SMC EZ Connect 802.11a wireless access point review: SMC EZ Connect 802.11a wireless access point
A good value
At $356, the EZ Connect 802.11a is a good solution at a competitive price. The access point's gently curved, plastic casing sports two omnidirectional antennas, three front-panel LED lights, and connections for Ethernet and power. A Reset button, which returns the access point to its factory settings if the Web-based configuration utility fails, nestles between the two jacks on the back. The package also contains a power adapter; a helpful, 40-page manual; and a CD-ROM with the same manual in electronic form, drivers, and the EZ Connect 802.11a Configuration Utility, which you use to access the Web-based configuration page. To test the unit, we used a laptop outfitted with SMC's $143 EZ Connect 802.11a wireless Cardbus adapter.
As its name implies, installing the EZ Connect 802.11a is remarkably easy; however, configuring the unit is a bit trickier. First you install the EZ Connect 802.11a Configuration Utility on the PC you plan to connect; use your own Ethernet cable to connect your PC to the access point (SMC does not include one); then run the utility. The application should find the access point automatically; unfortunately, it didn't. It worked only after tech support recommended we set the wired PC to an IP address similar to the access point's default address. Apparently, this is a common problem with setting up the access point. Inexplicably, SMC fails to address it in the manual. You can also manually get to the Web-based configuration screen by typing the access point's provided IP address into your PC's Web browser.
Once the setup wizard was up and running, it was easy to use. SMC walks you through specifying the SSID, enabling turbo mode, and implementing 64-, 128-, or 152-bit WEP security. The advanced setup screen lets you set the access point to work as a DHCP client or server. And you can modify settings for synchronizing with other access points or set data-packet sizes. If your network suffers from signal interference, shrinking the packet sizes increases network reliability--but slows its efficiency. The status screen displays more than two dozen useful bits of information, including MAC address, WEP status, mode (turbo or regular), and signal strength, in easy-to-read tables.
Like other 802.11a access points, the EZ Connect 802.11a operates in the 5GHz band, free from cordless-phone and other device interference that can plague 802.11b networks. The EZ Connect also has a top speed of 54Mbps, or nearly five times the 802.11b benchmark. In CNET Labs' tests, however, it produced just less than 21Mbps of throughput--average among 802.11a access points. Proprietary turbo mode theoretically boosts speed to 72Mbps, but in tests, it actually yielded just 25.6Mbps, which is middle-of-the-road compared to other manufacturers' turbo modes. Like all 802.11a turbo implementations, SMC's turbo mode won't work with other manufacturers'.
Range was also a challenge for the EZ Connect 802.11a. In our workout, it fell short of its stated range of 1,650 feet outdoors and 165 feet indoors. Speed dropped off rapidly once a few walls intervened. Separated by 60 feet and a floor, the EZ Connect saw its transmission rate drop to 6Mbps, followed by a lost connection. If range is a major concern, you may want to look elsewhere.
Read the warranty
SMC's service and support policies for the EZ Connect 802.11a are generous, provided you read the fine print. The access point comes with a standard, 90-day warranty, 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 the company decides to discontinue it. After that, warranty repair or replacement is considered on a case-by-case basis. Other support basics are more straightforward; the company provides free, 24/7 phone support, and the Web site offers drivers, FAQs, and e-mail support.
SMC's EZ Connect 802.11a has its shortcomings: a shaky installation and slightly tricky support policies, most notably. But if you are willing to tolerate these rough spots, you'll enjoy this access point's easy-to-use, Web-based interface and solid throughput--not to mention its affordable price.
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
|How we tested|
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and 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.