If you want to take your Nintendo DS online but don't have a wireless router or access point, the Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector is for you. The little dongle can turn any home PC into a Wi-Fi hot spot for the Nintendo DS. It retails for $35.
The adapter itself looks like a large USB thumbdrive. It's a nondescript gray stick, a little larger than pack of gum, with a USB plug on the end. (In fact, it's a near twin of a similar product from Nintendo's networking partner, .) The package also includes a driver CD, an instruction manual, and a USB extension cord. Installing the adapter couldn't be simpler: pop in the CD, run the install program, plug in the adapter, and you're good to go. The adapter uses your computer's existing network settings, so you don't need any real technical mojo to get it working.
Once the adapter is set up, the process of connecting your Nintendo DS to the new hot spot is easy, if slightly convoluted. You must first try to connect to the hot spot, then register the DS on your PC, then finally it will connect. It takes only a minute or two, but it's an awkward process that requires keeping one hand on your DS and the other on your mouse. A small light on the adapter helps by illuminating when a device is connected or trying to connect.
After the DS is registered and online, the adapter works extremely well. Getting online for multiplayer action is as easy as tapping the touch screen. Finding online opponents in Mario Kart DS is a bit time-consuming, but that's probably more of a network-congestion issue than an adapter fault; once the race starts, the Wi-Fi connection is fast and flawless.
The adapter's DS authentication system means that only the DS units you specifically authorize will be able to use it; as many as five can play on one connector. It provides additional security and prevents strangers from accessing your computer or network connection wirelessly. Frugal gamers looking for a cheap device to turn their computer into a wireless access point will be disappointed--this adapter is for the DS only. Enterprising hackers may eventually crack it and turn it into a simple Wi-Fi adapter, but with plenty of cheap off-the-shelf PC solutions available, such a workaround would be more academic than useful. Also, it's worth mentioning that Nintendo supports the Wi-Fi Connector for only Windows PCs; Mac users are left in the cold.
With wireless routers and access points such as the costing less than $50 (and half that after ubiquitous mail-in rebate offers), why get the Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector at all? There are two possible answers: security and location. If you use the most secure wireless encryption method at home (WPA), your DS won't be able to log in. Using the Nintendo adapter would allow the DS to have wireless access without having to ratchet your entire network down to the less-secure WEP encryption. Similarly, if you're in a public place--an airport or a coffee shop, for instance--where your PC is already logged in to a secure or for-pay wireless node, the Nintendo USB Connector would allow you to piggyback on that existing connection without the need to pay another access fee.
The Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Adapter makes going online with the Nintendo DS simple and direct. A few clicks and taps will have you racing, skating, and trading with your friends online. If you already have wireless access in your home, you can probably skip the Connector. But for DS owners without a wireless router or access point who want in on the small but growing list of online games, it's a must-have accessory.