The Compex iWavePort WL54G mixes a quick-and-easy setup with second-rate security. Still, at $40, this wireless adapter card undercuts the better-performing D-Link DWL-G650 and the Netgear WG511T by about $20. The WL54G's most distinguishing trait is a tiny connector on the adapter's tip that allows you to attach an external antenna for increased range.
Getting the WL54G online is a snap. A one-minute CD-based driver installation holds your hand through the setup and configuration of the card. The card comes with a printed quick-install guide and a CD containing drivers, as well as a thorough 30-page electronic manual. Based on an Intersil Prism Nitro radio, the WL54G PC Card sticks out 1.3 inches and has LEDs for link, which shows whether you have a connection, and activity, which shows whether packets are being transmitted to or from the card.
Unfortunately, the WL54G lags in terms of security, with only 64- and 128-bit wired equivalent privacy (WEP) encryption rather than the more advanced and secure Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) security. Compex is working on adding this vital security feature and says it will post an update on its Web site in the coming weeks.
In tests at CNET Labs, the card was able to move 24.2Mbps in a pure 802.11g environment, a rate that falls to a disappointing 11.3Mbps in a mixed environment. Over the course of a week of informal testing, it worked with three different wireless routers from Compex, Hawking, and Linksys, but as of mid-October, the card still lacked Wi-Fi certification, so compatibility could be sketchy with some devices.
As its benchmark, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software on a console system with clients running NetIQ's Performance End Points 4.4. Our throughput tests measure the transfer speed of a file that a user might send across the network. This is known as the payload throughput and does not include packet errors and other data that might be transferred over a network. Payload throughput can vary widely from the bandwidth speeds vendors advertise and is a much better gauge of what you're likely to experience with a standard file transfer. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.
The WL54G's performance can be pushed to the limit by plugging an external antenna into the card's connector. While external antennas can increase the card's range from 120 feet to nearly 200 and boost signal status from Fair to Good at 75 feet, they are cumbersome and add to the total cost of the adapter.
Compex supports the WL54G for all recent Windows versions, but the WL54G doesn't work with Linux or Macintosh computers. Backed by a three-year warranty, the WL54G has better coverage than most of its competitors. Compex also offers a toll-free support line, good for the life of the product, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT. In our tests, a helpful technician was on the line in less than a minute with the correct answer to our question. The Compex Web site lacks product-specific FAQs and start-up tips, but it does offer free downloads of the manual and the drivers.
Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Throughput in Mbps
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Throughput in Mbps