Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold) review: Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold)

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MSRP: $90.00

The Good Low price; excellent range; three-year warranty.

The Bad No documentation or help for Windows XP users; free tech support lasts only 30 days; sucks 5V instead of 3.3V.

The Bottom Line This tried-and-true 802.11b card is a fine value, especially for knowledgeable Windows XP users who need a little extra range.

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

The Proxim Orinoco World PC Card Gold first went on sale in late 2000, but periodic price cuts and updates have sustained this 802.11b model as a good value for savvy business travelers. Several CNET readers have remarked on this card's comparatively long range and resistance to dropped connections--observations borne out in CNET Labs' tests. Yes, the card would benefit from lower power consumption, longer free phone support, and better documentation (particularly for Windows XP users). You won't find a lot of extras with the World PC Card, but its long three-year warranty, friendly client software, and 128-bit WEP security make for a solid choice. One advantage to buying a card such as this one, which has been on the market for a while, is that Windows XP comes with a driver for it, so you can simply plug in the card and go (as long as no network security has already been enabled on the access point). Nonetheless, when you have time--even after plugging in the World PC Card--you should make sure to download and update the card's firmware to take advantage of the latest power management, encryption, and compatibility tweaks.

The card's short, slick Getting Started manual provides a capable sketch of wireless LAN topologies, then steps you through basic installation and functionality for the wireless utility software that comes with the card. Next, the setup manual includes helpful installation instructions for Windows 9x and 2000 (the PDF user guide also covers Windows NT and MS-DOS) but, due to the card's age, not Windows XP.

Getting Started manual.

Unfortunately, the setup manual also glosses over security options--and the user manual devotes only a few lines to the topic, referring users to their system administrator. Those trying to connect to a WEP-enabled network might find themselves stymied.

In addition to Windows, the Orinoco World PC Card also works with Mac OS 7.5.2, 8.6, 9.0, and 9.4; Novell Client 3. x and 4. x; and Linux (kernel versions 2.0.x to 2.2.x, 2.4).

Because the Orinoco World PC Card's software does not explicitly support Windows XP, if you're running that OS, you're better off using XP's built-in wireless configuration utility than the Orinoco Client Manager software. That said, we were able to get the utility to run under XP, although it took two attempts and a reboot. When minimized, the Orinoco Client Manager appears on the taskbar and serves as a reliable readout of current connection quality. Open it, and through the Actions menu, you can access a full range of wireless-networking functions such as power management and encryption settings. A complete diagnostic routine and extensive online support round out the software.

Main Client Manager window.

The Orinoco World PC Card also features a unique external antenna connector in case you want to use it in a desktop computer. This feature, not found on other PC Cards, is helpful if your desktop sits hidden beneath a desk or is otherwise obstructed from a wireless access point. Simply attach an indoor antenna such as the $70 Proxim Orinoco Range Extender model to the end of your PC Card via the included cable. You can then place the external antenna up high on a desk or a bookshelf and increase your wireless coverage.

External antenna connector.

While most PC Card network adapters now run at 3.3V, this slightly geriatric card requires 5V. Although a new firmware download enables the card to power down during periods of inactivity, the Orinoco World PC Card will tax your laptop's battery slightly more than 3.3V models.

The Orinoco World PC Card comes in two versions: Silver and Gold. The Silver card supports 64-bit WEP encryption, while the Gold card adds 128-bit WEP. The card offers no special security features beyond WEP.

The Orinoco World PC Card's higher voltage requirements--5V rather than the newer, more common 3.3V standard--may be partly responsible for its excellent range. In our typical office setting, the card offered the best range of all the PC Cards we've tested. And while the Orinoco didn't turn in the best raw performance, its 4.9Mbps of throughput was on a par with that of other wireless adapters.

Throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
802.11b Turbo   
Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter
Linksys WPC11 Instant wireless network adapter
Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold)
3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card with XJACK antenna
Chariot 802.11b response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter
Linksys WPC11 Instant wireless network adapter
Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold)
3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card with XJACK antenna
Range test
Relative performance in typical office setting
0.0 to 1.0 = Poor   1.1 to 2.0 = Fair   2.1 to 3.0 = Good   3.1 and higher = Excellent
Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold)
Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter
Linksys WPC11 Instant wireless network adapter
3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card with XJACK antenna
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and the routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and at maximum signal strength. CNET Labs' response-time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.

The good news is that the Orinoco comes with a three-year warranty. The bad news is that you get only 30 days of free phone support. Thereafter, you're charged $25 per incident, one of the few for-pay arrangements we've seen. Online support is limited to downloadable documentation and drivers, so make sure you install this card right after you buy it. Otherwise, if you have real trouble with the configuration process, you may spend more on phone support than you did on the card.

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