Summary: With speeds increasing and prices falling, wireless networking is quickly beginning to take off. In this article, Alexis takes a look at ASUS' latest 802.11G wireless networking parts, the WL-500G access point and WL-100G PC card. ASUS has added a few extra features on their 802.11G parts, the access point in particular has an integrated print server and webcam server. Alexis also provides quick throughput testing between 802.11b versus 802.11g. See what he thought of these parts in today's article!
Marconi would have been proud. Today, radiowaves carry much more than just sound. We share images, videos, memories, money, and history wirelessly. In the past few years, wireless networking has really revolutionized the concept of shared computing resources. No longer do we need to be tethered to an outlet to collaborate with our colleaugues. Intel would want you to believe that they invented wireless networking with their Centrino marketing, but they are just about the last ones to join the bandwagon.
We are going to look at one wireless networking solution from ASUS. There are many options out on the market and we will go over what you should be looking for as you look to get connected.
First, letís talk about why you even need a wireless network. The most basic setup is to use it with your laptop to share files and your internet connection. At first it seems excessive to have a wireless network in your own home since you probably already have a desktop attached to the internet. Trust me, it only seems excessive until you find yourself surfing the web on your laptop while watching television, it makes for instantaneous verification of certain too good to be true claims. In addition you can setup a work area in any corner of your home, on the kitchen table, in the living room, or outside on your balcony. This freedom to work anywhere and at anytime increases your productivity quite a bit.
Going beyond this simple network topology, we can picture having a wireless ethernet adapter in our home theater PC. Most of the time, your entertainment center is not the same room as your bedroom or office. Before, we had to run large cords of ethernet cables from one room to another to share files. This often involved drilling through walls, removing carpet or baseboards, and lots of spare time. With wireless networks you can achieve the same connectivity with much less labor. Now we come to our other important question, do wireless networks provide adequate performance for video streaming and other high performance applications.
As with everything we need to first go over some of the standards for wireless networking.
SIDEBAR: Brain waves are usually between 3-13 hertz
Your microwave and cordless phone probably also run on the 2.4ghz radio spectrum. When it comes to ethernet, we have two major protocols, 802.11b and 802.11g. The maximum throughput is dependent upon signal strength. Signal strength is dependent upon distance between the radios, how much power is being transmitted, and the sensitivity of the receiver, this makes sense.
This was the first agreed upon standard for wireless networking. It operated at a theoretical max speed of 11mbs. This was surely fast enough for internet sharing, but really couldnít keep up with high resolution multimedia streams. One advantage of 802.11b is that it enjoys the greatest compatibility. Chances are your local library or university has 802.11b networks setup. The local hotspots in your coffee shop or fast food restaurants are also broadcasting 802.11b.
This is an update to the 802.11b protocol with a maximum bitrate of 54mbs. It similarly operates on a 2.4ghz frequency. The biggest selling point of 802.11g is that it is backwards compatible with 802.11b. This means that your 802.11g PC card will be able to connect to 802.11b networks and friends with 802.11b cards can log onto your 802.11g router.
Conceived by Ericsson, Bluetooth is designed more for communications among peripherals rather than between computers. It too runs off 2.4 GHz and has a lower max bandwidth than 802.11. Bluetooth devices have very limited range but are also low powered. You can find these devices in cell phones, car radios, as well as wireless keyboards and mice.
802.11a is probably the most well known occupant of the 5.8 GHz bandwidth although some cordless phones are now using this frequency. The advantage of 5.8 GHz is that there is less interference from normal household appliances. The disadvantage is that 5.8 GHz signals donít penetrate walls as well and thus have a shorter effective range.
Next Generation: WiMAX
The next standard on the way is call WiMAX or 802.16. The standards are still being worked out, but it looks like it will be faster and better than what is on the market today. All the big names in networking and computing have added their logos to this new technology. Sounds like progress.
ASUS WL-500G Access Point
What makes this Asus access point stand out from the rest is that it integrates a print server and a webcam server into the router. Like most routers, it has an uplink port for your DSL or cable modem and 4 10/100Mbs, switched ports, to this it adds the ports mentioned above and a removable antenna.
