D-LinkAir Pro 5GHz Wireless CardBus and PCI Adapters

By Lonny Paul

May 16, 2002

Let the client systems talk: That's the glory of wireless 'ad-hoc' mode. Now you can ad-hoc with breakneck throughput in 802.11a products such as D-Link's new CardBus and PCI cards.

Model Numbers:
DWL-A650 (CardBus Adapter, $149.99 MSRP)
DWL-A520 (PCI Adapter, $179.99 MSRP)

Some individuals find it easier to utilize their wireless network adapters without the need for a central access point, or are utilizing Internet Connection Sharing on a "server" PC for connectivity. Access point or not, every wireless network could use faster through put, and for that the world now has 802.11a wireless adapters.

The new D-LinkAirPro 802.11a series of wireless products, including the NICs looked at her in both desktop PCI and notebook CardBus flavors (no sign of USB yet) provide that speed boost to the Wi-Fi5/802.11a standard 56Mpbs. They also offer a proprietary "turbo" mode with a rated 72Mbps throughput. Better yet, both perform well in real life use and are a breeze to setup.

Pros:

  • Solid connection speeds in local distances
  • Higher data transfer than 802.11b
  • Simple Configuration/Setup of adapters

Cons:

  • Real-world data transfer not as phenomenal as marketed
  • Higher Price Tag than 802.11b
  • USB 2.0 adapter would be nice

BASIC FEATURES

The D-Link products feature speeds of up to 72Mbps in "turbo" mode, however standard connection is rated at up to 56Mbps. Both cards feature WEP encryption at 64, 128 and a new level of 152-bit. Additionally, these devices communicate in the not-so-used 5GHz range, so you'll experience less interference from cordless phones, microwaves, etc.

SETUP/INSTALLATION

Setting up the units, I took the PC Card into hand first, as it's the easiest to install. After a short driver installation, the unit was functional. The "LinkMon" utility was great and saw the access point immediately. A few more mouse clicks and I was in "ad-hoc" mode. Two different notebooks were used and the installation process was identical -- even using different operating systems.

The PCI Card came next. Well, under the desk I go thanks to convenient thumbscrews on my PC case, it didn't take long at all. Put the card in, bolted her back up and I was ready to install drivers. Again, with only a few short mouse clicks the "ad-hoc" network was running.

The included drivers addressed all flavors of Windows. Setup with these devices was actually a plug-and-play installation. No additional fidgeting around was required. The provided documentation for both devices is a simple 4-8 page leaflet to lead you through the setup of the unit, with a full user's manual on the provided CD.

PERFORMANCE

The primary reason for jumping onto the 802.11a bandwagon is speed. People want more throughput, especially if they are transferring large files between computers when the come home to get some work done, or at the office after visiting a client. Our first tests evaluate the adapters in an "ad-hoc" environment.

In the first test, the desktop was "server" and Notebook A the "client." In this test, it was interesting to find that throughput was somewhat less than that of the access point. Overall testing averaged actual throughput between 8.5 and 11.7Mbps. The interesting fact was that on "uploads" the client rate was nearly 12Mbps, "downloads" the rate drops to nearly 9Mbps. Enabling the various WEP protocols reduced transfer rates only slightly in 64-bit mode, however in all other modes speed remained consistent.

In the second test, the two notebooks dueled it out. Although I expected similar results, throughput increased - ranging from 12.5 to 16.9Mpbs. Again, enabling the WEP modes did not impact speed.

Range while in the ad-hoc mode appeared similar to that of the access point's Infrastructure mode, providing fairly consistent throughput up to 75 feet and reduced from there. Tests were conducted in an environment with 802.11b devices, cordless phones and the like. Distance testing was done outside the building.

As a final test, each endpoint was evaluated for data speed between the access point and client device. Both NICs performed with near matching speeds of 20.3 Mbps. The environment was the same, and final throughput results were similar.

SUMMARY

Whether your needs are for casual "connections," or a fixed wireless installation, the choice of PC and PCI Cards for your higher-speed wireless network are simple. Just buy the card appropriate for each device and connect away! Based upon certain environmental factors (concrete pillars, ductwork, etc.) PCI cards are generally difficult to "adjust" for best reception; however the D-Link adjustable integrated antenna performed very well.

A suggestion to the manufacturers would be to release a simple USB adapter as are available for 802.11b. These provide for even greater flexibility when position and environment are an issue.

Even without USB's ease, these products get a "recommended" rating as they provide much greater wireless data speeds, have super easy setup, and consistent signal strength.



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