For those who need to jump between wireless networks, including hot spots and corporate LANs, the Linksys WPC55AG is connection central. Say the office LAN has 802.11a, the Starbucks has 802.11b, and at home, you use 802.11g. No problem--with a built-in radio that supports all three standards, this $90 wireless PC Card adapter is an economical way to make sure you get online. If there's a signal, the WPC55AG dual-band Wireless A+G notebook adapter will lock on to it.
The WPC55AG ships with quick-installation guides for Windows XP, 98, Me, and 2000, as well as a CD bearing a 26-page manual and installation software. All told, it takes only a few minutes to set up the card for an XP system and just a little longer for Windows 2000 notebooks, which require you to load the WLAN Monitor software. Windows XP has an integrated WLAN monitoring feature called the Zero Configuration Component, but we preferred the Linksys WLAN monitor, thanks to its helpful visual signal strength, link-quality meters, and ability to store connection profiles for different networks. Unfortunately, the WLAN Monitor is compatible with only earlier, pre-XP Windows versions.
The WPC55AG has a pair of LEDs that show power and link activity, which is helpful when troubleshooting an intermittent connection. They provide you with a visual signal should someone try to transfer data to or from your system. For security, the card provides the standard 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption, which can be given a slight boost to 152 bits when connected to other Linksys 802.11a gear. This summer, Linksys plans to offer free downloadable firmware upgrades that will bring the WPC55AG up to the final 802.11g spec and add much stronger security features, including support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), LEAP, and 802.1x.
CNET Labs' tests show the WPC55AG to be a versatile performer. It was able to connect at maximum throughput rates of 20.6Mbps over its 802.11a interface, 17.9Mbps over its 802.11g interface, and 7.6Mbps with both 802.11g and 802.11b clients connected simultaneously.
CNET Labs throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)
While it's slightly slower than the best single-band card in each category, the WPC55AG is the only card that does it all, and its range is the best to date, with high-bandwidth 802.11g connections that reached more than 150 feet in CNET Labs' tests. This places the WPC55AG neck and shoulders above its top competitor, the Netgear WAG511.
Linksys provides a three-year warranty on its WPC55AG PC Card, as well as 24/7 phone and e-mail support, and the company's Web site offers a complete collection of configuration tips, drivers, manuals, and setup guides, plus access to a knowledge base that answers questions you probably never would have thought to ask. If all else fails, there's always the phone or e-mail. About the only service hot button that Linksys misses is that the Web site lacks a chat room where service technicians and fellow customers can help each other.