Synet Windy31 USB Wireless Router
The Synet Windy31 USB Wireless Router (MW-P54SS) is not your typical router. Instead of connecting it to your DSL or cable modem to share an Internet connection, you plug it into a USB port on your PC or laptop. Once plugged in, the $60--roughly the price of a regular USB Wi-Fi adapter--Windy31 automatically configures itself to set up a wireless network that lets you share your Internet connection with as many as 31 other Wi-Fi enabled gadgets, including other computers, PDAs and smartphones, VoIP phones, and handheld gaming devices. We don't know of another product that works like the Windy31, and we are impressed with the idea as well as the device's operation. It's very easy to set up and use, making for an incredibly convenient way to share an Internet connection when traveling or setting up a wireless LAN wherever you may be. The device can also be switched to work as a regular 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card. Despite a handful of shortcomings--meager throughput, no Draft N support, flimsy plastic casing, incompatible with Macs--we can easily recommend the Windy31 to anyone who travels with their laptop or to those who want to quickly create an impromptu Wi-Fi network on the go. For now, it's the only router that fits this need.
• Device type: Wireless router
• Network standard: 802.11b/g
• Bandwidth: 2.4GHz
• Operating systems supported: Windows 2000, XP, Vista
• Security options: WEP, WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK, MAC address filtering
• Features: USB connector; DHCP support
• Notable design features: Compact size
• Support: One year parts-and-labor warranty, toll phone support available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.
Design and setup
Inside the Windy31's packaging--an annoying clamshell plastic case that requires brute force and a heavy pair of scissors or a sharp knife to open--you'll find the router itself, a well-illustrated user guide booklet, and a USB cradle. It's more than you'll need to get up and running--really, all you need is the router. Just plug it into a computer running Windows (Macs aren't supported), and the setup process takes care of itself. We had the router set up and ready to be tested within 45 seconds, excluding the time needed to open the box, of course.
The router has a small amount of storage that contains configuration software. The first time you plug the device into your computer's USB port, the software launches itself and configures the router to create an open wireless network. You then can go in and further customize the network by changing the SSID, adding encryption--or even switching the device to work in Wi-Fi adapter mode. In this mode, the Windy31 works just like any regular 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adapter should you have an older laptop without an integrated wireless chip. The Windy31, of course, can work in only one mode at a time.
The Windy31 is about the size of a regular thumbdrive with a retractable USB head. The USB head, however, is a bit too short. It works fine with most USB ports, but those that are slightly recessed into the computer case might result in a little trouble making a firm connection with the Windy31. In such instances, you can use the included USB cradle, but it's bulky and has a long USB cord and isn't ideal for travelers. While the Windy boasts a pleasing design overall and is available in either black or white, we wish it featured a better build; its plastic casing feels flimsy and cheap.
It's very straightforward to use the Windy31. Once set up, it works very much like any wireless router with the exception that you're limited to only connecting up to 31 other wireless clients to the network, as opposed to 254 with most routers. Considering its size and its peculiar niche, it's not surprising that the router doesn't support advance features such as VPN, firewall, DDNS, or Wi-Fi Protected Setup. It does, however, support a wide range of wireless security including WEP, WPA, WPA2, and even MAC address filtering.
We expect that most people will use the Windy31 to share their computer's Internet connection, and the router works very well in this regard. It supports virtually any type of Internet connection. No matter how your PC is hooked up to Internet--via Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or even cellular connections--the router can share that connection with other Wi-Fi clients. We connected an AT&T Tilt to a laptop, then connected the computer to the Internet through the Tilt's 3G connection, and the Windy31 was able to share that connection, too. We didn't get the chance to test the router with all types of broadband connections, such as Verizon or ATT broadband cards, but the router's vendor claims that it does, and we have reasons to believe so. The router works very well with VoIP phones, too. We tried it with a Vonage VoIP phone and it worked flawlessly. This is actually very helpful because most of these phones access the Internet in a particular way; for instance, they don't support authentication via a Web site, and the Windy31 allows for customizing the wireless connection specifically to support this.
In our lab's testing, as expected, the Windy31 wasn't impressive in throughput. It registered about 8.5Mbps in our tests, which is comparatively low among other 802.11g routers and far short of 802.11g's theoretical max of 54Mbps. Most .11g routers are in the 7Mbps to 20Mbps range. The Windy31's throughput speed is more than enough, however, for casual Internet surfing, light gaming, and other non-bandwidth-intensive activities, which the Windy31 is designed to support. Generally, what you will miss is high-def movie streaming (we tried and it was choppy) or multiple simultaneous heavy Internet/network activities. On the other hand, we were very impressed by its range. We were able to pick up its signal from almost 200 feet away.
Service and support
In the United States, the Windy31 USB Wireless Router is distributed and supported by Synet, a company based in New Jersey. Synet backs the Windy31 with a one-year warranty. Toll-free phone support is available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET. We tried the number and immediately reached a person who was very helpful and knowledgeable about the product--not surprising, since it would appear the Windy31 is Synet's only product offering at this time. At the Synet Web site, you can find useful information about the router from instructions and troubleshooting to software and firmware downloads.