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Hawking HSB1 Wireless Signal Booster review: Hawking HSB1 Wireless Signal Booster

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MSRP: $129.00

The Good Easy to set up; increases range and throughput; compact design.

The Bad 802.11b/g only; expensive; weak support.

The Bottom Line Hawking's HSB1 signal booster can help your wireless router cover more space at higher throughput, but it's expensive and can create interference problems for cordless phones and baby monitors because it operates in the shared 2.4GHz spectrum.

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6.9 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7
  • Support 6

Hawking HSB1 WiFi Signal Booster

Hawking Technology's HSB1 signal booster not only enhances a router's coverage area in a home or small office, it also takes less than a minute to set up. At $80, it costs more than a good router goes for these days, but it can help get the most out of a network, particularly in buildings that pose challenges for the 2.4GHz spectrum that 802.11g uses. Unfortunately, amping up your signal can create more problems than it solves because it increases interference with other 2.4GHz devices such as cordless phones and baby monitors. For most environments, we think Buffalo's router/repeater kit or Belkin's new Pre-N router is a more effective solution for covering a large area.

Based on a 500mW amplifier with filters, the HSB1 increases the strength of the antenna on your router to achieve greater range and bandwidth. Rated to boost a 2.4GHz router's broadcast signal by up to 20dB, it also uses filters to raise the signal-to-noise ratio at the receiving end for more reliable service. The HSB1 works with both 802.11b and 802.11g networks and is a snap to set up. It doesn't, however, work with 5GHz 802.11a equipment. Just plug the HSB1 into the router's antenna connector, power it up, and set the amplifier to either 100mW, 200mW, or 500mW. It took us less than a minute to set up. While it works with dual-antenna routers regardless of which antenna you choose, you will need a router or an access point with removable antennas.

In extensive tests using NetIQ's Chariot benchmark with and without the antenna booster, the HSB1 was able to extend the range of our router by 25 feet. Starting at about 75 feet, it started to improve data rates, and at 200 feet it boosted throughput from a measly 4Mbps to 14.5Mbps--better than some routers can muster at close range. At a range of 100 feet, the HSB1 raised the signal by 15dB in our informal tests, which is a bit short of the 20dB claim. It also increased the signal-to-noise ratio from a marginal 5dB to a strong 21dB and changed the indicated signal level from Low to Very Good. Using three wireless routers from Hawking, Linksys, and Compex along with a variety of clients, we ran the booster for a week without a problem.

For 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 HSB1 package comes with everything you'll need to connect and use the Signal Booster, including its annoyingly bulky AC adapter, an 18-inch SMA antenna cable, and an adapter for access points with TNC connectors. With a two-year warranty, the HSB1 is covered for as long as many other networking products. Beyond a simple explanation of the device and a detailed data sheet, however, Hawking's Web site has disappointingly little to offer on the HSB1. Should you have a problem, Hawking's phone lines are open only on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, and you pay for the call.

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