Sony PCWA-C300S wireless adapter
Sony's PCWA-C300S wireless PC Card makes a good first impression with its quick, simple installation and excellent management software. Its fast performance and compact antenna are also pluses. But an adapter this expensive should not come with such skimpy service and support. Even though Buffalo's AirStation couldn't match the PCWA-C300S in our maximum throughput tests, its superior range makes it the better value.
Installing this Type II PC Card in your notebook takes only about two minutes, assuming your machine runs Windows XP or Me; unfortunately, the PCWA-C300S doesn't support any other flavor of Windows, nor does it support the Mac OS or Unix. The included Quick Start Guide's checklist outlines the near-automatic process, but you may not even need it, since the Easy Installation wizard starts automatically when you insert the CD and walks you through the setup process. The setup is also spelled out in excruciating detail in the printed 61-page manual.
After the initial setup, you can configure the PCWA-C300S using Windows' own configuration utility. Or, just follow the adapter's illustrated configuration tutorial, which is included on the installation CD and offers screen-by-screen instructions for making changes.
Sony's configuration software, with its many useful tools, is superior to Windows' efforts. A task tray icon shows the card's signal strength at a glance; simply double-click the icon to open the tabbed Wireless Panel. The Network List tab therein shows available active LANs, and the Settings tab gives you the option of changing the tray icon to show transmission rate. The Status tab shows vital signs such as signal strength and throughput level, as well as advanced data such as frames sent and received. We really like the pop-up graph that includes thermometerlike charting of signal strength and throughput, among other statistics. You can even check on the access point's configuration (if you have a Sony PCWA-AR300, that is). While the documentation ignores these features, the CD-based manual describes them well.
The adapter's 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption is acceptable, but the PCWA-C300S lacks the stronger WPA security. Sony says it will offer a free downloadable upgrade that will add WPA soon.
|CNET Labs throughput tests (in megabits per second)|
The PCWA-C300S is fast at close range, with a top speed of 24.2Mbps in 802.11g mode, significantly speedier than the competition. But the adapter slows to a disappointing 13.9Mbps in a mixed-mode network.
The unique vertical design of the adapter's antenna places it flush against the side of your notebook, and we were curious to see if this would yield an increased range. But our Labs' tests showed disappointing results; we lost our connection at only 125 feet. Another downside to the antenna design is that it prevents you from using the adapter in notebooks with deep or recessed PC Card slots.
Sony's one-year warranty for the PCWA-C300S is second-rate compared to Buffalo's two years and Netgear's three. You get 24/7 e-mail and toll-free phone support, and Sony's support Web site offers a helpful downloadable FAQ.