Round-up: 802.11g-based USB 2.0 Adapters - Page 2

By Joseph Moran

January 20, 2004

Buffalo AirStation 54Mbps Wireless USB Adapter

Model: WLI-USB-G54
Price: $99 ERP
Pros: External antenna support
Cons: Large, WPA not supported within adapter client

Buffalo wireless USB adapter-g is probably the most conventionally designed unit of the group. The unit is by no means large, but it is significantly larger than the other products tested and probably the least convenient to carry around on one's person. Unlike the others, which are variations on a small horizontal chassis, the Broadcom chipset-based Buffalo uses a vertical chassis about 5 inches high that comes with a plastic base.

The Buffalo is also the only product of the group that eschews an external dipole antenna in favor of an internal 1.5dB antenna. The use of an internal antenna is similar to Buffalo's access point products, but the like them, the USB adapter provides an MC-style connector for use with an external antenna.

The installation of the Buffalo hardware and software was simple and straightforward, and the Buffalo's client software is basic and functional. Discerning signal strength or link quality is tough at a glance, since both values are displayed as a series of unlabeled dots rather than a more visible bar graph with percentage values. The utility doesn't offer the ability to modify device configuration characteristics like data rate or transmit power, but it does allow the user to define up to seven profiles for different wireless networks.

Unfortunately, the client only supports WEP encryption natively, so if you want to use WPA you'll need to be using Windows XP (as I did) or a third-party supplicant. Buffalo says WPA support is due to be integrated into the client some time in January or February.

Performance of the WLI-USB-G54 was good, posting an average throughput of 20.2 Mbps at a 10 foot range. Not surprisingly, enabling WPA encryption exacted a performance penalty, but it was modest, reducing throughput to 16.95 Mbps. Throughput dipped very moderately as distance increased, and was still 16 Mbps at 125 feet.

As long as you don't need an exceptionally compact adapter, the Buffalo will do an excellent job in most situations. And, if you're in a challenging environment where an external antenna may be necessary, it's the only (USB) game in town.

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