Networking to your notebook is easy with a PC Card adapter, and a dual-band unit makes sense--connecting you to the installed base of 802.11a products, as well as to the newer 802.11g's. The SMC EZ Connect universal 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11a/g wireless cardbus adapter (SMC2336W-AG) gives you dual-band versatility for a low price. It also delivers wicked-fast throughput, with an exceptionally long 200-foot range in 802.11g mode. Before you rush out to buy dual band, though, remember these tips: Like all dual-band cards, the SMC2336W-AG can operate at either 2.4GHz or 5GHz but not both simultaneously. It can function in a mixed 802.11b/g network, but if another card connects in 802.11b mode, the SMC2336W-AG's 802.11g throughput plunges to 802.11b levels. Add to that the product's tricky warranty and insufficient documentation, and the SMC2336W-AG fails to challenge our Editors' Choice, the.
A basic test of any card's installation is whether it provides complete instructions for Windows 98 and up. The SMC2336W-AG's 45-page hard-copy manual covers this ably, spending nearly 20 pages on driver and utility installation. As helpful as this is, all you really need to do is plug in the card and follow the Windows prompts.
Though the manual's setup instructions are thorough, its description of the adapter's configuration utility is rather skimpy. For example, the utility offers 802.11b Extended and Normal range settings, but the manual offers no explanation of the feature, nor is there a discussion of the adapter's Active and Passive scan modes.
The configuration utility includes some distinctive extras. There's a helpful status screen that gives you a snapshot of everything you need to know about your current connection. And its graphical display of signal strength, with a handy percentage readout, is lacking in many other configuration utilities.
Like most configuration utilities for dual-band cards, the SMC2336W-AG's settings are profile specific. The parameters that you include in a profile, such as SSID and security settings, can apply to a single access point or, if you leave the SSID field blank, multiple ones. You also get two nice options that most other cards lack. One is the ability to adjust the transmit power and the power-saving mode for each profile. More interesting is the quality-of-service (QoS) setting, which lets you give priority to video and voice data to increase the likelihood of uninterrupted streaming. For this to work, however, the access point must also support SMC's QoS scheme.
You get a little extra in the security department, as well. Along with the usual WEP encryption, the adapter claims to support the much stronger Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), due to be ratified by year's end. SMC2336W-AG also supports Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption, but you will need to use XP's configuration utility to enable it.