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 SMC 2632W Wireless PC Card Adapter

 Author: Tim Higgins
 Review Date: 12/16/2000



Model: SMC2632W

Pros:

- 64 and 128 bit WEP
- Low profile won't block PC card slots

 
Cons:

- Monitoring utility lacks features and responsiveness

 

 

Review Updates

12/19/00 Various updates.

 

The Basics

Indicators
  • Status

Comes with
  • Driver install floppy

  • Utility install floppy

  • printed User Guide

  • printed Quick Installation sheet

Other
  • Fixed position, Integrated (non-removable) Antenna

 

Introduction and Basic features.


The 2632W uses the Intersil Prism II chip set and has a non-detachable, unmovable antenna.  The antenna is flat and won't interfere with the adjacent PC card slot, either above or below it. 

There's one unmarked LED on the antenna section, which the manual calls "Status".  It shines steadily when the card has a wireless network "Infrastructure" connection and blinks when it loses signal,  or is operating in "AdHoc" mode (see this page if you need help with these terms.) The LED doesn't flicker to indicate network activity.

 

Setting Up


Drivers for Win95/98/NT/ME and 2000 come on a floppy.  There's no mention of support for other OSes in the User Guide, but the SMC support page has a Linux driver available (as well as PDF copies of the User guide, and the Windows Utility software).  A second floppy contains the Wireless LAN Configuration Utility.  The printed user manual describes the installation process for each of the above Windows variants, and the install onto my Win98SE Compaq 1650 laptop went smoothly.  But setup can be a little puzzling, especially if you haven't done an 802.11b setup before. 

The manual does not tell you exactly how to set each driver Property for a card-to-card (AdHoc) or card-to-Access-Point (Infrastructure) network. See this page if you need help configuring the card to work with an Access Point, or this page if you are trying to get a card-to-card network working.

If you have the SMC2652W Access Point, you'll find that it and the 2632W are not shipped with compatible channel or ESSID names. So at minimum, you'll have to change the settings on one or the other so that they're the same.  Neither User Guide tells you to do this, however!

Update 12/19/00 SMC says that you don't need to worry about setting the PC card channel when using it with an Access Point.  The PC card driver will scan for Access Points and connect to the closest one.

 

Watch your link!


SMC uses Neesus Datacom's Configuration Utility, not one of the better ones out there.

Tip: The Neesus Configuration Utility version that SMC supplies is an old one and you can't even exit the program without killing it from the Windows Close Program window.

A newer version of the utility is contained in the Linksys WPC11.exe file which you can get from Linksys' FTP site.  Just uninstall the SMC version, run the downloaded Linksys .exe to extract the files, and run the setup.exe file in the extracted Utility folder.

The Utility sits in the System Tray and can be opened with a click.  The tray icon is either Green or Red depending on whether it thinks that you have a valid link, but doesn't indicate signal strength like other monitoring utilities I've tested.  You can set the card's basic configuration either through the Advanced Network Adapter Properties (accessed via the Windows Network Control Panel) or the Linksys Utility Configuration tab as shown below (click on any image to bring up a full-sized view).

Linksys WPC11 Advanced Network Properties screen   Linksys WPC11 Utility Configuration screen

The Link Info tab is disappointing, and I found it to be misleading during my testing.  In some of my test locations, the Link Info window told me I had no signal, but I still had a network connection and was even getting good throughput! 

Linksys WPC11 Utility Link Info screen   Linksys WPC11 Utility Encryption screen

WEP Encryption setup can be done either by entering a up to 32 character text string or by manually entering the Key character pairs  There's no information in the manual as to what valid/invalid "characters" are for the pass phrase.  And no guidance for manually entering a key, either!  So you don't know whether you can enter numbers, hexadecimal characters, or even alpha characters (I doubt the last option).  Forget the Help button, since it brings up "No Help available" for every tab.  See this page if you need help setting up WEP.

Update 12/19/00 SMC says that presently shipping versions of the products contain Help files.

Note that the Utility doesn't store multiple connection profiles (useful if you travel between networks), and when you disable WEP, it doesn't store your key information either.

 

Speed check!


I tested the 2632W with the SMC2652W Access point, so these results are the same as published in that review:

(Tests run with:
 - WEP encryption DISABLED
- Auto Rate selected
- Power Save disabled)

Test Description

Qcheck Transfer Rate (Mbps)

[1Mbyte data size]

Qcheck Response Time (msec)

[10 iterations 100byte data size]

Qcheck UDP stream 
[10S@500Kbps]

(Actual throughput- kbps)

(Lost data- %)

AP to Client - Condition 1

3.1

5 (avg)
11 (max)

499

0.0%

AP to Client - Condition 2

3.1

5 (avg)
7 (max)

500

0.0%

AP to Client - Condition 3

3.1

5 (avg)
7 (max)

499

0.0%

AP to Client - Condition 4

3.1

5 (avg)
7 (max)

498

0.0%

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

The results in all 4 conditions were very consistent, and average for most of the 802.11b products I've tested.  This time I checked performance with WEP enabled, too.  When I set the AP and PC card to either 64 or 128 bit WEP, throughput dropped to 1.8Mbps (tested under Condition 1).

My Compaq laptop's sound circuitry is close to the PC card slots, so I usually get serenaded with static from most wireless PC cards.  I found a much lower level of static from this card, indicating to me better shielding and/or a "tighter" RF design.

Summary


The SMC2632W's a good performer, but in a product category that's getting crowded pretty fast.  The $140 on-line pricing for a card capable of 64 and 128 bit WEP is great compared to the guys (Orinoco, 3COM, Compaq) who think that 802.11b is only for the high-paying business users, but not as good as the consumer oriented companies (Buffalo Tech, D-Link, Linksys) who are fast making 802.11b commodity products.


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