Author: Tim Higgins
Review Date: 3/22/2001
|Pros:||– Amazingly easy setup!|
|Cons:||– Have to buy a client card to set up “hub”.|
– 50% throughput decrease with WEP enabled
The NetBlasterII 802.11b wireless products are probably the closest thing to wireless plug and play that I’ve run into yet! But there is a catch…
| The BlasterII had the fastest and easiest wireless setup that I’ve experienced with any 802.11b product, but I was a little confused at first. Since I’ve installed many an Access Point, I opened the box and read the printed manual, looking to see if the BlasterII “hub” (it’s really an Access Point or 802.11b to Ethernet bridge) was administered via a Windows application, or a web interface. I found that there was nothing I could do to set up the “hub”, except plug in power and connect it to my Ethernet LAN. The configuration of the “hub” would be done when I installed a LAN client. Yup, that’s right, you must have a SOHOware BlasterII client card (either PC card or PCI card) if you use the BlasterII “hub”.|
This took me aback at first, since I tend not to like restrictions on what I can and can’t do, but I said, “What the heck, let’s try it their way..” and pressed on with the install. I installed a PC card client on my Compaq 1650/ Win98SE laptop, and ran the BlasterII Utility setup program, and after answering one question about the BlasterII “hub” ID, I sat amazed as I typed a URL into my browser and it came up! I was wirelessly connected through the BlasterII “hub” to the Internet via my Ethernet LAN! No trying to guess the IP address of the AP, no wrestling with ESSIDs, just fast and simple connection! I even moved the “hub” from one router to another in my test network and all I needed to do was do a DHCP Release/Renew on my wireless laptop and I was connected again to the new subnet!
I didn’t find the Connection Quality (shown above) or Traffic Monitor very useful (the Monitor vertical scale was too large and not adjustable), but the Properties windows were very nice. You could access everything you needed to from them, with no rebooting needed for changes. (Click on the shots below for a full-sized view.)
The BlasterII supports 40 bit WEP encryption, and you can set four keys, either directly as 10 Hexadecimal characters each, or automatically generate the keys using a “passphrase”. There’s also a “Quick” Encryption method, which the manual says “utilizes a simpler encryption method to offer security without sacrificing data throughput speed”. I saw throughput differences among the three modes, which I detail below in the Performance section.
What’s not to like?
| Sadly, with all the great ease of use that it has, the NetBlasterII isn’t perfect! As is all-too-common among inexpensive Access Points, the BlasterII comes up short on network monitoring capabilities. You have no way of knowing:|
The Traffic Monitor provides some info about network performance, but doesn’t provide any statistics on dropped packets, etc.
You also can’t control access to the wireless network by blocking/allowing MAC addresses, and can’t do any packet filtering to control the services that users can access.
| I used netIQ’s free QCheck utility to check the NetblasterII’s wireless performance. Tests were done using an NetBlasterII PC card as the wireless client, and a Windows PC connected to the “hub” as the other LAN client. Here are the results:|
(Details of how we tested can be found here.)
|SOHOware could have a real winner on its hands with the NetBlasterII. They really have made installing a wireless network almost as easy as just plugging in the pieces! If the Win2000 and Me installs go just as smoothly as my Win98SE install, and they keep their pricing competitive, the other guys better watch out!|