Author: Tim Higgins
Review Date: 8/17/2001


Model: 3CRWB6096

Pros:– Nifty antenna design
Cons:– Not a lot you can do with it!
– Iffy Win98SE support


The Basics

  • Link/Activity

Comes with
  • Install CD

  • Patented “XJACK” antenna that pops out and swivels to a vertical position


Introduction and Basic features

Well, it took a long time coming, but 3Com has finally started to ship their Bluetooth PC card!  It’s a 16 bit PC card design (not CardBus), and is based on version 1.1 of the Bluetooth spec.

The card’s physical design is one that I’d like to see used on 802.11b cards, but there’s little likelihood of that, since the XJACK design is patented.  It’s a push to open, push to close design that slides out to reveal a little, blue, swing-up antenna.  The only downside of the design is that it’s a little hard to push the card into your PC card slot without popping open the antenna!

NOTE: 3Com does have an 802.11b XJACK card, but it’s a different design!  The 802.11b’s card still has a pop-out antenna, but it doesn’t swing up to get a better, vertical polarization to match most Access Points.

There’s one LED on the card edge, which I couldn’t find described in any of the rather sparse documentation.  It shines steadily when the card is plugged in, flickers under light network activity, and seems to go out (maybe it’s just flickering really fast) during long file transfers.



Since this is my first Bluetooth review and I’m fairly ignorant about the details of the technology, please forgive (and correct) me if I make some incorrect assumptions or observations about the product.

Installation went smoothly on my Win98SE Compaq 1650 laptop, but it did take awhile, so be patient!  Bluetooth uses a networking model that is based on virtual serial COM ports, so the installer creates a number of these ports (shown in the screen shot below…click for a full-sized view). Each virtual port is used for a different type of client communication.

The installer will ask you for permission to make copies of all your DUN profiles, and the best thing to do it let it do it.  You can always delete them later if you don’t want them, but you can’t create them automatically later without rerunning the installer.

The other important question the Installer asks is whether to start the Connection Manager (CM) each time you boot.  If you’re going to use Bluetooth regularly, answer Yes.  This is because Bluetooth functionality is only provided when the CM is running!

One thing the installer doesn’t ask you is to name your Bluetooth device.  It also doesn’t automatically pick up your Computer Name from your Network properties.  This caused some confusion when I first viewed the network in the CM.

Tip: Since I didn’t have two laptops with PC card slots handy and since 3Com doesn’t ship a Win CE 3.0 or PocketPC driver with the card (only Win98SE2000, or … give me strength.. Me!), I used a PCMCIA adapter to install one of the cards in one of my Win98SE desktop machines.  I first tried a Netgear MA301 which froze during installation in two different machines.  A BuffaloTech WLI-PCI-L11 at least installed ok, but wouldn’t let the Bluetooth card install correctly.  I finally scored with an old RayCom RIS 100 ISA slot PC card adapter that I salvaged from a Webgear Aviator 2.4GHz networking kit (hey..whatever works!).


It’s a Strange new world…

Once the installation smoke cleared, I launched the CM on both machines and after a minor amount of futzing around, was rewarded with the screen below:

Actually, I didn’t really get the screen above, but instead the CM window on each machine showed ONE icon titled “My Bluetooth Device”.  Hmmm, did the icon represent the machine that the CM was running on or was I actually connected?  Turned out (with no help from the docs) that each CM was showing the client that it was connected to.  (You don’t get an icon that represents the machine that the CM is running on like you do in Network Neighborhood.)  Once I found the “Friendly Name” feature, I changed the name of each machine to something more descriptive and I was off and running… sort of!

I found myself getting confused when trying to set up connections.  The Tutorials in the on-line Help didn’t do much to clear up the situation either, although they tried to be helpful.  Being a complete newbie in Bluetooth networking, I needed some examples, diagrams, and explanations of what I was trying to do.  Unfortunately, 3Com hasn’t provided any of that, either in the on-line Help or woefully inadequate PDF User’s Manual on the CD.  The “Tutorials” are more “do this, then this, then this”, which I just wasn’t following.

After doing a little bit of research and reflection, I think I know why I had such a hard time getting anything other than the File Send feature to work:

  • The ReadMe (which is probably the most useful documentation that 3Com provided) notes that Win98SE doesn’t work reliably when trying to establish Bluetooth Direct Cable Connections (which of course was one of the things that I was trying to do). Win2000 is the way to go if you want to use DCC.

  • The COM Port clients that the installer sets up are intended for use with BLUETOOTH DEVICES, NOT with another Windows computer with a Bluetooth card in it.  So when I was trying to use the regular dialup modem on my Bluetooth equipped desktop via the DUN client (or Serial Client) COM port, I was trying to do something that wasn’t supposed to work!

  • The CM didn’t seem to automatically register new clients when they came into range, but only refreshes on a schedule that you can set in 5 minute increments (the default is 30). You can force a manual refresh, however.

  • The card is not considered a Windows Network adapter, so there are no entries in the Network Control panel.  The Device Manager shows the Bluetooth card as its own device category.

  • There’s no TCP/IP or NetBEUI stack available, just those funky virtual COM ports (PPP is used to support Dialup type connections).

So here I was, all dressed up with Bluetooth and nothing to do except send files back and forth between machines using the Send File service…which did work well, I’ll admit.

But try as I might, I wasn’t able to set up a network connection between other machines so that I could browse and transfer files, or connect to the Internet.  It appears that I needed a Bluetooth Access Point for that, which I didn’t have and 3Com doesn’t offer (although other companies do).



Since I couldn’t establish a network connection, the only thing I could do to check performance was to use the Send File feature.  So I did, and here’s what I found:

Test #


Send File Transfer Rate
[1.2 Mbyte file size]


Time (sec)

Rate (Kbps)


– 4 feet
– same room




– 25 feet
– same floor
– 2 walls




– 35 feet
– same floor
– 3 walls

In range, but no connection made.


– 12 feet
– floor above

In range, but no connection made.

Comments: Given the description of Bluetooth as a very short range technology, I was surprised at the distance that I could go and still get an “In Range” status. I found that I could get an “In Range” reading at pretty much every place that I normally perform 802.11b product testing!  However, I found that the “In Range” indication could be misleading.

In both Test 3 and 4, although the Status showed as “In Range”, the Send File would fail while trying to set up the connection.  (Actually, it would show “Connecting” for about 10 seconds, then the window would go away, with no indication of what happened!)  I made sure to Refresh each time I changed position, since the CM doesn’t do that for you when a client’s status changes.

The transfer speed didn’t seem to vary much with distance, but it’s about one third the 1Mbps raw bit rate, and about 40% of the highest obtainable rate quoted by this FAQ.



It’s always an adventure to test something new, and putting 3Com’s Bluetooth card through its paces was no exception.  In the end, the card worked well for the limited things…make that thing… that I could do with it.  But my lack of other Bluetooth equipped devices to test it with made for an unsatisfying overall experience.

It’s nice to see Bluetooth 1.1 products finally starting to ship. But the long delay to market has caused this technology to lose precious time in the wireless networking market share battle.  Unless other products come out quickly and are cheaper than their 802.11b equivalents (the 3Com card isn’t setting a good precedent here with an on-line price of around $120), Bluetooth may just become another footnote in the wireless networking history books.