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Xircom Wireless Ethernet Starter Kit review:

Xircom Wireless Ethernet Starter Kit

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The Good Excellent range; Wi-Fi compliant; compact; supports roaming; upgradable firmware.

The Bad Cumbersome access-point configuration.

The Bottom Line This starter kit combines a great range with certified interoperability.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.0 Overall

Most small to midsized businesses don't have IT support staff or endless resources to spend on managing and expanding a corporate LAN. One way around such a crunch is the Xircom Wireless Ethernet Starter Kit, a great solution for adding a wireless extension to a wired LAN. Its range and feature set place it on a par with other enterprise-level access points. While it doesn't offer the full palette of diagnostic, security, and configuration tools one finds in more scalable (and expensive) solutions, such as the 3Com AirConnect Wireless Network Starter Kit, the Xircom still provides an easy way to expand your LAN wirelessly. If you need to support only a limited number of clients, Xircom's solution could give you everything you need--and save you a lot of money. Most small to midsized businesses don't have IT support staff or endless resources to spend on managing and expanding a corporate LAN. One way around such a crunch is the Xircom Wireless Ethernet Starter Kit, a great solution for adding a wireless extension to a wired LAN. Its range and feature set place it on a par with other enterprise-level access points. While it doesn't offer the full palette of diagnostic, security, and configuration tools one finds in more scalable (and expensive) solutions, such as the 3Com AirConnect Wireless Network Starter Kit, the Xircom still provides an easy way to expand your LAN wirelessly. If you need to support only a limited number of clients, Xircom's solution could give you everything you need--and save you a lot of money.

Easy adapter installation
The $599 Xircom Wireless Ethernet Starter Kit includes two $179 PC Card adapters and one $329 access point. The wireless Ethernet adapter plugs into your notebook's Type II slot and communicates with the access point over radio waves using the 802.11b standard at 11mbps.To install the adapter, simply insert the card into your notebook, insert the provided CD-ROM, install the proper drivers, and reboot. If you are connected to a DHCP, you can configure the wireless Ethernet adapters to receive an IP address automatically, or you can enter one manually. The CD-ROM also includes Xircom's Wireless Ethernet Client Utility software, which you can use to monitor signal strength or to reconfigure your card for operation within a different network. For example, if you plan to use the card both at home and at work, this utility will help you to log on to each respective network. The Ethernet adapter can also be set to work in either Ad Hoc (card to card) or Infrastructure mode (through the access point).

To the third power
Xircom offers three power-mode settings, so you can select the degree to which the adapter drains energy from your notebook's power supply. Constantly Awake mode gives optimum performance when your notebook's connected to an electrical outlet. The other two settings, Power Save and Max Power, help you conserve battery power when you're on the road--or if you find yourself in the midst of one of California's periodic blackouts.

Is 40-bit encryption enough?
Xircom equips its wireless Ethernet adapters with 40-bit WEP encryption. You can purchase adapters with 128-bit encryption, but unless you're trying to protect highly sensitive data, 40-bit encryption should suffice to keep novice hackers at bay. If you are concerned about leaking top-secret information through your wireless network, you may need to look into security schemes other than WEP encryption, such as running wireless connections through a VPN.

Compact and easy to set up
The other half of this kit is the Wireless Ethernet Access Point. About the size of your palm, the access point's compactness makes it easy to mount on walls or ceilings, and the high-performance antenna swivels 180 degrees for optimum reception. To set up the access point, just connect it to any live Ethernet jack using an RJ-45 cable. If your network supports DHCP, the device will be assigned an IP address automatically; otherwise, you'll have to configure it manually by using the included Access Point Management software. The detailed, printed Installation Guide walks you through setup and configuration.

Theoretically, the access point supports up to 64 clients, but because everyone would share the 11mbps bandwidth, this would slow your network to a crawl. As a rule of thumb, we recommend 10 or fewer connections per access point. In CNET Labs' tests, Xircom's access point outperformed the D-Link DWL-1000AP on range tests but achieved similar throughput rates. Xircom claims a range of 100 feet to 300 feet; we came up somewhere in the middle, at 175 feet from access point to client. As always, the exact range will depend on your particular office environment. We tested the unit in a typical office setting consisting primarily of cubes and a few walls.

The Xircom Wireless Ethernet Starter Kit comes with a lifetime warranty. Technical support is available by phone Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, although local and long distance charges may apply. When we called, we never experienced holds longer than 5 minutes. Unfortunately, the Xircom Web site offers little in the way of online support for its wireless products other than an FAQ page.

The Xircom solution is clearly targeted to the small or medium-sized business with an existing wired LAN. If you don't have a wired LAN in place, then you may want to look into more home-oriented solutions that offer Internet sharing, such as the Orinoco Starter Kit or the 3Com Home Wireless Gateway.

We performed our range tests at the CNET offices in San Francisco. The tests are designed to provide a general source of comparison, but since range is determined by environment, your experience will most likely differ. Our range tests were conducted at fixed 11mbps transfer speeds. You can extend the range of these devices by configuring them to transmit at slower speeds.

For throughput rate tests, the clients and access points were set up at short ranges, between 3 feet and 30 feet. The throughput results indicate practical transfer speeds.

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