By Joseph Moran
November 21, 2003
Pros: Brain-dead setup, works with other devices besides Xbox
Cons: No Web-based configuration, firmware upgrades require PC, no WPA support
If you want to connect your game console (or any other device with an Ethernet port, for that matter), to your 802.11-based WLAN there are a number of products to choose from. If it’s an Xbox that you want to unwire, you just got one more– specifically, Microsoft’s MN-740 Xbox Wireless Adapter.
The $139 device is based on an Atheros chipset and mimics the Xbox motif, with a low-profile black plastic chassis and a short antenna that can rotate 180 degrees but is fixed to the unit.
If you think you’ll need a PC to pre-configure the Xbox wireless adapter, you won’t. In fact, you couldn’t use one if you wanted to. Perhaps not surprisingly, the initial setup and configuration takes place entirely on the Xbox console, using the included CD.
As is the case with previous Microsoft WLAN products, particular attention is paid to the documentation. The MN-740 comes with detailed and well-written printed manual as well as the de rigueur quick start fold-out placard.
After connecting the Xbox wireless adapter to the console, I simply powered up the unit with the CD in the drive. First the adapter and then my wireless network were each easily detected without the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Just prior to this, however, the CD updated the console’s Xbox Live system software, which was fine with me (sure beats downloading it), but gamers who are using their Xbox consoles in unsanctioned ways should be advised that this sort of upgrade may overwrite any existing software customizations or modifications and render your console permanently “compliant”. (In fact, at the end of the installation process, Microsoft provides a disclaimer informing users that if connected to the Internet, the Xbox may periodically download software updates.
After selecting my wireless network, no further configuration was required, and I was soon being mercilessly fragged by ill-behaved teenagers signed into Xbox Live nationwide. I was able to use the MN-740 with both an 802.11g and an 11b access point.
Incidentally, once you’ve configured the unit you can password protect the adapter settings, but this of course is easily defeated by pressing the recessed “restore” button on the rear of the adapter.
The Xbox configuration is black box (if you’ll forgive the pun). The included CD is not in a PC readable format, and the MN-740 lacks a Web-based configuration option. However, once it’s been configured it seems to function normally no matter what kind of device it’s connected to. The status light on the MN-740 that indicates the device link on the Ethernet port is labeled “Xbox”, but I figured the device wouldn’t really know or care what was on the other end of the cable. For example, after successfully using the MN-740 with the Xbox, I connected it to a PC Ethernet port and it worked there as well.
And if you’re one of those folks who can’t get enough gaming and thus own both an Xbox and a PlayStation 2, you’ll be happy to know that you can use the MN-740 with both. Sure enough, connecting a pre-configured MN-740 to a PS2 Network Adaptor resulted in an Internet connection without the slightest bit of coaxing.
Given the fact that the MN-740 doesn’t offer browser-based administration, you’re probably wondering how one can perform firmware updates on the device. I had assumed that the unit could receive updates automatically via Xbox Live, but evidently, that’s not the case.
Instead, updates must be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site. When run, they will locate the MN-740 on the network (either wired or wireless) and then update the device accordingly. When I tried the procedure, I was informed that my MN-740 was already running the most current version.
Of course, most products similar to the MN-740 require you to manually download and install firmware updates, but given the otherwise tight integration with the Xbox platform, it would be preferable if it could be done sans PC.
A bigger potential weakness of the MN-740 is the fact that it supports any kind of wireless encryption you want — as long as it’s WEP. A Microsoft representative points out that the Wi-Fi Alliance doesn’t require WPA support in “application-specific” devices like the MN-740. That’s all well and good, but as of the time of this writing, Microsoft couldn’t provide an ETA for WPA support in the product.
Of course, until WPA is supported, you won’t be able use WPA on any device in a WLAN the MN-740 is to participate in. This may or may not be a showstopper for you, depending on your equipment, but it’s certainly something to consider, given that there’s no guarantee that WPA will make it to the MN-740 at all.
If WPA were firmly on the horizon, I’d recommend the MN-740 without hesitation, notwithstanding the inconvenient nature of the firmware upgrade process. Without a WPA guarantee, however, I have reservations.
It’s worth mentioning that until January 17, 2004, buying the MN-740 and an Xbox Live starter kit together will get you a $40 rebate, which may or may not tilt the scales in its favor for you. If you want to take advantage of this deal and know for sure you won’t require WPA, its worth going after, but if WPA is important to you now or in the future, you’d be better off with another product.