Setup was remarkably simple. It literally took 2 minutes from the time the cables were all plugged in, to when I was surfing the web. The wireless web connection took a little longer since WinXP doesnít have the PC Card drivers built in. Nevertheless, setup should be easy for anyone. The interface to the router includes a multitude of user-controlled options. For most users, these option screens probably wonít get much use.
The access point includes a nifty fold out stand that allows for vertical placement. I think it looks much better this way and allows for good cooling as well. The one problem with this is that the wires can tend to tilt the router backwards.
One nice touch is that the antenna is removable. This means that you can upgrade the antenna to a larger one in the future, increasing your transmission and reception strength. HmmÖmore power.
The integrated print server is a great feature for a truly wireless network since you can print from any computer at any time. Asus accomplishes this over the parallel port interface or the USB port. Not every single printer is compatible, but many are. Here is a list of tested printers , link from ASUS.
People are too paranoid about wireless security. There are a few simple steps you can take to secure your network.
SIDEBAR: PCMCIA cards are now just called PC cards, but Iím old fashioned
The ASUS WL-100g PC card is one of the few cards on the market with an extendable antenna. We will see soon what effect this has on performance. The card is cardbus compatible and is fully compatible with Windows XP.
Installation of the PC card was simple, although there were minor incompatibilities with the previous Dell/Orinoco wireless card drivers. A simple restart of the system remedied this. This does mean that you canít use both wireless NICs simultaneously, something that we were able to do with the Orinoco chipset and an old 802.11b prism chipset.
A nice feature on the card is two indicator LEDs that show link status and activity. This way you know if you are connected to a WAP and if you are, if data is being transferred, we wish all card manufacturers would give us more status leds, remember the good old days with those USR Courier modems?
Comparison between 802.11b and 802.11g
In our preliminary throughput testing, 802.11g was only 20% faster than 802.11b. We think that this may be due to our Dell laptopís cardbus controller though. Others have found significant speed gains with 802.11g protocols. The software does indicate that the connection with a good signal yields a bandwidth of 54.0 Mbs. We will update this section once we have a new mobile platform to test. The goal would be the capability of streaming HD video content wirelessly.
At the end of the day, what you really need from a wireless network is range. Going wireless means extending your workspace beyond traditional boundaries. With these goals for wireless connectivity, Asus has a real winner on their hands. It has better reception than the Orinoco 802.11b cards, which were the previous generation leaders. This means that your hot spot can now stretch its boundaries. This is made possible by Asusí antenna design. For portability, range is much more important than bandwidth. The difference between 54Mbs and 11Mbs is not trivial, but if your primary application is surfing the internet, this is not the limiting factor. I think this is the reason why 802.11a never caught on.
The backwards compatibility of 802.11g with 802.11b makes it a popular choice for travelers and students on the go. I have not seen any public access node that uses 802.11a. While there are other routers that use a turbo 802.11g mode that doubles performance, there have been some reported incompatibility issues between different network cards, specifically the inability for some PDAs with 802.11b cards to communicate with routers in 802.11g turbo mode. Nothing has been reported with just your regular 802.11g.
Asusís access point can really serve as the central switching center in your home office. Think about the devices that a network shares, a printer is always there. With traditional networks, you need to hook your printer up to a full computer or buy one with a network card. In adding a simple parallel interface to the access point, just about any printer can be attached to the network. The USB port can turn an external hard drive into an FTP server, this feature is great for allowing access to files, but not to your computer.
We give this Asus 802.11g combination a solid 86. Asus has developed a solid wireless system with great range, good compatibility, and unique features. You will be hard pressed to find an access point with as many features as this one, itís a printer server, webcam server, file server, all in one. A few improvements that we would have liked is an x-jack style PC Card antenna that can be retracted, this would help when placing the laptop into its case, without having to take out the PC card. If you are in the market for a wireless setup and want a few extra features, the Asus series deserve a close look.
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