Hawking HWC54D network adapter
By combining an adjustable high-gain antenna design with a standard Wi-Fi adapter, Hawking Technology's HWC54D network adapter latches onto a weak Wi-Fi signal to boost throughput and extend range. The adapter is easy to install. Just unfold the card's unique adjustable antenna and aim it directly at the access point for the best signal strength. If only its power management and ruggedness matched its antenna, this card would be a winner.
Hawking's HWC54D is the first 802.11g PC Card adapter to incorporate a 6dBi antenna, which offers about twice the sensitivity of the antennas in most wireless notebook adapters and can be pointed at the wireless router or access point to make the most of a weak signal. The self-contained unit is more convenient to travel with and use than Compex's, but the HWC54D is heavier than other Wi-Fi cards and extends out of the side of the notebook a lengthy 1.6 inches, making it far more susceptible to breakage than standard PC Card adapters.
Hawking's HWC54D PC Card adapter comes with a basic printed installation booklet and a CD that contains setup software and a detailed 25-page user manual. The card works with every Windows release since Windows 98 SE and installs in a matter of minutes, but there are no Macintosh or Linux drivers; Hawking says it will have a Mac version by the fall.
The card's interface is one of the best in the business, with a great general summary screen that shows available networks, a Statistics page for a real-time accounting of successful and failed packets, and a button that lets you quickly turn the adapter on and off. In addition to offering both 802.11g/b and 802.11b-only modes, the software displays the current connection as well as signal strength, link quality, and noise level.
The security options for the HWC54D are good, with support for 802.1x authentication and the choice of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or the newer and stronger Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). The card can use TKIP and AES encryption. At close range, the HWC54D delivers a maximum throughput of 24.2Mbps in an 802.11g-only environment, putting it on a par with the Compex WL54G card. That bandwidth drops to 13.6Mbps in mixed 802.11b/g environments, just ahead of Netgear's and D-Link's . The HWC54D has an excellent range of 325 feet (we normally test maximum throughput for PC cards at 200 feet, but the HWC54D blew right past that range, so there are no max throughput comparison charts for this product). Unfortunately, the HWC54D is a power hog, draining the battery on an IBM ThinkPad T42 an hour faster than with the notebook's built-in Wi-Fi adapter.