Why I bought this Airlink (Airlink101) AWLH4030 PCI adapter
Recommend this product?
I needed Wireless G or an enhanced version
I was unhappy with a Linksys HPNA (home phoneline)router that I was previously using for a desktop computer in a different room from my cable modem. I was happy with a Linksys WRT54G wireless router that I had used elsewhere for a year, so I started using that and needed to add wireless capability to the desktop computer.
That wireless router only supports the IEEE 802.11g standard ("Wireless G") at 54Mbps. (That's "megabits per second -- the higher number, the faster the data transmission). 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 (also known as IEEE 802.11b). Picking the winning technology for the 108Mbps speed was pretty much a crapshoot (as to whether it's dead end or not). The Airlink AWLC4030 is based on technology by Atheros.
I wasn't planning on replacing the router yet, so I'd take a basic wireless G card or any of the enhanced versions.
Then there's the question of an internal card or an external adapter via USB
For the previous HPNA network access from that desktop, I had used an external adapter, through a USB port. That wasn't reliable or fast, so I decided to go for a card to put in a PCI slot. The one-time effort to open up the case and install a card is well worth it, for trouble-free and fast operation in the future for something as heavily used as the network connection.
So, I needed a wireless G, PCI card. What about cost?
I bought the PCI-based Airlink AWLH4030 at Fry's for one simple reason: it was the cheapest wireless adapter to plug into a PCI slot, supporting Wireless G or faster. At around $15 or so, I didn't even have to hassle with a rebate. Those prices vary wildly - be sure to watch for sales.
But what is this Airlink (Airlink101) brand?
I had some reservations because I hadn't heard of the brand. Airlink isn't as well known as the more established brands like Linksys and Netgear.
But it turned out just fine. I've used this for, maybe a year, probably more, without problems (other than wireless interference possible with any wireless network, described later).
Since I was happy with this PCI card, I also bought their equivalent cardbus card to plug into my Toshiba laptop. That's worked well, and is reviewed at http://www.epinions.com/content_222512123524
Installation and setup
The installation went well, following their instructions. The fact that the wireless router was from Linksys didn't cause any problems.
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.
The fact that the router only supports Wireless G at 54Mbps, rather than the 108Mbps supported by the Airlink card didn't cause any problem. I obviously can't comment on performance at 108Mbs.
The Airlink software is good. I run this computer under Windows 2000. They use the same software for their cardbus cards. 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
Given the location of my computer and router antennas, I did find it necessary to buy a separate directional antenna and extension cable (also bought from Airlink -- the antenna now goes on sale at Fry's for $4.99 - $7.99 at times). Unless the back of your computer faces the direction of your wireless router, it seems unlikely to me that the little omnidirectional antenna they provide would work. The computer will block the signal. The same is true for most brands of PCI cards - I don't know how many people can really use the default antenna, with any brand.
I haven't really tested the maximum range - carting around a desktop just isn't worth the trouble! See the review cited above for comments on my experiments with the equivalent card in my laptop. I have no trouble with multiple walls, bookcases, etc. being in the way, even going through at an angle. (Remember that if the straight line between antennas goes through a quarter inch wall at quite an angle, it's really seeing a lot more than that quarter inch.) I do have two directional antennas pointed that way from the router, though. If the performance is similar to their laptop (cardbus) cards, there shouldn't be too much trouble. With my laptop, I can get connectivity at most places in the house, even down on the first floor. (The router is on the second floor).
Interference issues with 2.4GHz wireless phones
There is occasional interference from our 2.4 Ghz wireless phone. It's not a problem when no one is on the line. That will be a problem in any wireless B or G network, since they operate in the 2.4GHz frequency range. We also have a 900MHz wireless phone that causes no problem, and the newer 5.8GHz wireless phones shouldn't cause a problem either.
By carefully orienting directional antennas on both my router and that computer, and sticking to channels 1 or 11, I can avoid interference a lot of the time. By orienting, I mean that besides pointing at each other, the router and computer antennas on the second floor point slightly up, away from the 2.4GHz phone on the first floor.
Summary of this review of the Airlink AWLH4030 SuperG PCI adapter
The card works 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.