Fast things come in small packages; at least that's the case with Microsoft's new MN-710 802.11g USB adapter. The MN-710 makes it easy to wirelessly connect a new desktop, say, in your daughter's room to the 802.11g router in your den, and it comes with one of the smoothest installation wizards we've seen. If you're a beginner who's primarily concerned with foolproof installation and easy configuration, the MN-710 is an excellent choice. If more-advanced features are important to you, such as the ability to attach an
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Two LEDs on the front of the adapter let you monitor operation and network activity.
As with most wireless adapters on the market today, setup entails little more than inserting the accompanying CD and clicking through a few onscreen prompts. The wizard that launches when you insert the CD culminates with the installation of Microsoft's Broadband Network utility, which lists all of the devices on your network and allows you to change your adapter settings. The utility is great for those unfamiliar with Windows networking because it puts all of your networked devices, complete with their network settings, on a single screen.
Though it's a little larger than the pen-size 802.11b adapters, such as the , the compact dimensions of the MN-710 wireless USB adapter are one of its best features; competing 802.11g USB adapters, such as the Buffalo wireless USB adapter, are a little bulky for mobile computing. Slightly smaller than a deck of cards, the MN-710 won't crowd your carrying case or take up much space on the top of your PC, making it a good solution for desktops and laptops alike. If you're looking for an adapter for your laptop and have a free PC Card slot, you may also want to consider a Cardbus adapter, such as the .
With WEP, WPA, and 802.1x support, the Microsoft MN-710 is equipped to join any encrypted wireless network. Unfortunately, the installation software doesn't load the Windows XP support patch for WPA, which means that you'll need to download and install it yourself to use the MN-710's enhanced security feature. Microsoft tells us no one is allowed to ship the patch, so that prevents the company from including the update with the MN-710. Fair enough, but the installation wizard never prompts you to download the patch from the Microsoft Web site, and the user manual lacks instructions for setting up WPA. This will leave some users in the dark about installing this security feature.
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Range is another one of the MN-710's strong points. In CNET Labs tests, the adapter can stray as far as 225 feet before dropping its connection. That's on a par with Buffalo's USB adapter and is only slightly behind our long-distance champ, the WUSB12, which stretched as far as 250 feet in our tests.
Microsoft offers a respectable two-year warranty on its MN-710 wireless USB adapter. That's in line with the coverage that Buffalo offers on the , and it's a year more than you get with the . The well-organized and thorough printed user guide that ships with the Microsoft MN-710 wireless USB adapter addresses everything you need to know for standard networking setups. However, Microsoft offers 24/7, toll-free phone support for the life of the product. The Microsoft Web site is also helpful, with links to tech support and network how-to guides. You can access Microsoft's excellent knowledge base, which contains numerous troubleshooting articles.