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ORiNOCO PC Card Gold

 Author: Tim Higgins
 Review Date: 7/17/2001

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Model: 848441556

ORiNOCO Wireless PC Card

Pros:

- 64 and 128 bit WEP encryption
- Good performance vs. range
- Excellent client utility with profiles and helpful signal strength utilities

 
Cons:

- 20% throughput decrease with WEP enabled.

 

 

Review Updates

7/23/01  Corrected Antenna connector info.

 

The Basics

 
Indicators:
  • Transmit/Receive

  • Power

Comes with:
  • Driver and Utility CD

  • Printed "Getting Started" Guide

Chipset:
  • Agere Systems (formerly Lucent)

Other:
  • Fixed position non-removable antenna

  • Has connector for attaching external antenna

 

Introduction


ORiNOCO's client products have a reputation for not disappointing purchasers and after putting the PC Card Gold through its paces, I have to agree...

Details


The PC Card uses the Agere Systems chip set (formerly Lucent Technologies), and has a fixed position, non-removable antenna.  The antenna has a "hump" that would interfere with a card next to it, so you'll probably need to put it into the top PCMCIA slot of your laptop.  The card has two LEDs which indicate card power and wireless LAN activity. There's also a removable cover on the end of the card's antenna hump that conceals a small antenna connector.

Update 7/23/01 The Antenna connector type is proprietary to ORiNOCO.  See this page for information on obtaining adapters.

If you want to add desktop clients that don't have PCMCIA card slots to your wireless network, ORiNOCO has both ISA-to-PCMCIA and PCI-to-PCMCIA adapter cards available.  However, you need to buy both the PC Card LAN card and the adapter of your choice, raising the cost of adding a wireless station by $50 to $60 over just the cost of the PC Card itself.  You'd be better off using the USB Gold adapter, since you don't have to crack open your PC's case to install it.  See the USB Gold's review if you want more info.

There are PC Card drivers for a wide range of OSes, including the usual Win 95/98/NT/Me/CE/2000 plus MS-DOS, Linux, and MacOs. NetWare users will have to go elsewhere for their LAN card needs, however, since there's no driver for them.

Driver installation went smoothly on my Win98SE Compaq 1650 laptop. I inserted the PC card into the laptop, Plug & Play detected the card and installed the drivers.  During the driver install, a Configuration profile Edit screen (see below) will come up, which you need to complete correctly or your card won't be able to communicate with the wireless network.  A popup screen near the end of the driver install will tell you to install the Client Manager, but doesn't start the install.



Managing the Client



The ORiNOCO client products have perhaps the best set of Client utilities of any of the products I've tested.  They're so good, that I recently standardized on using the Gold PC card for all my Access Point and Wireless Router testing.

The Client Manager is a System Tray application used to monitor the wireless link quality and set connection parameters (see the screen shots below).  The CM's System Tray icon (not shown below) is similar to a cell phone signal indicator, dynamically showing the number of "bars" of signal.  Putting the cursor over the icon gives you a reading of signal "Condition" and the bandwidth mode currently being used, so you can get just about all the information you need about the signal state without opening the CM Window.  Check out the screen shots below to get a feel for the CM. (click on any image to open another window with a full-sized view)

ORiNOCO CM - Main screen
The CM window opened from the System Tray

ORiNOCO CM - Configuration add/edit screen

The Add/Edit Config screen lets you establish up to four different Configuration profiles, which can:

  • choose between Residential Gateway (the RG-1000), Peer-to-Peer, and Access Point modes

  • enable/disable Encryption and set a key

  • set a Network name

 ORiNOCO CM - Basic Configuration edit screen
NOTE: Your network name may be different!

ORiNOCO CM - Advanced Configuration edit screen



Each of these options is clearly explained in the on-line Help.


You choose the encryption level by the length of the key you enter.

The Link test and Site Monitor utilities are probably the best I've seen yet.  They actually give you signal, noise and signal-to-noise readings.  The Link Test Test History view shows a nice little plot over time and readings can be saved to a log file. The Site Monitor feature lets you monitor multiple wireless stations, sorted by various parameters.  You can also run a card diagnostic from the CM.

ORiNOCO CM- Link Test

Link Test window

ORiNOCO CM - Link Test History screen

Link Test - Test History window

ORiNOCO CM - Site Monitor screen

Site Monitor window

Despite all these goodies, there are a few things you should be aware of. You can't set the data rate in any mode, and the settings in Peer-to-Peer mode are very basic.  About all you can do is set a network name, enable/disable Encryption and enter ONE WEP key.  ORiNOCO is clearly biased toward using the clients in an Infrastructure, (Access Point) based network.

 

Performance


I ran performance tests using the D-Link DWL1000AP Access Point as the test partner.

Test Conditions:

- WEP encryption:
DISABLED
- Tx Rate:
Automatic
- Power Save:
disabled

Firmware/Driver Versions:

AP f/w:
3.0.35
Wireless client driver: 
Variant 1, V6.28
Wireless client f/w:
 
 - Primary Functions: Variant 1,  V4.00
 - Station Functions: Variant 1, V6.16

Test Description

SNR (dB)

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

48

3.9[No WEP]
3.2[w/WEP]

4 (avg)
6 (max)

495

0%

AP to Client - Condition 2

35

4.1

4 (avg)
6 (max)

491

0%

AP to Client - Condition 3

15

3.6

4 (avg)
5 (max)

489

0%

AP to Client - Condition 4

14

2.5

4 (avg)
5 (max)

445

0%

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

Comments: The data shows consistent throughput performance over the tested range, except for Condition 4, where the SNR is causing the link speed to adjust downward.

SNR readings for Conditions 2 through 4 were lower than measured for the USB Gold, and got low enough to impact transfer speed  for Condition 4.  This is a direct result of the better antenna orientation (vertical vs. horizontal) and placement of the USB's antenna vs. the PC card's.

I found an approximately 20% throughput degradation with either 64 bit WEP encryption applied.  Not as bad as the 50% I typically find, but not the 0 to 5% found with some products either! 

Summary


As I said at the top of this review, ORiNOCO's reputation as a provider of solidly performing 802.11b clients is well deserved.  The PC Card Gold provides solid performance and excellent utilities.  Although you won't find the PC Card Gold breaking the under $100 price point any time soon, ORiNOCO has adjusted prices downward on pretty much their entire 802.11b line to track the market, although at a slight premium.

 

UPDATE 12/16/01: Recently this card has been seen online several places for less than $100.

So with all this good stuff, how could I not give the ORiNOCO PC Card Gold a PracticallyRecommended?  So I did!

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