Asante FriendlyNET AeroLAN Wireless PCMCIA Adapter with Xwing Antennas
January 17, 2003
Need better coverage? Despite its flimsy-looking plastic antennas, it offers an endearing design, reasonable price, and performance to boot.
Model Number: AL1511 ($75)
An oversaturated market can sometimes bring out innovative technologies. However, you can also see gimmicks designed to get you to buy a product that's essentially the same as the rest of the pack, but with a slight twist. How do you differentiate between a dozen or so wireless adapters that do the same thing? I was in that conundrum when I began reviewing Asante's new wireless adapter. I was skeptical that its AeroLAN Wireless PCMCIA Adapter with Xwing Antennas was a true technological feat. Is it just a way to get at my hard-earned dollars with a design twist or will it really give my notebook wings? In the end, it gave a quality performance that may indeed make it stand out in the blinding sameness of the wireless adapter market.
- Higher throughput at long distances
- Wider coverage
- Cool design
- Flimsy plastic antennas
Asante's PC card adapter truly does stand out, at least physically, from standard Wi-Fi adapters. It has dual flat antennas that flip up and down 90 degrees, folding on top of each other when not in use. They are encased in translucent blue plastic reminiscent of gadgets that came out during the relatively short-lived Apple iMac craze. Each thin antenna is less than two inches long and has a light at its tip, giving it a prematurely retro form that may turn off the design conscious.I was concerned, however, less with the design than the material Asante used for its Xwings. They are very thin indeed, and feel as if they could break off even with a mildly violent whack or an accidental hit on a hard surface. The adapter loses big points for the flimsy material.
The accompanying CD is loaded with the drivers for the adapter, as well as a Wi-Fi utility software designed to help you connect to available networks. Installing both went without a hitch.
The client software's interface could use an overhaul. Although it uses a familiar tabbed window interface, the labels it displays could be friendlier. A person who's new to wireless networking could easily get confused with inexplicable terms as Site Survey, Fragmentation Threshold, and Statistics/Management. Moreover, the tabs are organized such that you end up making repetitive adjustments. For example, to change from accessing an unencrypted wireless gateway to an encrypted one, you'll have to change the encryption settings first, then click Submit. Afterwards, you have to go to the Status tab and change the name (or SSID) of the wireless gateway. Many of the better-designed Wi-Fi software tools include most of this in one simple interface.
The Asante adapter yielded good, if average numbers in tests with NetIQ's QCheck. Without encryption, the adapter posted a solid 4.8 Mbps average at close range. Going further out, the adapter impressively maintained its numbers, dropping only slightly even at around 60 feet away with intervening walls.
With 128-bit WEP encryption, performance falls dramatically. At close range, the adapter averaged a mere 2.4 Mbps. Once again, however, the performance exhibited only a small drop when I moved the laptop away from the wireless gateway. Whether it was at 10 feet or 60 feet away, this AeroLAN wireless adapter produced consistently high numbers (around 2.3 Mbps average) where most others would have dropped throughput by 20% or even 40%.
Though hard to quantify, the AeroLAN adapter came through with its promise of better coverage at greater distances. Even when I took my laptop outside, the performance was still consistently good. Consider this adapter if you use a notebook, roam around your work environment a lot, and need reliably constant throughput.
The Asante FriendlyNET AeroLAN Wireless PCMCIA Adapter with Xwing Antennas is a worthy wireless adapter for any notebook. Its antennas help it yield strong numbers and maintain fast connections even when you move away from a wireless access point. The antennas are a brilliant and functional touch, though they may require extra care because of their fragile-looking design.