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 ZoomAir Software Access Point

 Author: Tim Higgins
 Review Date: 2/8/2001

Pros:

- Comes with 25 user version of Sygate software NAT

 
Cons:

- Poor monitoring tools
- Works with PRISMII cards only
- Windows only

 



   

It ain't pretty, but it works!

That about sums up how I feel about Zoom's ZoomAir Software Access Point (SWAP).  It'll get the job done, actually better than a dedicated hardware Access Point in some cases.  But I wish that it looked a little more polished and had more features, so that you'd at least think about using it instead of a hardware Access Point.

 

Putting it together...

The SWAP software actually is included on the CD that comes with every ZoomAir product.  But the Key Disk (floppy) that you need to enable the software is what you get in the ZoomAir SWAP's box.  I had previously installed a ZoomAir PCI card in my trusty Pentium 166 desktop running Win98 and it was working fine.  The first thing that the SWAP installer told me was that it had to uninstall the card drivers and install new ones.  I told it to go ahead and nervously watched as the various screens flashed by to inform me of the progress that the uninstaller was making as it tore into my Network settings.  I was relieved when it finished without crashing and rebooted the machine.  Since the drivers had been removed, Windows Plug-and-Play detected the "new" hardware and launched the Driver Installation Wizard.

Tip: It took me a couple of installation attempts to learn that you need to guide the driver installation wizard to the "AP" folder on the ZoomAir CD, NOT the "Client" folder, when you're installing the SWAP software.  (Of course if I had read the manual carefully, I could have saved myself some time...)

After I finally got the correct drivers loaded, I ran the SWAP installer again, which this time was happy with the drivers and prompted me to insert the Key Disk floppy, so that it knew I was legal.  After it finished loading, I rebooted again.  When the desktop came up, there was a new icon in the System Tray, the Access Point Configuration Utility.

Tip: Don't get nervous if you look at your Network properties after you install the SWAP and can't find the TCP/IP protocol for your Ethernet card, or find your Ethernet card missing when you run winipcfg or ipconfig. SWAP works its magic by installing a few protocols of its own that take the place of the normal Ethernet TCP/IP stack.

I tried installing SWAP on a WinMe machine, but never could get it to even load the drivers for the card.  The Version 2.51 drivers on the Zoom Web site didn't help either!

 

What can it do?

When it's installed,  SWAP looks like our old friend the Neesus Datacom Client Configuration Utility that's included with many Intersil PRISM based 802.11b cards.  This version of the Utility has a few different "knobs" than the usual Client utility, and its Mode is fixed to Access Point (AP).  You can see just about all there is to see in the utility in the screen shots below (click to see a full-sized view of them).

The utility doesn't have either the Link Quality or Signal Strength indicators that the normal version of the Utility has.

There is no documentation specific to the SWAP.  The printed and PDF manuals are the same and describe the Client form of the Configuration utility only.  So if you don't know what Beacon and DTIM period are, you won't find out from Zoom!

ZoomAir Configuration Utility- Configuration screen  ZoomAir Configuration Utility- Link Info screen 

ZoomAir Configuration Utility- About screen

Like many of its inexpensive hardware Access Point siblings, the SWAP doesn't have any features that allow you to monitor any of the wireless clients attached to the SWAP.  You also can't control wireless client access, or filter any data or ports to control which services are accessed.

The good news is that the SWAP comes with a 25 user license for Sygate (Version 3.11).  This lets you add the ability to share your Internet connection for both your Ethernet and wireless clients, something that hardware Access Points can't do.  I'm familiar with Sygate (it's what I recommend for software sharing) so I didn't install or test it.  If you want more info, read the ServerWatch review.  The SWAP is also one of the few inexpensive AP's that will support 128bit WEP encryption.

 

Throughput

Since I was just testing the SWAP's performance, I ran the QCheck test suite under best-case conditions only.  No distance testing was done.

(Tests run with 1.22 AP firmware, Auto Tx rate)

Test Description

Transfer Rate (Mbps)

[1Mbyte data size]

Response Time (msec)
[10 iterations 100byte data size]

UDP stream 
[10S@500kbps]

(Actual throughput- Mbps)

(Lost data- %)

Condition #1
Wireless Client to AP, WEP disabled

4.8

2 (avg.)
4 (max.)

443

0%

Condition #1
Wireless Client to Ethernet Client, WEP disabled

3.8

4 (avg.)
9 (max.)

488

2%

Condition #1
Wireless Client to Ethernet Client, 128 bit WEP

3.7

4 (avg.)
9 (max.)

484

2%

(Details of how we tested can be found here.) 

The SWAP introduces a loss of about 1Mbps of wireless throughput.  But performance does not degrade with either 64 or 128bit WEP enabled.

 

Summary

So with hardware Access Points selling for $200-$250, why would you spend $160 on one that requires you to use one of your computers, and spend about another $100-150 on an 802.11 card?  Well, if you already have the radio card, you can save up to about 100 bucks by stealing some of those CPU cycles that are probably going to waste any way.  And you actually get a Ethernet/Wireless router when you install the 25 user version of Sygate (which alone would cost you over $150).

But in reality, the market for this product is limited, which is why there are only two companies that I know of (Compaq's the other one) selling an 802.11b software access point.  And if you click on the Configuration Utility's "About" tab, then click "Help", you'll see that there's most likely only one!


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