Airlink wireless G PC cardbus card works well, installs fine
Mar 4, 2006 (Updated Mar 5, 2006)
Review by gregs1015
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Cheap. Works well. Reliable. Software fine. Easy installation.
Cons:2.4GHz wireless phone interference expected, but freezup not expected.
The Bottom Line: Recommended, but watch ads for sale prices. It works well, and is cheap. Throw out 2.4GHz phones. Resulting freezeups are the only reason for not being rated excellent.
Need for speed, but not at any price
Recommend this product?
For wireless access on my vintage 2001 Toshiba laptop, I wanted to upgrade from the speed of my old Wireless B Linksys cardbus card operating at the IEEE 802.11b standard of 10Mbps. (That's "megabits per second -- the higher number, the faster the data transmission).
My wireless router is a Linksys WRT54G that only supports Wireless G at 54Mbps, not the 108Mbps offered by many cards like the Airlink AWLC4030. That's the IEEE 802.11g standard. There are several yet-to-be-standardized competing technologies for the 108Mbps enhanced speed. But all the 108Mbps cards support the basic 54Mbps speed, as well as the 10Mbps wireless B. Picking the winning technology for the 108Mbps speed was pretty much a crapshoot (as to whether it's dead end or not). I decided to stick with my existing router rather than upgrade it and my other desktops at that time.
The Airlink101 AWLC4030 was the cheapest wireless G PC card, either at the base speed of 54Mbps or the enhanced 108MBps. The Airlink cards are based on technology by Atheros for 108Mbps. This review covers that card, for use in a standard wireless G network.
But what is this Airlink (Airlink101) brand?
Airlink isn't as well known as the more established brands like Linksys and Netgear. Luckily, early last year, I had bought the similar(Atheros) technology Airlink AWLH4030 PCI card for a desktop computer. That card is also reviewed on Epinions at http://www.epinions.com/content_219795918468 At the time, I had some reservations because I hadn't heard of the brand. But it turned out just fine. The installation went well, following their instructions. I had used the desktop card for many months.
So, I bought the Airlink AWLC4030 cardbus card last year at Fry's. Airlink product pricing varies wildly at Fry's from week to week - I got it for about $15, without having to worry about any kind of rebate.
Installation and setup
The setup went smoothly. As it happened, I had recently restored my laptop operating system (Windows XP Home) and other software using the manufacturer's recovery disk. So, I didn't need to un-install anything related to previous PC card. I can't comment on whether that will be true for a more normal upgrade.
I use the WEP encryption, which works fine. One nice feature of the Linksys router was the ability to enter a passphrase, which then generated the possible codes for preset encryption keys. The Airlink software didn't have that, so I had to copy the hex key information from the router. That's not a big deal, and only done once.
Due to the maximum speed of my router's wireless section, I run at 54Mbps. I can't comment on performance at 108Mbs.
The Airlink software works. They use the same software for their desktop cards. (I also use their desktop card on an ancient Windows 2000 desktop, and am happy with that.) In fact, I like their software better than the default XP stuff. It nicely shows the available networks, gives you signal strength indications from the icon in the system tray, etc.
Range and speed
I can use the laptop throughout most of a large 2-story house. Due to the location of my cable modem, I have the router on the second floor. The router uses two directional antennas, located at the front of the house pointing towards the back. That's to help insure privacy - to minimize signal pickup and interference from the front and sides.
As you move around the house, internet web surfing isn't affected very much unless the signal strength drops to "very low". That occurs when the signals have to pass through many walls, floors, bookcases, and so on. The signal drops the most when going through thick objects at an angle. And I have a lot of bookcases surrounding the router.
Remember that if the straight line between the laptop and a router antenna goes through 8 inches of books at quite an angle, it's really passing through a lot more - perhaps 30 or 40 inches or more. I put one of the antennas above the bookcases, but that makes things worse for parts of the first floor.
First floor reception isn't as good, and that's partly because I didn't point the router's directional antennas "down" at all. That's to minimize interference from a wireless phone on the first floor (see next section).
My most extreme test was using the laptop at a neighbor's house - at his bedroom wall closest to my house. But, my router & antennas are located on the far side of my house. I changed the directional antennas to both point at his house to help out. But the signals still had to pass through numerous walls for 3 bedrooms, a hallway, bathroom, several closets, and storage space over a garage. I had to hold the laptop exactly perpendicular, and the signal strength was very low. It wasn't fast, but it did work.
Interference issues with 2.4GHz wireless phones
The main problem is occasional interference from our 2.4 Ghz wireless phone when it's in use. It's not a problem when no one is on the line. The old 900MHz or newer 5.8GHz phones don't have this problem. That's not just theory - our old 900MHz phone causes no problem. Interference will be a problem in any wireless B or G network, since they operate in the 2.4GHz frequency range. By sticking to channels 1 or 11, I can avoid interference a lot of the time. But, when using the laptop on the first floor for something critical on the internet, I sometimes disconnect the phone jack to that wireless phone.
The 2.4GHz wireless phone is on the first floor, so we minimize interference by banning it from second floor use. I also have the antennas on the second floor router and computers pointing partly up, away from the 2.4GHz phone on the first floor. If I didn't have this phone problem, I could get even better whole-house coverage by pointing the antennas somewhat downward.
Unfortunately, when the phone interferes with the wireless network, it freezes up the laptop completely - you can't even move the mouse. I don't know whether that's bad software by Airlink, Microsoft, or Toshiba doing that. The desktop PC doesn't freeze during phone calls - it just loses the network connectivity during that period. So the problem might not be in the Airlink software. On the other hand, I don't really remember my old Linksys card freezing the laptop, but it's been a while.
Summary of this review of the Airlink101 AWLC4030 cardbus card
The PC card does work well, and is cheap. I'd recommend it. Just be sure you're getting a sale price. And while I've dwelled on the 2.4GHz phone interference, the real message here is not to buy one of those phones. We'll be replacing ours.
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