Microsoft MN-730 wireless PCI adapter review: Microsoft MN-730 wireless PCI adapter

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Wi-Fi certified; comes with easy setup and configuration software; includes an external antenna; offers WEP/WPA security.

The Bad Supports Windows OSs only; hardware installation requires opening the computer.

The Bottom Line One of the first 802.11g desktop adapters, the MN-730 is easy enough for beginners and fast enough for everyone.

8.0 Overall

Review Summary

The MN-730 wireless PCI adapter is one of several new Wi-Fi-certified 802.11g networking products in Microsoft's broadband-networking product line. We tested it together with the MN-700 wireless base station and were pleased with its ease of use, performance, and security features.

Sure, a USB adapter such as the Linksys WUSB12 would be easier to install--the MN-730 requires opening up your PC--but not everyone has a free USB port, and other people may prefer to use an available PCI slot and leave their USB port free. To Microsoft's credit, the software and the documentation for the MN-730 make the process impressively painless. When you run the Setup Wizard on the included CD, it gathers the necessary information before you install the adapter, then it configures Windows networking on your PC once the adapter is in place. The Setup Wizard also installs the Broadband Network Utility for configuring the adapter once you've installed it, a straightforward process, although Windows XP users can use their OS's Wireless Zero Configuration service instead. Possibly the most daunting step--opening the PC and locating a free PCI slot--is covered thoroughly in the included Start Here booklet. Microsoft also gives you a detailed printed user guide with complete installation instructions, a wireless networking primer, and a lengthy FAQ.

We did uncover a bug in the Setup Wizard software that prevented the application from completing normally when we attempted to use a workgroup name that contained a period. Microsoft tech support worked quickly to determine the cause and promised a fix in a future release.

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The MN-730's antenna is removable and can be replaced with a directional antenna for increased range.
Unlike most of the wireless PCI adapters weÂ've seen–usually a PC Card inserted into a PCI adapter--the MN-730 is a hardwired unit that can connect to both 802.11b and 802.11g networks. It has a single LED to indicate its connection status, and its external antenna is adjustable and also removable, so you can substitute a directional antenna for increased range.

The MN-730 provides the latest security options to keep your network safe. It works with 64-bit and 128-bit WEP security and automatically distinguishes between hexadecimal and ASCII strings. This can make configuring WEP a lot easier, especially if your network consists of equipment from multiple vendors. The MN-730 also supports WPA. If you want to connect to an open access point with neither WEP nor WPA enabled, the Broadband Network Utility warns you and requires you to verify the connection with a check box.

The MN-730 delivers great throughput and definitely goes the distance. It's much faster than 802.11b USB alternatives, such as the Linksys WUSB12. In dedicated 802.11g mode, the MN-730 boasts a speedy 24.2Mbps and an impressive 22.9Mbps in our mixed-mode tests, with both 802.11b and 802.11g endpoints running concurrently. We were particularly pleased with the MN-730's performance over distance: it maintained communication with Microsoft's MN-700 wireless base station at 6Mbps from a distance of 175 feet and did not drop off completely until nearly 200 feet. This combination of Microsoft products outshines most of those we've tested.

CNET Labs throughput tests  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Throughput in Mbps  
Microsoft MN-730 PCI adapter
24.2 
Microsoft MN-730 PCI adapter (mixed mode)
22.9 
Linksys WUSB12
5.2 
SpeedStream wireless USB adapter
4.4 

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For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.

The MN-730 comes with a good, two-year limited warranty, and it is backed by Microsoft's 24/7 phone and online technical support. The printed user manual features one of the most comprehensive troubleshooting sections we've seen.

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