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U.S. Robotics wireless access point review:

U.S. Robotics wireless access point

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The Good Compact design; 256-bit WEP encryption; informative Web site.

The Bad Sparse printed documentation; exaggerated performance claims.

The Bottom Line With its fast performance, good security, and decent warranty, this access point offers everything you need for a home or small-business network. But D-Link's AirPlus DWL-900AP+ does the same thing better and for less.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall

In the competitive world of wireless networking--now even more cutthroat with Microsoft's recent push into the market--U.S. Robotics hopes to differentiate itself with its new 22Mbps wireless access point. This mutant 802.11b product works with typical Wi-Fi products at 11Mbps but also features a mode that promises to boost speeds up to 22Mbps. Unfortunately, the capable U.S. Robotics access point competes directly with the superior D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+, which offers better setup and ease of use, faster performance, and a longer warranty--all at a cheaper price. In the competitive world of wireless networking--now even more cutthroat with Microsoft's recent push into the market--U.S. Robotics hopes to differentiate itself with its new 22Mbps wireless access point. This mutant 802.11b product works with typical Wi-Fi products at 11Mbps but also features a mode that promises to boost speeds up to 22Mbps. Unfortunately, the capable U.S. Robotics access point competes directly with the superior D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+, which offers better setup and ease of use, faster performance, and a longer warranty--all at a cheaper price.

Give your network a boost
The U.S. Robotics access point lists for $150, which is competitive with similar products from Belkin and Orinoco but a bit more expensive than the D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+. Like D-Link, U.S. Robotics uses Texas Instruments' 802.11b chip to achieve speeds of up to 22Mbps, but you'll have to equip each networked computer with a 22Mbps wireless adapter. (U.S. Robotics sells a 22Mbps wireless PCI adapter for $100 and a 22Mbps wireless PC Card for $80.) To help soften the blow to your pocketbook, the PCI version includes a removable PC Card, which you can swap between desktop and notebook computers. The access point works with current 11Mbps 802.11b products, as well.

Like most access points, the box contains precious few items. In addition to the access point--which measures 5.5 inches long by 4.5 inches wide by 1.5 inches high and features dual antennae resembling little TV rabbit ears--it includes one Ethernet cable, a power supply, a quick-installation guide, and an installation CD. But while the company provides everything you'll need to get started, we do have a couple of minor gripes. For example, we appreciate the useful and in-depth HTML docs included on the CD, but we wish U.S. Robotics included a printed user manual. Also, the overly large power supply takes up too much room to fit comfortably in a fully populated power strip.

Overlapping utilities
U.S. Robotics gives you two fairly easy, although somewhat redundant, ways to configure the access point. You can install the configuration utility software from the included CD or use the Web-based configurator by typing the access point's IP address into a standard Web browser. Both offer similar information about the access point and let you change essentially the same settings via a series of screens. However, beginners may prefer the software, which automatically locates and configures the access point. You can then use the configurator to change numerous settings, such as the SSID, the WEP encryption, and the transmission rate. The configuration tool also lets you save a backup file of your access point settings and upgrade the firmware.

Don't believe the hype
Once we got the unit up and running, everything worked well. In informal tests, the access point demonstrated consistently high signal strength, even when we roamed as far as two floors away with our wireless laptop. It also turned in scores of 5.7Mbps in CNET Labs' tests, a discernible--if unspectacular--speed increase over standard 802.11b products. By comparison, the D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+ delivered 5.9Mbps, just edging out the U.S. Robotics.

When it comes to security, U.S. Robotics mounts a good defense. Like the D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+, it offers 256-bit WEP encryption; though it's not impregnable, it puts a major hurdle in the way of hackers. Using MAC-address filtering, you can also limit network access. And though not technically offering a security feature, U.S. Robotics lets you disable SSID broadcasts, which hackers use to find wireless networks.

Informative Web site
U.S. Robotics backs the access point with a satisfactory two-year warranty. Though better than some, this plan falls short of D-Link's three-year warranty and Belkin's impressive lifetime coverage. Tech support is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT, but it's a toll call. The Web site offers the usual assortment of drivers, user guides, FAQs, and e-mail tech support, but you'll also find a helpful education section with basic networking and broadband information, as well as a glossary of terms. If you need help planning your network, the Web site features a network configuration wizard, which asks you a few questions about your computers, then helps you choose the right products to match your needs.

The U.S. Robotics 22Mbps wireless access point provides enough speed, security, and support for most home and small networks. But if you really want to give your network a boost, the D-Link DWL-900AP+ is still the best deal we've seen in an 802.11b access point.

Throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+ (22Mbps mode)
5.9 
U.S. Robotics 22Mbps wireless access point (22Mbps mode)
5.7 
Agere Systems Orinoco AP-200
5.0 
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+ (11Mbps mode)
4.7 
Belkin wireless network access point
4.7 
U.S. Robotics 22Mbps wireless access point (11Mbps mode)
4.4 
 
Response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
U.S. Robotics 22Mbps wireless access point
1.0 
Belkin wireless network access point
2.0 
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+
2.0 
Agere Systems Orinoco AP-200
3.0 
 
How we tested
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 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.

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