The Linksys WUSB12 wireless compact USB adapter lets you add 802.11b wireless connectivity to your Windows PC or laptop through a free USB port--with no PCI-based adapters or PC Cards to wrestle with. But don't let the WUSB12's small size fool you: this device has admirable throughput and range, plenty of features, and decent security. Despite a few caveats--a thirsty, 5V power draw (bad news for laptop batteries) and a lack of WPA support--it's still a well-priced, easy-to-use solution.
The Linksys WUSB12 wireless compact USB adapter is very easy to set up--given a few initial requirements. You need a free USB port: it doesn't work through a USB hub. Linksys includes a three-foot USB extension cable in case your USB port is not in an accessible location, but we wish it were a bit longer so that it could stretch easily from an under-the-desk PC or navigate a particularly tangled office setup. It's compatible with only Windows 98 SE, Me, 2000, and XP.
The included quick-installation guide walks you through installing the drivers (from the included CD) and setting up the adapter. The guide is clearly written and includes ample, helpful screenshots, plus important notes about installation on the various flavors of Windows. For Windows XP users, the adapter uses XP's Wireless Zero Configuration utility to configure security, networking, and connectivity options. Windows 98 SE, Me, and 2000 users use Linksys's WLAN Monitor software, installed during the setup, to configure, test, and troubleshoot their connection. We installed the USB adapter in a desktop PC and connected via WEP to awithin 10 minutes.
Because the adapter is tethered to the USB port via the short cable, you don't need to worry much about clearance for your notebook or desktop PC when it's installed. The WUSB12 uses the same swath of spectrum as some cordless phones and baby monitors, so setting it next to other 2.4GHz devices can cause interference. Because it plugs into a USB port, the WUSB12 is hot-swappable. This means that you won't have to reboot your computer in order to use it.
Like other 802.11b USB adapters, the WUSB12 is power hungry, which could be a problem for some notebook users. Like a PC Card, the adapter draws its power from the computer, but at 5V, it's a bit greedier than most PC Card adapters today, which tend to draw around 3V, so the Linksys USB adapter may drain your battery quicker. Of course, because the WUSB12 is hot-swappable, you can always simply pop the adapter from your laptop when you don't need to be connected, thus sparing your battery.
The Linksys WUSB12 may be no bigger than a highlighter pen (it's just shy of four inches long), but it comes with all the features and capabilities an 802.11b wireless adapter should have, including LED indicators for power and link status; connection-repairing schemes, such as data-rate fallback; and signal enhancement to recover weak signals. Unfortunately, the WUSB12 doesn't support WPA encryption, but the adapter does come with 64- and 128-bit WEP, as well as support for passphrases and multiple WEP keys.
The two-inch folding antenna is an especially useful feature. Because you can set the antenna upright as opposed to on its side (as you're forced to with PC Card adapters), you get better reception. And even though we wish the cable were longer, it does give you some flexibility in locating the antenna for optimal range, which could mean the difference between making or losing a connection.
You can configure the adapter for both infrastructure mode (to connect via an access point) or ad-hoc mode (to connect directly to other 802.11b-connected computers). The infrastructure mode includes an option to save power when the adapter is not connected to an access point.