All wireless PC Cards are not created equal, and SMC's new 802.11b High Power wireless PC Card is proof positive. It lacks the dual-band interoperability of a/b/g cards, such as the Netgear WAG511 dual-band wireless PC Card, but it offers other more practical and valuable features, such as increased range and industrial-strength security.
In addition to the card, you also get a software CD and a well-organized and illustrated printed user guide with a helpful FAQ section and glossary. To install the PC Card, insert the software CD, wait for the EZ Installation wizard to load automatically, and follow the foolproof installation routine. Next, slip the card into a free cardbus slot on your notebook. If you're running Windows XP, we recommend that you disable the built-in wireless-configuration tool and use SMC's superior Configuration Utility. (The card also works with Windows 98, Me, and 2000.) The easy-to-use Configuration Utility features a tabbed layout with detailed information on the card's throughput, link quality, and signal strength. The card also offers the best security in its class, including 128-bit WEP protection and support for 802.1x and Cisco Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol (LEAP). The company will add support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) via a firmware upgrade later this spring.
In CNET Labs' tests, the SMC PC Card delivered a signal capable of broadband speeds at distances up to 150 feet. By comparison, most 802.11b PC Cards we've tested reach about 100 feet before losing the connection. So what's the secret? The card's increased range lies in its 200mW power output, a substantial increase over the 30mW offered by standard cards. However, because the SMC card outputs more power, it also draws more power from your notebook. If you like to work unplugged, make sure you keep a watchful eye on your battery level. SMC lets you increase your range even further by attaching an optional high-gain antenna, such as the SMC 5dBi omnidirectional antenna, to one of the two MMCX connectors.
The only downside to this card is its complex warranty setup. SMC offers a woefully stingy 90-day warranty standard, but you can upgrade to a limited lifetime warranty if you register your product within 30 days. Limited lifetime means SMC will support the product for up to one year past the date that the company decides to discontinue the product. You do get 24/7 technical support via phone, and the easy-to-navigate Web site offers drivers, FAQs, manuals, and a searchable knowledge base.
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