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Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G review: Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G

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MSRP: $99.00
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The Good Excellent performance in mixed 802.11g and 802.11b environments; includes antenna connector; toll-free 24/7 phone support.

The Bad Skimpy documentation; unexceptional solo 802.11g performance.

The Bottom Line The Buffalo Adapter-G is the right choice for anyone looking for an 802.11g PC Card adapter with robust security features and an external antenna connector.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.7 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

Review Sections

Intro

The Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G is typical of what we've come to expect from Buffalo: it's a solid performer with a below-average price and dicey fit and finish. A standout feature of this card is its ability to accept an external antenna; buy the antenna separately, and you'll sustain high throughput over a long range. But the real surprise is that this card performs extraordinarily well under mixed-mode conditions--more than 50 percent better than most other cards in 802.11g mode when an 802.11b client connects simultaneously. Given its skimpy documentation, however, this is a card for people who know about wireless networking and compute in an office or a home with a mixture of 802.11b and 802.11g devices. If you're a newbie or you work on an 802.11g-only network, pick a more polished card, such as the Netgear WG511, instead. Installing the Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G is easy: just plop the setup CD in your drive, and you're on your way. Instead of popping up a wizard, the install routine opens a Web page that's specific to your version of Windows. There, the page prompts you to insert your card and use the "found new hardware" method of Windows driver installation (that is, pop in the card and let Windows walk you through the process). Unfortunately, this card doesn't support Macs.

After you've installed the adapter, Windows XP users can manage the Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G with the built-in Windows Wireless Zero Configuration utility. Windows 2000, 98, and Me users, however, must install the Client Manager software from the Buffalo install CD, which doesn't run under XP. This odd little utility has a useful Status page that consolidates all of the basics--including the network type, transfer rate, and WEP--along with graphical readouts of signal strength and quality. A Survey page then lists all available connections, but the Profiles page is where you do the work, establishing the channel, the SSID, and the WEP encryption. It's an OK bit of software--neither easier nor harder to use than Windows XP's native wireless utility.

Looking for details? Don't bother hunting for Buffalo's manual on the setup disc--it isn't there. Instead, you get a list of manuals for other products. Nor can the manual be found on the Buffalo Web site. All you get is a poorly laid-out quick-start guide, a help file for the Client Manager, and a FAQ that includes a few troubleshooting tips. True, wireless network cards are usually plug-and-go. But this documentation, such as it is, leaves much to be desired.

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Buffalo's Client Manager puts basic status information on a single screen.

The Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G offers two features that other 11g cards lack: an antenna connector; and a hole in the antenna casing that allows you to lock the card to your desk. Look closely at the tip of the card, and you'll find a tiny rubber cap. Peel it back, and you'll discover an MMX antenna connector that allows you to attach any antenna with a matching connector, such as the Buffalo indoor omni-directional antenna. 

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The Adapter-G's MMX connector is concealed by a small rubber cap.

Adding an antenna can increase the range of the card by 50 to 150 feet or even more if you're outside with a clear line of sight, so it's a great feature for those looking to eke out a larger coverage area from their wireless LAN. The physical-security feature is useful for those who work in situations where they need to lock down their gear.

In addition to provisions for physical security, the Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G also offers a respectable assortment of network security features. If you're running Windows XP, you get support for 802.1x authentication, which allows you to log on to networks with high security via a &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ewebopedia%2Ecom%2FTERM%2FR%2FRADIUS%2Ehtml">RADIUS server. Unfortunately, this feature doesn't appear in the Client Manager utility provided for pre-XP Windows versions. The The Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G also includes support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), but since no mention of it is made on the package, you may not even realize that it's there. You can access the WPA settings through the Advanced tab on the Windows Zero Configuration Tool. If you are running an older Windows operating system, you will need to purchase the Funk Software &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Efunk%2Ecom%2Fradius%2Fwlan%2Fwlan%5Fc%5Fradius%2Easp">Odyssey Client to use WPA; unfortunately, there is no help file, manual, or package insert that explains this. Help file aside, the card is basically undocumented; it would be good to know something about security before you use this card.


In fact, the only distinguishing feature of the Client Manager utility is the Profile section, which lets you save several different profiles and switch among them. This is handy if you need to connect to more than one network on a regular basis because it saves you from having to reenter your security settings each time you move from one network to the next. The attributes for each profile include the channel, the SSID, the encryption type, and whether you want a fixed or an automatically assigned IP.


Buffalo's Client Manager lets you set up separate connection profiles.

When connecting alongside older 802.11b devices, the Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G is the fastest adapter we've tested. And its pure 802.11g performance is on a par with that of other 802.11g products.

At 5 feet away, the Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G reached a top speed of 20Mbps in 802.11g mode, which represents average 802.11g performance. The falloff in throughput between 50 and 75 feet was steep, however, dipping below 10Mbps. Strangely, throughput actually increased a few megabits between 100 and 125 feet, giving the card one of the best scores we've seen at the outer edge of that distance. At longer distances, performance took a plunge, until the card finally expired at about 175 feet.

/sc/21183561_chart.gif" width="388" height="310" border="0" />
With an external antenna, the AirStation Adapter-G is a long-distance champion.

As its benchmark, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software on a console system with clients running NetIQ's 4.4 Performance End Points. Our throughput results reflect the payload throughput of a network adapter transmitting at varying distances and at an adapter's dynamically chosen fallback rate. This allows you to see both the maximum throughput of a device as well as the decreased throughput you are likely to see with increased range. Throughput can vary widely from the bandwidth speeds that vendors typically advertise and is a much better gauge of what you are likely to experience with a standard file transfer. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.

CNET Labs throughput tests  (Throughput in Mbps)
Mixed mode  
G-only  
Netgear WG511
7.9 
20.2 
Buffalo AirStation Adapter-G
7.9 
19.6 
Belkin 54G PC Card
7.7 
19.1 
AirPort Extreme
5.7 
18.4 
Linksys WPC54G
6.7 
15.6 
The Adapter-G's throughput is on a par with that of the fastest 802.11g PC Cards.

/sc/21183561-2-200-DT1.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />
The Adapter-G's connector lets you add an antenna.

At 11Mbps, the AirStation's maximum mixed-mode throughput is extraordinary, a good 4Mbps more than that of any other 802.11g card we've tested to date. Even better, the performance sustains itself up to 50 feet, then it drops quite gradually from 50 to 150 feet--where it begins to surpass the card's pure 802.11g performance for the last 25 feet of the card's 175-foot range. You can increase the card's range by attaching the AirStation indoor omni-directional antenna. The AirStation's warranty lasts two years, during which time you get toll-free, 24/7, year-round phone support. This is standard among leading vendors, but we have found Buffalo's support team to be among the best informed and most helpful. You also have the option of e-mail support, but Buffalo puts almost zero reference material on its Web site. If you happen to get a product with older firmware, you can download newer firmware that will bring the PC Card adapter up to the final, recently ratified 802.11g spec. Check the Buffalo Client Manager or the Windows Zero Configuration utility for the firmware version of your card.

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