There's nothing flashy or fancy about the U.S. Robotics USR5411 Wireless MaxG PC Card. This steel-gray Wi-Fi adapter lacks the colorful, image-laden setup guides and configuration interfaces offered with many wireless devices. Nor does the MaxG PC Card include range-extending MIMO support, though U.S. Robotics claims that the card's MaxG technology enables it to sustain fast throughput from far distances. That claim fell flat in CNET Labs' range tests, where this device earned merely mediocre scores. Until the MIMO standard is ratified and these expensive devices come down in price, we recommend the Hawking HWC54D for those seeking a reasonably priced adapter with lots of speed at long range.
The MaxG PC Card resembles most wireless PC Card adapters: the majority of the card disappears inside your laptop's Type II PC Card slot, with about an inch extending outside the slot. That extension houses the card's wireless antenna, which you cannot manually adjust to point at your wireless router (thereby enhancing your signal strength), since the antenna is entirely ensconced inside of the card. While many Wi-Fi PC Card adapters sport this design, an external, adjustable antenna such as the one found on the Hawking HWC54D is a convenient touch.
U.S. Robotics should pay closer attention to the MaxG PC Card's setup and configuration details. The setup guide largely omits detailed screenshots that would make the process much less painless, especially for newbies. It also stops short of explaining complicated steps, such as entering WEP and WPA security codes and 802.1x authentication. The user guide contains more screenshots of the bundled configuration utility but includes just one-sentence explanations about its features, pointing you to the program's help section for more information.
The MaxG PC Card's configuration utility is a baby step up from Windows XP's basic Zero Config utility. Like the XP utility, the MaxG PC Card's app allows you to view available wireless networks within range, along with a few extra details, such as signal strength and channel number. The utility would be more useful if it let you create and save profiles for the wireless networks you access most. Instead, you must reenter security codes for these networks each time you access them. Aside from the configuration utility, U.S. Robotics provides a couple of spyware blockers and the company's iBand application, which graphs the amount of data being sent and received over your network.
U.S. Robotics asserts that the MaxG PC Card can achieve a 125Mbps maximum throughput speed when used in conjunction with the Wireless MaxG Router. That's a few more Mbps than other adapters with speed-boosting enhancements, such as the 108Mbps Netgear WG511T. However, the higher speed rating didn't help the MaxG PC Card to outrun the WG511T in CNET Labs' maximum throughput tests: the MaxG PC Card earned a decent 37.5Mbps score, but the WG511T achieved a very fast 47.1Mbps time. At 24.2Mbps, the Hawking HWC54D ran slower than both--though the HWC54D's extremely long, 325-foot range is 125 feet more than what most adapters can manage, including the MaxG PC Card and the WG511T. Pre-MIMO devices such as the Belkin Pre-N PC Card exhibit more speed and longer range overall, though they also cost twice as much.
The MaxG PC Card ships with a standard two-year warranty that includes mail-in service and toll-free telephone support. Unfortunately, the phone lines are open during limited times only: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, CT. You can try the U.S. Robotics support Web site for help, though the FAQ section of the site yielded no results when we conducted a search on the adapter's product name. Otherwise, the site lists about a dozen random troubleshooting tips for the card.