in mixed mode) access points.
The DI-311P's administration tool offers an option to print a test page to verify communication between the device and the printer, but attempts to do so produced nothing. That I could not print the test page belied the fact that the device was configured correctly, because upon creating a TCP/IP-based printer in Windows XP, a test page and all other subsequent print operations completed properly.
Incidentally, you can specify an SMB workgroup and share name so that the DP-311P's printer will be displayed in Network Neighborhood on Windows networks by NetBIOS name. The DP-311P also has some useful management capabilities in the form of SNMP support, as well as a setting which allows the unit to be viewed within the HP WebJet admin utility.
If you have a printer you want to share wirelessly that uses a Centronics parallel port, the D-Link DP-311P works well. It's easy to set up and equally easy to administer.