Simplified WLAN Analysis: The AirMagnet Attraction - Page 2

By Lisa Phifer

March 11, 2003

Test drive

We first took AirMagnet Handheld 1.0 for a test drive at the June 2002 802.11-Planet Conferenc & Expo, using an HP Jornada 567 and a Proxim Harmony card. AirMagnet makes remarkably good use of the limited real estate on a PDA display. Text and graphics are small, but legible. Drill-down navigation presents incremental detail in logical layers without excessive scrolling. However, learning what all the tiny little icons represent does take time.

Our Jornada only had 32 MB of RAM, but we had no trouble running AirMagnet with a 1 MB capture buffer and 128 byte packet slice (both configurable). You can't beat the PDA form factor for portabilitytry hanging a laptop from your toolbelt. But portability is not always top priorityor even necessary. To continuously monitor traffic from one location, store larger capture files, view a bigger display, or run from a persistent power source, use AirMagnet Laptop instead.

Laptops for the long run

AirMagnet released a laptop version of their wireless LAN analyzer last fall, shipped with the Cisco PCM-352 802.11b PC card. The latest version, AirMagnet Duo 2.5, ships with a NetGear WAB501 802.11a/b dual band PC card. Although several other WLAN analyzers support both A and B, AirMagnet is first to do this simultaneously with a dual band card.

To run AirMagnet Duo, the PC must be equipped with Windows XP or 2000, 128 MB RAM, a CardBus Type II PCMCIA slot, and the supplied card. With the NetGear card, AirMagnet can scan both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, stepping through all channels or a configurable list. The Cisco card scans only 2.4 GHz, but can be used in more LEAP configurations than the NetGear (see Tools).

AirMagnet installs its own unsigned card driver on the laptop. This is both a blessing and a curse. Instead of spending hours trying to find the right card and driver combo, AirMagnet installs everything you need to run AirMagnet. But AirMagnet does not supply related vendor utilitiesfor example, the WAB501 client utility must be downloaded from NetGear. For best results, we recommend installing the card first, before AirMagnet.

As previously noted, swapping cards can be required to meet needs outside of AirMagnet. We had no trouble using AirMagnet's driver for other WLAN applications, with one key exception: other WLAN analyzers. Keep this in mind if you plan to use AirMagnet as one of several diagnostic tools on your laptop.

Click for full imageWe tested AirMagnet Laptop 2.0 extensively at the December 2002 802.11-Planet conference, using the Cisco card with a Toshiba 3480 laptop (P600, 128 MB RAM). When Duo 2.5 shipped in mid-January, we took it for a spin on our office WLAN, using the NetGear card and another 3480. This allowed us to use both versions side-by-side, getting a good feel for new features. This review reflects our experiences when using both releases.

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