Belkin Pre-N PC Card review: Belkin Pre-N PC Card

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The Good Fast; great range; simple setup.

The Bad Pricey; requires MIMO adapter to achieve its full potential.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for a PC Card adapter with great range, this is it.

8.1 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Support 9

Belkin Pre-N PC Card adapter

If you've seen one wireless PC Card adapter, you've seen them all. But that doesn't mean you've used them all. Although Belkin's new Pre-N PC Card looks like other adapters, it harbors a technology that's poised to change Wi-Fi as we know it. Multiple-input multiple-output technology, otherwise known as MIMO, is the secret to this adapter's great performance. The upcoming 802.11n specification, set to replace 802.11g, is also slated to include MIMO, but 802.11n probably won't be officially ratified until 2006. Belkin's new adapter gives you the benefits of 802.11n today, hence its "Pre-N" appellation. Chief among those benefits are its increased range and throughput. Even if you have a wireless adapter built into your laptop, you may want to consider turning it off and plugging in Belkin's card to enjoy MIMO's benefits.

These days, most Wi-Fi adapter installation routines are short and painless, and Belkin's Pre-N PC Card adapter is no exception. You begin by inserting the accompanying CD into your computer. The CD automatically launches a wizard that guides you through a few prompts and ends by asking you to insert the Pre-N PC Card, which initiates the adapter's driver installation. After the drivers are installed, the wizard guides you through the installation of Belkin's Wireless Client Utility, which you can use to manage the Pre-N PC Card adapter.

The Wireless Client Utility lets you scan for available networks; view connection statistics, such as the card's transmit-data rate; and set up individual connection profiles for specific networks you connect to regularly, for example, those at home and work. If you prefer to manage your adapter with the Windows native wireless configuration tool, you can. Belkin's installation wizard prompts you with check boxes that let you choose the tool you want to use. We like Belkin's utility better than Microsoft's because it shows you more granular network traffic statistics and gives you greater control over the adapter's transmit power.

Belkin's Pre-N PC Card is unlike other high-performance adapters currently available, such as the Netgear WG511T and the Linksys WPC54GS, because it doesn't have a separate turbo mode that works only with other devices equipped with matching chipsets. The Belkin adapter's MIMO-enabled chipset uses a single mode to connect to 802.11b, 802.11g, and Belkin Pre-N devices; our Labs' tests demonstrate that this results in significant performance gains on mixed networks with standard 802.11b and 802.11g devices. When used with a matching Pre-N router, Belkin's Pre-N PC Card delivers the best range we've seen to date. At 200 feet, it pumped out a speedy 36.4Mbps, more than twice as fast as the Atheros-based solutions we've tested at that distance.

Belkin offers the best service-and-support package in the business, including a lifetime warranty and toll-free, 24/7 tech support. The Belkin support Web site is easy to navigate and offers free software, firmware, and downloadable manuals for the Pre-N PC Card adapter.