One card to rule them all. The Netgear WAG511 dual-band wireless PC Card is among a slew of new wireless adapters to support 802.11a, 802.11b, and the unfinished 802.11g standard. (The IEEE expects to ratify the 802.11g standard later this summer.) Netgear's package includes everything you need to get up and running quickly, including a printed user guide and a resource CD. To get started, simply insert the CD and follow the onscreen instructions to install the driver and configuration utility. The printed user guide provides clear step-by-step instructions with plenty of screenshots, and it has a brief troubleshooting section. The WAG511 works with Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP. After you install the software, insert the WAG511 into the Type II PC Card slot of your notebook, and you're ready to go.
Windows XP provides its own configuration utility; however, like most wireless-card vendors, Netgear recommends that you use its own software to fully take advantage of the card's features. The Netgear utility lets you change the SSID and enable WEP settings. (Like its competitors, the WAG511 supports 128-bit encryption in 802.11b and 802.11g modes and 152-bit encryption in 802.11a mode.) You can also set the transmit power, create network profiles, and view performance statistics in graphical form.
In CNET Labs' tests, the WAG511 delivered decent performance. Its 802.11a throughput peaked at 22.1Mbps and held steady at about 14Mbps at 50 feet. In an 802.11g-only network, the WAG511 delivered comparatively less throughput but did manage to offer greater range. We stayed connected at 100 feet, long after the network dropped our 802.11a connection. However, like the results from other cards we've tested, aggregate throughput dropped to a level of 7.7Mbps when we added an 802.11b client to the network.
Netgear backs the WAG511 with a respectable three-year warranty and 24/7 phone support. The well-organized Web site offers firmware updates, FAQs, user guides, and a searchable knowledge base.