D-Link DWL-G520 AirPlus Xtreme G PCI adapter
Choosing the D-Link DWL-G520 AirPlus Xtreme G PCI adapter over a wireless USB adapter is like picking an assembly-required toy over the preassembled trike on the show floor. Installing the DWL-G520 requires you to crack open your computer's case and poke around its sensitive innards, as opposed to merely inserting a plug into a USB port. Still, for folks with older PCs that lack USB 2.0 ports, installing an internal card allows you to bequeath fast wireless transfer speeds unto your PC. Additional advantages to the DWL-G520 are its removable, external antenna, which lets you add a better one if you're so inclined; tight WPA and 802.1x security features; and a proprietary Turbo mode that nearly doubles throughput. On the flip side, the DWL-G520 couldn't maintain its excellent performance in CNET Labs' mixed-mode tests, and it's compatible only with Windows. If you don't mind its laborious installation, the DWL-G520 is a solid wireless solution for your PC. Otherwise, we suggest an easier-to-install .
To install the DWL-G520, you must remove your PC's cover, locate a free PCI slot, insert the card, then screw the card's end into the back of your system. Sounds relatively simple, but PCI slots aren't always easy to access through the jungle of other component cords, and seating the card just right can be a pain. D-Link helps you through the installation process with a printed, color setup guide that includes lots of screenshots and photos. Once you've completed the process, you can rotate the wireless antenna that extends out of the card's end, moving it up, down, and in a circle to achieve the strongest signal. Because the antenna unscrews from the card, you can also replace it with another optional antenna to improve your range.
The DWL-G520 is a Windows-only device. Windows XP users have two ways to configure the DWL-G520's settings: the Wireless Zero Configuration software included in Windows XP or D-Link's own AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless Utility. The latter is essential for those running earlier versions of Windows that lack integrated Wi-Fi capabilities (the DWL-G520 works with 2000, Me, and 98 SE), and it will automatically load after installing the card. The utility lets you alter key card settings, such as SSID, data transfer rate, and channel. It also includes handy status bars that display link quality and signal strength.
The card offers the baseline standard in Wi-Fi security--64-bit and 128-bit WEP encryption--and it keeps track of up to four different WEP keys. The DWL-G520 also works in conjunction with a RADIUS server to provide WPA protection via TKIP, or temporal key integrity protocol, which dynamically alters your security keys with every 10,000 packets of data you transmit combined with 802.1x authentication via the RADIUS server. Because not every home user has a RADIUS server lying around, D-Link has also built WPA's Pre-Shared Key capability into the DWL-G520. This feature doesn't require a RADIUS server, but it provides you with a new key every time you access your network.
D-Link offers a few additional features with the DWL-G520 that could be helpful under some circumstances. The external side of the card includes two status LEDs that light up to show when you're connected to and have activity over a network. Since the lights stick out the back of your PC, however, you'll have to poke your head around when you want to see them. The same goes when you want to adjust or replace the external antenna that shoots out the end of the card. Finally, the DWL-G520's Xtreme G technology has a scorching maximum speed of 108Mbps, but you'll reach that high only if every device on your Wi-Fi network includes the technology as well. When you add a standard 802.11g connection or an 802.11b connection to the mix, your overall network speed plummets, as evidenced in our mixed-mode tests.