Pros: maximize connection with weak signals
Cons: bulky, very poor customer service, unreliable software/drivers
I mainly bought this USB adapter for one reason, increase range and performance of my laptop. I have no problems at home however when I'm traveling and need to find an unsecured network, problems arise. Ive had the adapter for over 5 weeks now so has the Hawking Hi-Gain Wireless-G USB Dish Adaptor solved my issues? Read on (though the number of stars may be a hint)...
> Network Standard: 802.11b/g
> Network Security Protocols: 64-256 bit WEP, WPA (TKIP, IEEE 802.1x) and AES
> Main Construction Materials: Plastic
> Operating System: Windows 98SE through XP
> Antenna: Directional 8 dBi Hi-Gain Dish Antenna
> Transmit Power: 22~24 dBm (Typical)
> Connection: USB 2.0 Type A Hi-Speed
> Dimension (with antenna folded down): 2.9(H) x 3.5 (W) x 4.5(D)
Included In The Box:
> USB Adapter
> 3ft USB cable (mini-Type A to Type A)
> Four screws with wood plugs to mount the adapter on a wall or desk (fairly long so may go right through a lot of desks)
> Software CD
> 12 page mini installation guide
> Various advertising material (nice pretty pictures)
The adaptor was securely packed with foam and I recommend keeping the original packaging given the uncertain durability of the design. Although the adapter has a lot of looks going for it, it is very bulky and the disk is connected to the base using what appears to be a plastic hinge. There are cautions in the manual such as always advised to be gentle to ensure that you do not try to swivel the dish to far on either the horizontal (swivels 90 degrees, 45 degrees off center axis either way) or vertical axis. Although Ive never done this before with an e-device, I plan to cart this around in only the original packaging as Im just not confident that it can take a lot of bumping around in the back pack.
Installation was not trouble free but not too painful. The installation guide has step by step instructions with Windows XP screen caps to assist, probably the most accurate Ive seen (though if youre installing in Windows 98SE the guide wouldnt be as useful). For some reason, after installation I restarted and XP froze on startup, first time for my new laptop. Having some concern, I powered off and tried again with no problems. As usual, I went to the website to get the latest copies of the driver, since the one included was dated Sept 05. Although the driver was easy to find, there was no mention of date or version but I installed it anyway. It quickly detected the previous installation, uninstalled it and stopped. Hmmm perhaps this was the great support that I had read about on Hawking devices. I then tried to install it again and it went fine (except it had asked to replace a driver with an older version). However, the driver was dated April 2004 and the network software was by some other brand. Not a very good sign but I persevered and reinstalled the original driver and everything was fine. So make sure you save the original CD when having to install the adaptor on other computers and dont install software from their website unless you have to, its obviously not updated to frequently.
The software has a fairly nice interface with each available link be shown on the left and summary information for the currently selected link on the right. On the bottom both the link strength and signal strength is shown. As you rotate the dish around you can see both be updated until you have the optimum direction. Having two adapters on my laptop was also easier than I thought (Dell laptop has the Intel 3945ABG). I simple need to turn off my Intel adapter using the icon in the system tray and then enable the Hawking adaptor, also from within the system tray. As I mentioned, I was unable to download a newer version of software than the one that came with my computer.
Here is where I became deeply conflicted. When the adapter worked, it worked reasonably well. It generally increased the signal strength by about 8-10%. Not as much as I thought would happen but pretty good. I used the signal strength as reported by Net Stumbler to test this. Also, it was able to maintain a consistent link to signals with strengths in the 83-89 range, something my internal laptop adapter could not do. Also, having the adapter on a USB cable was quite useful as I could place the adapter on the window sill and leave my laptop on my desk (instead having to previously stand up next to the window to achieve an acceptable signal). I should also mention that it has no noticeable affect on download times with my own router (which already has a high signal strength).
However, this performance comes at a price. The adapter froze Windows XP, something I have not seen a single time in my four years working with the OS. No error message, no recovery option, no error reporting. The only option is to force a power down. After four e-mails to customer service and one phone call I am no further ahead. Customer service told me to "Contact you laptop manufacturer for assistance." I can just imagine how that conversation would have went...
"This is Dell, how can I help you?"
"Ummm, my laptop isn't working when I plug in a USB adapter, which has a driver that didn't pass Windows compatibility testing."
"Does it work when the adapter isn't plugged in?"
"Then don't plug it it...goodbye."
I tried the driver that came with the adapter, no dice. I tried the driver that customer service sent me (which was a totally different software package), no dice. I tried the older driver from 2004 that was on their website, no dice. I even tried downloading and installing the driver (which is still dated Oct 2005) for the recent "Revision B" of the adapter, which based on my serial number I don't even have. Nothing has worked...I even tried disabling each of the other pieces of hardware I have in my laptop, no worka. If someone from Hawking reads this, I'd love to get some suggestions on how to get this working (and don't suggest I talk to Dell).
The adapter uses the standard USB 2.0 which will be around for quite a while. It uses the latest security settings and 802.11G which is slowly being replaced by pre-802.11N networking hardware, but the prices remain high and since 802.11N will be backward compatible with G, this adapter (when it works) should be good for quite a few years.
Having software and drivers that are over a year older than the ones included with the adapter (which are themselves almost a year old) isnt what I call stellar service. Having customer service staff that suggest correcting a problem with their software by talking with the manufacturer of the laptop is worse. Sending 3 e-mails with no response, is there a pattern here? Before purchasing the adapter I had read various reports around the web as the overall poor customer service. My brief interaction with their website, e-mail support, and phone support was very poor, some of the worst that I have encountered.
Other Reviews/Useful Links
Even though there are virtually no other options for a Hi-Gain external USB adapter, I can't recommend it. Hawking has some very innovative products, too bad the implementation and support isn't as great as the concept.
Well it still locks up my computer but I rarely have to use it so I haven't felt the need to throw it in the trash heap. I just did a quick review of all of the new High Gain USB adapters for a friend and given the number of views of this review I thought I would mention two interesting products. The first is from a new company hField. I can't locate any reviews on the Wi-Fire but the specs look great and they seem to have taken a lot of care in their product development. Buffalo has also stepped up to the plate and released the WLI-U2-SG54HG. I can't tell what the specs are as the website doesn't list the transmit power or the antenna gain but Buffalo has been doing wi-fi for quite a while. I would suggest looking at either of these products as an alternative to anything Hawking puts out.