Ashton Digital's WRUB-2011i AirDash wireless USB stick is compact, and it installs in a snap on Windows 98 SE or newer systems. (Unfortunately, it doesn't support Mac or Linux operating systems.) The AirDash stick comes with a removable USB port-direction adapter that lets you flip the orientation of the USB plug to keep the AirDash stick in whichever position gives it the best reception. The box contains a CD with setup software and a well-organized, 38-page PDF manual. You also get a useful one-page, printed quick-install guide.
About the size of a disposable cigarette lighter and weighing less than an ounce, the AirDash stick is as unobtrusive as networking gear gets. It's about the same size as the Linksys WUSB12, and it's tiny compared to the Siemens SpeedStream 1022 wireless USB adapter or Buffalo's wireless USB adapter. Because the 3.3V device is powered by its USB connection, you won't have to mess with an AC adapter or a clumsy power cord. All this makes the AirDash an excellent 802.11b adapter for both notebooks and desktops and an easy, inexpensive way to share an Internet connection wirelessly.
Installing the AirDash software only takes a few minutes and gives you the choice between standard and advanced setup routines. The standard routine is geared toward those planning to distribute an Internet connection with the AirDash adapter and requires you to do little more than click through a few screen prompts. The advanced setup routine gives you more configuration options and lets you configure the adapter for an existing network with predetermined security and IP settings.
The most notable feature of the Ashton Digital WRUB-2011i AirDash wireless USB stick is its Internet-sharing feature. The AirDash software taps into Microsoft's Internet Connection Service software, already built into your Windows operating system, to distribute an Internet connection via a standard Wi-Fi ad-hoc network. The Microsoft Internet Connection Service works with other adapters as well, but it's complicated to configure without the AirDash software.
Once you've configured an AirDash adapter for Internet sharing, you can use it to distribute a connection to any standard 802.11b/g adapter. Ashton Digital makes it easy to configure additional AirDash sticks to participate in an Internet-sharing network, but you have to dig around in the manual to learn that this is all done in "--="">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ewebopedia%2Ecom%2FTERM%2FA%2Fad%5Fhoc%5Fmode%2Ehtml" target="_blank">ad-hoc mode and that other adapters will need to be configured for this mode to join the network.
The security features of the AirDash stick suffice for most home users, but don't expect ironclad protection for your small office. The AirDash stick comes with 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption buts lack support for stronger WPA and 802.1x encryption schemes, which are rapidly becoming the new security standards for wireless networking.
The AirDash installation places an icon for the Wireless LAN Configuration Utility in the Windows notification area to the right of the taskbar. The icon is blue if there are data frame errors, yellow if you are not connected or have poor link quality, and green when you have a solid connection. Clicking the icon launches the utility, which lets you view or alter the adapter's settings. From there, you can turn the radio on or off, check bar graphs that display link quality and signal strength, and change the wireless channel of your enhanced peer-to-peer network.
In CNET Labs' tests, the AirDash WRUB-2011i wireless USB stick reached an impressive maximum throughput of 5.3Mbps at close range. That's a little faster than the Linksys WUSB12 and much faster than Siemens's SpeedStream 1022 wireless USB adapter.
|CNET Labs maximum throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
|Note: Throughput in Mpbs.|
The AirDash stick also has good range. Connecting at a distance of 175 feet in our tests, its range is significantly farther than the SpeedStream's 100 feet but short of the Linksys WUSB12's 225 feet. Still, the AirDash should offer plenty of range for an apartment or a small house.
Ashton Digital's enhanced peer-to-peer mode is not designed for heavy loads. Ad-hoc mode involves more protocol overhead, decreasing throughput as more computers join the network. If you're planning to share an Internet connection among more than five computers, you should consider getting a router. Still, AirDash sticks are more than capable of sharing an Internet connection between two or three computers.
In our tests, the AirDash stick installed successfully on five notebooks and a desktop PC of varying vintages and worked just fine with a three-port USB hub. It connected easily with both 802.11b and 802.11g access points. In ad-hoc mode, an AirDash stick on a connected client was able to distribute a broadband connection with another stick and several other brands of Wi-Fi adapters.
For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.
With a three-year warranty, Ashton Digital provides good coverage for the AirDash WRUB-2011i wireless USB stick, but it comes up short compared to Belkin's lifetime coverage. The company's Web site lists FAQs and offers a downloadable product manual and the most recent drivers for the AirDash stick. Ashton Digital also provides lifetime, toll-free phone support, but only from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. You can also e-mail the company a question, although one note we sent took four days to get a response.