Like most PC Card adapters, there's not much to the WPC300N. The device features the standard metal PCMCIA portion, with a black-and-blue end piece that extends outside of your laptop's PC Card slot. This piece includes the adapter's wireless antenna, along with two tiny square status lights for power and wireless activity.
The WPC300N's setup process is a piece of cake, thanks to its well-organized user guide and helpful installation wizard. Both items ship on CD, which Linksys puts inside of a handy envelope. The envelope's inside flap gets you started with a directive to insert the CD; this step spurs the wizard into action, taking you through the process of installing drivers and the included configuration utility, as well as popping in the adapter. The wizard ends by helping you make your first connection to an available network in your area. From then on, you may use the excellent utility to manage the card and its connections. In addition to allowing you to store individual profiles for the networks you access most, the utility shows every pertinent detail about the network you're currently connected to, including signal strength, link quality, MAC and IP addresses, and associated security features.
Linksys asserts that the WPC300N is theoretically capable of 12 times the speed and 4 times the range displayed by 802.11g. When it comes to Wi-Fi devices, theory is always different (read: faster) than reality. But in CNET Labs' throughput tests, the adapter came nowhere even remotely close to these claims. The device made its best showing in maximum throughput, managing to earn faster times than those of most pre-N adapters we've tested, including the Belkin Pre-N PC Card. The Linksys WPC300N's maximum throughput of 71.5Mbps, however, still fell short of the Netgear WPNT511's superfast score of 93.8Mbps.
The Linksys's performance took a turn for the worse with mixed-mode throughput: the device scored just a bit faster than Belkin's Pre-N adapter and, again, significantly trailed Netgear's unit. Finally, the WPC300N's speed at long range was simply poor compared to that of most pre-N adapters. While the WPC300N's scores are not bad in and of themselves, they certainly don't measure up to the promise of MIMO and the 802.11n spec. Keep in mind that to muster their maximum speeds, all of the pre-N adapters we've reviewed prior to this Linksys adapter must be used with their corresponding pre-N routers (part of the 802.11n specification is a mandate for interoperability, which means networking equipment from different vendors--starting with this round of Draft N announcements--should play nicely together without a drop-off in performance).
Linksys bundles a long three-year warranty with the WPC300N, and 24/7 toll-free phone support is available for as long as you own the adapter. These terms are topped only by Belkin, which offers lifetime support for its adapter. Regarding online support, Linksys provides FAQs, downloads, and one of our favorite support features, live chat with a tech support rep, on its Web site.
Though the WPC300N is by no means a sluggish PC Card adapter, it did fall short of our expectations for Draft N networking gear. Its poor long-range performance dampens our enthusiasm for its impressive maximum throughput. Those looking to upgrade their home networks would do well to wait to see how the rest of the Draft N pack fares in our tests.